Thursday the 10th was an exciting day for the theatre community.  The musical Daddy Long Legs became the first show, on or Off-Broadway, to ever live stream a full performance, free of charge on any computer or mobile device.  The announcement of this event sparked the interest of people across the industry, bringing up the exciting yet scary question about the potential of digital media for our industry.

Does the digital experience eliminate “the magic” of theatre? Would being able to access digital theatre limit the likelihood people would invest in seeing live performances?  These were both questions that I overheard and discussed with our team.  With great anticipation we threw a viewing party.

My first impression was relief.  There was still an air of exclusivity to the performance, as I knew that this specific date and time was the only time I’d be able to see this production. Unlike with movies and TV shows, the realization that this wouldn’t be available later was exciting.  A live performance only happens once and for me that is a big part of the magic of theatre.  Though I was viewing on a TV screen, it was just as likely as at the theatre that an actor would flub their lines, or an unexpected thing would happen.  It still had the thrill of being slighting unpredictable. That for us made it special, as almost all of our digital entertainment today is so heavily edited, rewatched, edited more, CGI’d, and then the story is tweaked again before we ever see the final product.  

Strategically, this was also a nice production to use as a test for this live stream. It was, compared to many musicals, simple and intimate.  There were no huge production numbers to try to capture the entirety of in a single camera frame and the theater was small and inviting.  It was a story that made sense to observe up close, much more akin to the types of stories we see from television and movies.  This has always been a struggle for me with larger musicals that are televised.  I often want to focus my eyes somewhere where the camera isn’t.  With Daddy Long Legs I never had the sense that I was missing something on another part of the stage.

 

#TincProductions party watching #DaddyLongLegsLive http://ow.ly/VIs2u

A photo posted by Tinc Productions (@tincproductions) on

Will the strategy used to capture Daddy Long Legs work for all musicals?  That is the question I am left with.  Can we figure out how to capture larger scale musicals with a camera and still provide the audience the ability to perceive the story as they want to? Can we figure out a style of camera work and direction that minimizes the camera as an additional story teller in the production?  If we can figure that out, then I think live streaming has real legs.

Some naysayers fear the degradation of theater, and fear that screenings like this are taking away from the business and will be the downfall of live ticket sales. I am not one of those.  It is true, there is no feeling quite like a live production, but if we are to keep the theater alive, we must reach those that will grow up to foster it.  As film, television, games and other media continue to thrive we have entertainment so readily at our fingertips.  There is an emphasis put on this type of entertainment and people are exposed to it at very early age.  It is a major medium through which information and experiences are passed.  Living in New York for so many years made me forget how unaccessible Broadway can be for the majority of people.  People, who might spend their money on seeing these top shows if they had the chance!  

Producer Ken Davenport is exactly right when he says,We have to remember that exposing our content to the world, doesn’t mean people won’t come see it live.  In fact, it is my belief that livestreaming content, showing currently-running musicals in movie theaters, will put more butts in seats, than take them away.  And certainly it has to help our industry as a whole.”

Plus, I’m always reminded of that kid whose family can’t afford to see live theater, but if exposed to it could grow up to be the next master artist, director, composer.

Bravo to the entire team that took a leap of faith on this first live stream.  It is the forward thinkers in our industry that will ultimately be responsible for the growth and sustainability of this industry that we all love so dearly.

 

Did we miss anything? Do you have ideas on the potential of digital media for the theatre industry? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think.