This week on the podcast host Luisa Lyons chats with Eliza Jackson, an Australian producer based in the UK whom The Stage recently listed as one of the Top 100 Theatre Makers of 2020.
Topics including making the switch from acting to producing, the joys and challenges of producing virtual theatre content during the pandemic, paying artists during lockdown, the future of streaming, what it means to make theatre during this time, and Lambert Jackson Productions streams of The Last Five Years, Songs for A New World, [title of show], and the upcoming I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.
Australian born Eliza Jackson trained in Musical Theatre at the prestigious NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney. She moved to London in 2012 and since then, has worked in the theatre industry both on and off stage.
In 2018, Lambert Jackson Productions was born and their first project was to take Eliza’s one-woman show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show, The Voice Behind the Stars received 5-star reviews across the board and was then toured around Australia with much success. On her return, she took on the role of Creative Director of Lambert Jackson full time.
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change will stream at select times between January 28-30, 2021. More info and tickets available from the London Coliseum.
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What do the filmed live musicals Kinky Boots, The King and I, An American in Paris, and Spongebob the Musical all have in common?
If the title of this post didn't already give it away for you, these musicals were all major Broadway productions that were filmed in the UK.
Why are Broadway musicals being filmed in the West End?
There’s nothing wrong with filming shows in the UK, the standard of performance is the same, and there is a rich history of across-the-pond theatrical collaboration. But it is a loss to Broadway history that the original productions, and often the performers that created the roles, are not being captured on film for posterity.
Of the nearly 200 musicals currently in the database (there are approximately 200 more waiting to be added!), only 30 were filmed on Broadway. When you think of the hundreds of musicals that have played on Broadway, that is a tiny percentage of captures.
“But what about TOFT?!” I hear people cry (the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive has come up in almost every single episode of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast to date). Founded in 1970 by the visionary Betty Corwin, TOFT at the New York Public Library is a treasure trove of live theatre captures. Plays and musicals in New York (and further afield) are filmed and made available for “anyone with a New York Public Library card” to view for free at the library. Before you get too excited, you can’t just stroll in and watch every show. You need to make an appointment, and you must have a valid research reason in order to watch. You can’t watch anything currently playing on Broadway, and you only get one viewing.
Limits in funding mean that not *every* show is able to be recorded, and strict licensing and contractual agreements mean the library is not permitted to release the films commercially, or for viewing beyond the restrictions mentioned above. If TOFT were to attempt to change the viewing restrictions currently in place, every contract for every show would be need to be re-negotiated. You would need to find funding to fairly compensate all the performers, creatives, and license holders in the new negotiations, and answer a myriad of questions such as where to stream, for how long, to whom, and how to prevent bootlegging.
So while TOFT is an absolutely amazing resource for folks in New York City, its vast catalog is unlikely to be available to the general public, or for streaming, any time soon.
The issues for why TOFT can’t just stream their catalog carry over to why we simply don’t see more Broadway musicals filmed live: the cost of filming, and complex contract agreements.
It costs millions to mount a Broadway show, and very few Broadway shows recoup, let alone make a profit. According to Broadway producer Ken Davenport, just 1 in 5 Broadway shows recoup their investment. The cost of filming a Broadway show is also in the millions, though specific numbers are not always published.
Just as it is difficult for Broadway shows to recoup, the same can be said of the cost for filming them. As discussed with Tony nominee and founder of Streaming Musicals Paul Gordon on the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, most filmed live musicals need to be made available on a variety of platforms over a long period of time just to cover the costs of filming.
It took until November 2020 for SAG/AFRTRA (the union that covers film and television actors) and Actors' Equity Association (AEA - the union that covers theatre actors) to come to an agreement over who should have control of contracts for streaming theatre. Under the new rules, streams are only allowed on restricted platforms, and viewership cannot exceed “200% of the size of the theater’s house for the contractual run of the production,” or 300% if the theatre has less than 350 seats. Where the streams can be viewed is also limited. Platforms that include “widespread streaming to the general public," such as Disney Plus, Netflix, or HBO, are not permitted.
Katrina Michaels, an AEA Principal Delegate, recently noted that at the end of 2020 Equity also "released new media contracts which both allow the use of archival footage as well as new remote streamed production, and so adds new streams of income for theatres and artists".
Despite these recent changes, there is still a strong belief in the American theatre industry that theatre simply does not belong on screen. Meanwhile, the UK has been enjoying government funded live theatre captures for over a decade. Along with subsidies for filming, lower production costs, and a far simpler union structure, the UK is appealing to Broadway producers seeking to film stage shows.
In the case of The SpongeBob Musical, Nickelodeon flew the entire original cast and crew to the UK, and set up at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth for two days to film the show. The national tour (which was controversially a non-union contract) was performing at the time of filming, why not film the tour, or as in the case of Newsies, bring the original leads in and film a tour performance? Probably something to do with those contracts again!
Just last month, NBC took their production of The Grinch Live to London. Although four of the leads were cast from the United States, the ensemble were all British actors. While there was very little chatter about the show at all, there was even less commentary on the fact that high profile work was being carried out across the pond whilst American actors lost their health insurance and went into month 9 of seeing zero theatre work.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, independent companies are stepping up to the plate to ensure the show goes on. In the UK, companies such as Southwark Playhouse, Wise Children, Chichester Festival Theatre, Adam Lenson Productions, and Lambert Jackson Productions have streamed live theatre with and without live audiences. And in the US, independent theatres such as Prima Theatre, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, Actors Theatre of Louisville, have worked hard to ensure artists can continue to work, and audiences are entertained.
The US is overdue for a shift in the belief that theatre should be filmed. We need to make it easier to navigate contract agreements, and lower the cost of filming. Unless companies with deeply lined pockets like NBC or Netflix are willing to invest in preserving Broadway performances and making them accessible to the general public -- as in the case of Diana which will be released by Netflix this year -- it is unlikely we will see new releases of Broadway musicals filmed live on Broadway.
This week on the podcast, I interview British director and producer Adam Lenson! We had a great time chatting about Merrily We Roll Along, what should we call filmed theatre, Signal Online, Alt+Right+Shift, making new work without a theatre, filming theatre without an audience, and more!
Based in London, Adam Lenson is a director, producer, dramaturg, and musical theatre specialist. He was recently included in The Stage 100, a list recognizing theatremakers for their extraordinary achievements in 2020. He is the founder Signal and Signal Online, programs for incubating new musical theatre, Make Your Own Musicals which provides activity packs for children, and Theatrical Solutions which offers affordable solutions for theatrical livestreaming.
As a director, original works include WASTED (World Premiere, Southwark Playhouse), SUPERHERO (World Premiere, Southwark Playhouse), THE SORROWS OF SATAN (World Premiere, Tristan Bates Theatre), LOCK AND KEY (World Premiere, Vault Festival), THE LEFTOVERS (World Premiere, National Tour). Other works include THE RINK (Southwark Playhouse), THE STORM (Helios Collective/ENO), 35MM (The Other Palace), WHISPER HOUSE (The Other Palace), SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD (St James Theatre, 20th Anniversary Production), DISGRACED (English Theatre Frankfurt), DARK TOURISM (Park Theatre), GHOST (GSA), SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE (Jermyn Street Theatre), REEL LIFE (Ustinov Theatre Bath and St James Studio), THE GOODBYE GIRL (Upstairs at the Gatehouse), WEST END RECAST (Duke of York’s Theatre, Phoenix Theatre), ORDINARY DAYS (Trafalgar Studios), LITTLE FISH and SATURN RETURNS (Finborough Theatre), COME FLY WITH ME (Salisbury Playhouse), THE DEAD GUY (English Theatre Frankfurt) and THE FAMILY (Old Vic US/UK Exchange, Public Theater, NY).
You can learn more about Adam at www.adamlenson.com and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
Tickets to Public Domain, streaming live on Jan 15 and 16 2021, are available at Southwark Playhouse.
Coming up in 2021, you may see a few less blog posts from me as I attempt to catch-up on the back log of musicals in the database. When I wrote my thesis on filmed live musicals back in 2012, I had a list of about 80 musicals. By the end of 2020, that list has exploded to over 350 musicals, only 185 of which are currently in searchable database! And that doesn’t even include musicals filmed without an audience or “zoomsicals” (musicals performed over zoom). That’s a lot of musicals to write up!
I want to continue spotlighting musicals by a diverse range of artists from around the world, especially musicals by women and people of color, and musicals in languages other than English.
The Filmed Live Musicals Podcast will continue to feature artists, creators, and industry specialists who make filmed live musical theatre.
I will continue to update the Filmed Live Musicals calendar, If you want to make sure you don't miss when musicals are screening, make sure to sign up for the weekly newsletter!
I’m hoping that as the vaccine is rolled out, I can return to focusing on stage musicals that have been filmed live with an audience present!
Filmed Live Musicals is very much a labor of love. Thank you to my wonderful patrons for helping to offset the financial cost of running the site. No matter what level you pledge at, every patron receives early access to content and the podcast.
And to everyone who has signed up for the weekly newsletter, downloaded the podcast, and shared a love of filmed live musical theatre with me, thank you!
IIIIIII’ll drink to that!
Thank you to patrons Rachel Esteban, Mercedes Esteban-Lyons, Al Monaco, David Negrin, Jesse Rabinowitz & Brenda Goodman, David & Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist, for financially supporting Filmed Live Musicals.