By Samantha Anteau
In the past decade, as a result of the rise of the internet and a new resurgence in the popularity of musical theater, bootleg videos of Broadway productions have become a point of contention for many creators and fans.
Some creators and actors, such as Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, are vehemently against bootlegged videos. Opinions of why people shouldn’t bootleg vary, but much of it is about supporting artists or preserving the art in its intended form.
I have always been in support of more accessible Broadway shows. There is very little chance that I will ever be able to go see a Broadway show; New York City is unbelievably expensive without the added expense of theater tickets.
And with tickets that are still ridiculously expensive outside of New York, when shows go on tour, many people will never be able to see the shows at all.
Theatre is a unique medium. With movies and television, there exist consistent forms. You watch The Avengers, and you’re going to get the same film, with the same actors. It doesn’t change and never will.
Additionally, there are many ways to get it legally; if you don’t have the money to go see it in theaters, you can wait until it’s at your library, where you can get the content for free. It is the same exact content as everyone who was able to pay for it received.
For obvious reasons, it isn’t the same for Broadway. I’m never going to see the original cast of Hamilton perform, because I didn’t live in New York and I wasn’t wealthy enough to get there (or get tickets to the show). The show will never exist in that form again; once it’s done, it’s done.
If I do see Hamilton eventually, it won’t be the same show. Imagine the original cast of the Avengers playing their characters in the film version, but if you rented the movie later, the cast was completely different.
Regardless of whether they are better or worse, it doesn’t matter. The movie is different because you no longer have Robert Downey Jr or Chris Evans. You get different content.
Do I believe those in theater should be paid for their work? Of course I do. But the type of people who watch Broadway bootlegs are not the type of people who would watch them if they were financially able to go see the actual show.
I feel pretty comfortable in guessing that no one has ever said, “Well, I’m definitely able to go see that show, but I’ve already seen a grainy, 480p video of it, so what’s the point?” If you’re going to scour the internet for bootlegs of your favorite show, you’re not going to turn away from the chance to watch it live. That’s not the theater kid way.
A couple of shows have taken the initiative to be more inclusive and offer video recordings of their shows. Most recently, the show Falsettos released their recording in select theaters, and I went twice.
I could shell out $16 for two movie tickets, so I did. I would do the same for any show that released a filmed version of their stage production, because I want to see the shows legally. I want to be able to share the things that so many other people have gotten to enjoy.
People who love theatre want to support it, but they also want to enjoy the content. I understand that part of the theatre experience is the temporal nature of it, but that also creates a barrier of entry for people who can’t afford it.
Releasing more professional recordings of Broadway shows is a great way to begin to allow theatre to become a more inclusive place, as well as giving theatre fans a chance to support their favorite productions.