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Topic: Broadway should use the Internet...

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  1. #1

    Broadway should use the Internet...

    On the subject of bringing stage musicals to wider audiences through media....

    I wondered why more musicals weren't televised, though I suppose there's a lot of businessy stuff that makes it impractical.

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser-
    They used to do that. PBS used to be able to do a wonderful thing by broadcasting full videos of musicals like "Into The Woods," "Sweeney Todd" and "Sunday In the Park With George."
    Yes! The nice thing about those is that they (well, some) are now out on DVD so I can watch 'em. They all seem to be Sondheim though... (not that one can ever have enough Sondheim!)

    Anyway, surely nowadays they could use the power of the Internet! It wouldn't cost that much to stick a few camera men in the theater for a few nights, would it? Then let audiences stream it for free on Hulu (and make a little ad money), or buy a DVD. Oooooh, would that be awesome. Might pay for itself.

    In fact, it would be better than PBS for a couple reasons: 1) Audiences could watch whenever they have the time, not when PBS decided to schedule it. 2) Audiences could choose what to watch, not what PBS decided to show them.
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  2. #2

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    There is something unique about theatre, Sean, which isn't fitting into your musings.

    For theatre to Be theatre, it really has to be seen live. So even though those Sondheim shows and a few other things like "Cats" and "Joseph" were eventually produced for DVD - there's the very real problem that audiences can feel they've "seen" a show because they've seen it on their TVs, when they really haven't.

    No matter how well done a video of a stage show is, it is always an extremely pale shadow of what it's like to see the same show live on stage. The copyright holders of these properties have a vested interest in getting patrons into the theatres where they can see live productions of their creations.

    As a result, for very good reason, access to the vast majority of stage musicals has always been limited. How often have you heard people say, "Yeah I saw that, wasn't so great" but they're talking about a movie you know and just Know is superb - they've watched it on their computers or with a zillion interuptions on DVD in their homes. They haven't really Seen the movies as the creators intended. It's the same, but even more crucial for the creators of theatre.

    Theatre just can't survive that. The pieces are constructed totally differently, since they have to take into consideration things like scene changes and the endurance of the performers. Live theatre has to survive, and its difficult for it to - Many justify their fears by thinking that having all musical theatre pieces readily avaialable would ironically kill the market for their real intended audience--the people who watch the shows Live.

    If live theatre ceases, well then we start writing completely different shows meant to go direct to disc or to TV. See? When we talk about musical theatre, we're talking about something completely different than movies, or popular music, or TV shows.

    Randy

  3. #3

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    Very interesting point!!

    I don't think it would kill theater, or compete with it... it would advertise it. The intent is not to "recreate" the experience, the intent is to simply get the material out there.

    Yes, it might be a "pale shadow" compared to actually being there live. But there's the problem with live... it's live! What if you can't be there? You can't afford the tickets, or you can't travel in time, or the show's just not playing anymore, or whatever? You are denied even the experience of that shadow?

    Otherwise, what's the point of selling CDs? They're not live either.

    I think the fear that potential audiences would judge the performance so harshly based on its non-liveness is a bit silly. I think audiences would understand the difference, and know that being there would be better, if they only could. Getting to see the performance non-live I think would even encourage those that enjoy it to see it live all the more.

    Or there's the fear that potential audiences would not feel compelled to go to the theater because they can just get the performance on DVD. But again, I think people understand the difference. People will still pay to see bands perform songs they've already memorized, the only difference being that they are live and get to actually see the artists with their own eyes. Owning a CD or DVD of a the band's performance doesn't diminish that.

    I can't imagine that anyone who would be turned off by the non-liveness of a recorded musical would have gone anyway. If the music and/or story are bad non-live, live isn't going to change that.

    EDIT: In other words, yes, being a recording would definitely diminish the experience, would definitely be a "shadow", but I think audiences would understand that, and would be thankful they got to experience even that shadow. After all, wouldn't it be a shame if today there was no way to see Angela Lansbury cooking some delicious meat pies?
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  4. #4

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    Actors Equity is very serious about keeping theater a live medium. There are strict regulations about when a performance can be taped for other media and permission is rarely given. Stage actors are paid per performance. Film & TV performers get royalties based on when the recorded work is sold or shown. The payments and pension & health go to different unions. A recorded version of a play can hurt attendance at all future live revivals. So, it doesn't happen often that they let a show be taped.

  5. #5

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    Apologies to Randy for echoing his sentiments, but this is a topic on which I have an opinion!

    I've not yet found who said "Theatre is life, film is art, TV is furniture" but it is the root of this discussion. There are many reasons why one can not successfully capture the essence of a stage play on film. Besides robbing the viewer of some of the most important aspects of the performance it is just plain technically difficult (impossible?)

    When one plans a performance for capture one starts with things like the images one wants to convey. Camera placement, angle, and lighting are just as important, maybe even more so, than the location and movement of the characters.

    This is not so in live theatre because one can not control where any given audience member is looking at any given time. It is often said that no two audience members at a live production experience the same show. It's true.

    Then there are the "mistakes" - and even more important, how the cast and crew react to those unexpected things that happen in live theatre. They make each performance unique.

    My wife could not understand, when we were dating, why I wanted to attend so many rehearsals and performances for the productions I worked on (and even some I didn't). Ten years later she understands, and usually tries to attend at least a couple of performances herself. When she has played in the pit with me she has thoroughly enjoyed the process.

    But even someone that attends only a single performance of a particular property benefits from the fact that, scripted though the words may be, the action is dynamic.

    Don't misunderstand, I love movies (good ones anyway) and I am in awe of the work that goes into creating a filmed performance. I even do some soundtrack work for independent artists from time to time, and it's a kick. It's also the only time I KNOW my sound design or music will he heard as I intended<G>!

    But live theatre is still where it's at for me. And filming it makes no sense to me. Even though one can exercise so much control.

    An example - we are currently staging "The Compleat Works of Wlm Shakespeare (abridged)" at my local theatre. I spent more than a few hours coming up with about sixty sound effects and music cues. They were darned clever if you ask me. Even the director liked them! They survived tech rehearsals, and even made it through dress rehearsals.

    On opening night I sat there awaiting my lovely sound track only to discover that we had grossly underestimated just how funny this show is. I doubt that one third of my cues were audible. Since then the director has cut the two thirds that are never going to be heard.

    Another example - I wrote the score for a production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" several years ago. It was played live. One of the recurring cues was this little bit that we were supposed to play every time Ariel entered or exited. Let me tell you, Ariel makes a lot of entrances or exits. In this case Ariel was just too quick for us. Under other circumstances one might ask Ariel to wait for the cue, but in this case that would have just destroyed the timing, or rather the rhythm of the performance. So we ended up dropping the cue entirely. On the other hand, during this same show there was some reference to a cow, we had a cowbell in the pit, we struck it during a rehearsal just to be funny. It ended up as part of the show.

    Live theatre rules.

    That's what happens in live theatre.
    Bill Thompson
    Audio Enterprise
    KB3KJF

  6. #6

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    I was lucky enough to see "Into the Woods" in previews (before they succumbed to critical pressure and removed all the "down" stuff from it). I actually saw it a full month before its official premiere.

    And I am also the proud owner of a full score of that show, as well as having been the conductor of the Canadian premiere of it, and also have it on DVD.

    I can assure anyone who feels that there's little to no difference between seeing it on TV and seeing it "live" that there is no comparison. At all.

    Seeing this brilliant masterpiece on stage, then watching it on TV is like comparing eating a 5-course meal at the finest restaurant in town, to reading a menu from that same restaurant.

    Theatre is meant to be lived.

    In my opinion, in much the same way that music is meant to be appreciated "live" rather than from a recording.

  7. #7

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    Quote Originally Posted by ejr View Post
    Actors Equity is very serious about keeping theater a live medium. There are strict regulations about when a performance can be taped for other media and permission is rarely given. Stage actors are paid per performance. Film & TV performers get royalties based on when the recorded work is sold or shown. The payments and pension & health go to different unions. A recorded version of a play can hurt attendance at all future live revivals. So, it doesn't happen often that they let a show be taped.
    Aha... yeah, it would really need a change in the business model, which I'm sure nobody wants to deal with, especially with how many unions there must be who would all want some $$$$. Do TV and film actors really get royalties? I thought they usually just got a big lump sum right at the start and that was it.

    Also, if a recorded version of a play can hurt attendance at all future live revivals, I have to wonder why people are going to revivals in the first place... because they aren't familiar with the plot?

    It will be interesting to see if anything changes over the next 50 years or not...
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  8. #8

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    Again, the point isn't to capture or reproduce "live-ness" or "the Theater experience" on TV. I think we all agree that they're different experiences.
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  9. #9

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    I was lucky enough to see "Into the Woods" in previews (before they succumbed to critical pressure and removed all the "down" stuff from it). I actually saw it a full month before its official premiere.

    And I am also the proud owner of a full score of that show, as well as having been the conductor of the Canadian premiere of it
    Wow, I am officially jealous!

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    Theatre is meant to be lived.

    In my opinion, in much the same way that music is meant to be appreciated "live" rather than from a recording.
    Obviously I agree with you - but I will add one point - there is a huge difference between a production, be it music or theatre, that is designed to be live vs one that starts out to be recorded. There in lies the difference between a stage play and a movie.

    Perhaps what needs to happen is more Broadway productions need to be filmed AS MOVIES, the director thinks through all the shots, etc, and then creates a performance that can take advantage of the medium. Then let that be the thing that generates some buzz.

    I'm not sure when we stopped going to the theatre to learn about the theatre, but it certainly appears that we have. If it is not on the internet it must not be real.

    I pity future generations if that trend continues. And I remain grateful that I grew up when I did. (I still remember going to see the local high school production of "Guys and Dolls" when I was in sixth grade. It was a field trip, which made it pretty cool to start, and it just captured my imagination from the start.)
    Bill Thompson
    Audio Enterprise
    KB3KJF

  10. #10

    Re: Broadway should use the Internet...

    Yes, actors do get royalties. How much depends on the contract, the venue, the number of times it has been shown, how much money the show makes, how much time the actor is seen. The formulas go on for pages and pages and there are a lot of them. The big issue now in all contract negotiations is "new media" which means primarily Internet use, but also applies to things like motion capture/voice over work for video games. (I've done it all).

    The producers, of course, want unlimited re-use -- sort of financing the development a computer program (like GPO or JABB) and then being able to re-sell it to as many people as you want for as much as you like without ever paying another dime to the programmer (like Garritan). The creative types (actors, writers, directors, etc) want a piece of every usage. This has always been the arrangement since the first "new technology" -- commercial television -- was introduced. It's basically fair because the artists who make the most sought after work make the most money and it encourages producers to keep funding new works.

    Theater is still mostly in the pre-commercial age; but that's what we like about it.

    I probably shouldn't say this, because it is not available to people outside the business and not in the unions -- but the library at Lincoln center has videotaped a lot of Broadway shows (for the last 20 years or so, I think) for historical purposes. These were intended to help actors taking over a role in a running show or doing a revival or a tour, directors and designers doing revivals and the like, to see how the original was staged. Since original orchestrations were rarely saved and there is still no better medium than video for making a record of choreography, you can understand why they would do this and why the unions would let them. But you can also see why they don't want to make it available to the general public.

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