Why commercial video recordings of theatrical performances are artistically important and potentially lucrative...and an awesome website that proves it!
by Amanda Louise Miller, productive procrastinator?
The inspiration for this post came, as many good ideas often do, late at night as I was surfing YouTube as a means of homework procrastination. ?What is normally a half-hearted exploration of cat videos and cabaret performances turned totally awesome when I stumbled across a fact that had my little music theatre nerd heart doing jazz hands in my chest:? the Stephen Sondheim?s Company (in Concert) video recording gets released next week!? (November 13, to be exact:? you can find it on Amazon HERE!)
This particular video release is uber exciting for me, for many reasons, including but not limited to the fact that I played Amy in 2009 and that I have a shameless crush on Neil Patrick Harris.? (le sigh...)
(fact: ?this is one of the most difficult-to-memorize musical theatre pieces I've ever encountered!)
As I giddily wait for the Company?release date, I keep remembering how excited I was to see this movie in my local movie theatre, and I find myself harkening back to other videos of live performances I have seen - and loved - over the years.? As someone who grew up on a farm in the middle of the Midwest, traveling to New York City to see, for example, Into the Woods on Broadway was simply not an option during my childhood; they might as well have been doing the show on the moon.? However, thanks to that magical VHS tape that my sister and I nearly played to pieces, recorded from a PBS Great Performances broadcast, little Amanda still had the chance to absorb the wit, craft, and spectacle of a wonderful Broadway show into her artistic and creative DNA, from the comfort of her Nebraska living room.
(Seriously SUCH a big part of my childhood!)
From Pippin to Rent (the awesome live-recorded "final" performance, not the moderately crummy movie version), from Putting it Together to Legally Blonde, and from Oklahoma to Memphis, there are many great examples of stage-to-screen translations that I personally find entertaining, educational, and inspiring. ?
But there can and should still be more! ?One of my biggest wishes for musical (and straight) theatre in the United States is that more producers and production companies would see the potential creative, cultural, and financial profits to be made in the filming and release of theatrical productions for a worldwide audience.?
A few reasons why more of these commercial recordings and broadcasts could help out the Great White Way:
Or more specifically, ?taking money out of the pockets of bootleggers and putting it into the pockets of the show?s creative team, where it belongs.?
It is no secret that the interwebs and ?Broadway black market? are chock full of illegally-recorded videos of Broadway and Off-Broadway musicals ?available for sale or trade.?? While I cannot confirm or deny having watched any of said videos ;), I can say that I would happily pay (and have happily payed) for legitimately-recorded copies of said videos if/when they were available, especially if I knew that the show?s creative team were earning a percentage of that money. ?And I would like to believe many other theatrical consumers feel the same way.?
I think the popularity of these illegal videos speaks to the demand in the market for recordings of live performances, and I would happily argue with anyone who claims that many paying audience members would refrain from seeing a show if they were going to have the option of getting the DVD later.?
After all:? I have the technology to photoshop myself into a picture on the moon, on the beach, in Paris, or an the world?s fastest roller coaster --does that mean that I suddenly have no need or desire to go to those places?? Of course not!? If anything, it makes me want to visit them even more!
(Nope: ?still not the same thing as really being there!)??
As most any K-12 music teacher will tell you, high-quality videos of professional productions are an educational godsend (and not only because they provide great instant lesson plans for substitute teachers or often pointless day-after-the-concert classes).? By watching high-quality performances on video, young students learn what it means to be a performer, what qualifies as a good performance, and what skill levels are possible when one dedicates themselves to the craft of theatre.?
Older students who have decided to make a career in the arts have even more to gain from studying video footage of successful (and unsuccessful) performances, and while few students have the time and the resources to get a vast collection of Broadway show viewings under the belt, one look at the size of your average student?s iTunes library shows how much students will spend on ?culture-to-go.??
And then, of course, there are the various valuable life lessons often hidden in the artistic works themselves, gems like...
?Don?t poke metaphorical sticks at psychopaths,?
?Drag queens are just freaking awesome,?
and ?If you know you?re your parents favorite, shut up about it ...or be sold into slavery.?
In today?s fast-paced and media-driven society, ?out of sight? really does equal ?out of mind.?? (After all:? how quickly have you forgotten about all those political ads that ruled the airwaves a week ago?)? I think it would be safe to say that, for most of the American public, Broadway shows are truly ?out of mind?--after all, you have to be in New York City to see them, and if you can?t enjoy them from the comfort of your own couch, computer chair, or iphone, what?s the point??
Now, some might argue that making theatrical performances available to ?the masses? via mass media production cheapens the diminishes the art form -- after all, nothing can compare to the thrill of live theatre.??....Well, I know that and you know that, but you and I are already buying all the theatre tickets we can afford.? And if there?s a chance being available via video is the key that gets someone that doesn?t already know about the magic of live theatre interested and watching (while also allowing folks like you and I to stretch our theatre budgets wider), I?m all for it.
Now, having presented what I think are very valid reasons that more producers and production companies should strive to make show videos available, I want to wrap this post up by pointing out one company you may not have heard of doing exactly that:? www.digitaltheatre.com, a website out of the UK.
(check it out and feel like a kid in a candy store--I know I do!)
From the Digital Theatre website, you can currently rent or buy professional videorecordings of 19 amazing shows--everything from modern plays to Shakespeare (including David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing *ahemDr.Whofans*) to yes, even Into the Woods. ? Prices are reasonable and the quality is amazing. ?
American theatre producers take note: this is the future.... and I, for one, am psyched!?
AMANDA LOUISE MILLER
is a graduate student in Music Composition at Oklahoma City University
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