Having a passion for theatre can be expensive, exhausting, and thankless. In buying your ticket you buy access to a specific moment in time only experienced by you and your surrounding audience members, and theatre’s glorious transience is part of what makes it magic. It also makes it risky, however, and not everyone has the means to take a chance on more than one or two live shows a year. For this reason, publicly released recordings of live productions are necessary, exciting, and utterly crucial.
I write this feature fresh off a repeat viewing of Disney’s Newsies, a gorgeous broadcast of a closed Broadway production, revived for one night only specifically for taping and transmission. I had seen the show from the cheap seats in America, but nothing could prepare me for the up-close stylish action shots, or the carefully filmed coverage of lush ensemble numbers. This particular event is one in a growing collection of theatrical broadcasts which provide the opportunity to get up close and personal with onstage action, and it’s a trend I can’t wait to see develop and spread further.
Other recent triumphs include an historic live stream of off-Broadway gem Daddy Long Legs, which allowed 150,000 viewers access to what was previously only available to 149 ticket holders per night in New York’s Davenport Theatre. The broadcast gave the production international attention, with viewers in 135 countries tuning in to be charmed by Paul Gordon’s score. Per the Seattle Times, forty per cent of these viewers didn’t know anything about the show before the stream, myself included, and yet still watched. Conclusion? Theatre is unstoppable when distance is no factor.
Because the fundamental issue underlining the preservation and presentation of these theatrical events is, of course, accessibility. Putting aside ancillary costs such as travel and accommodation (not to mention those extortionate interval ice creams) which can be a huge financial burden even before the cost of the ticket itself is considered (looking at you, Hamilton), these broadcasts are important for those who physically cannot get themselves to the room where it happens (ahem). Companies like Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera House, who regularly programme their transmissions into Vues and Odeons nationwide, are appealing to their older audiences who can’t just jump on the night tube after a night of Don Pasquale, as well as to those interested in trying out something new with a vastly decreased upfront cost.
And yet, The Rocky Horror Show tour still packed out the Norwich Theatre Royal despite its cinematic transmission eighteen months ago. Live broadcasts ultimately cannot replace the essential experience of being in a theatre, that personal connection with the company, the way the production values flood your senses, and this is the reason why such recordings do not pose a threat to the industry of live theatre – I couldn’t name anyone who would say no to seeing a show live, even after watching its recorded broadcast. At the same time, however, for those who can’t make the trip, it’s a near perfect substitute, and one which keeps dazzling productions alive long after the curtain has fallen.