Despite the fact that we’ve been filming theatre since the invention of cameras, and that the first live theatre broadcasts took place in 1939, many still don’t know that filming stage shows and releasing them for public consumption is a thing. And when folks are aware of filmed live theatre, there are usually two reactions. Either they are either afraid of it because they think it will cannibalize ticket sales, or they dismiss it entirely as “not theatre”.
To the first point, as I’ve written previously, there is little evidence to suggest that filmed live theatre cannibalizes ticket sales — mainly because most captures are released in the final days of a show’s run, or after it has closed. For musicals that were released during a run, such as Legally Blonde, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, or Daddy Long Legs, ticket sales stayed stable, or were boosted, by the filmed live release.
Despite research that shows that audiences find watching theatre on screen a viable alternative, I don’t entirely disagree with the folks who ascertain filmed live theatre is not theatre. It falls somewhere in between the live theatre experience and a movie.
Terms that were used a lot pre-pandemic included filmed live theatre, live cinema, transmission, HD transmission, cine-cast, pro-shot, and live capture.
Some recent big Broadway name examples, Hamilton, Come From Away, and Diana (it’s fun to note that both Diana and Come From Away are directed by Christopher Ashley, who also directed Memphis, which was filmed live on Broadway with an audience in 2011) show that there is no consensus on what to call filmed live theatre. The filmed live version of Hamilton is billed on Disney Plus as “the Original Broadway Production,” and is referred to in press as the filmed version, filmed presentation, filmed performance, filmed version, Hamilton movie, recorded performance, live capture or live-capture, and streaming version. When tweeting the announcement of the filmed live release of Hamilton, the musical’s composer Lin-Manuel Miranda called it “Our Hamilton film”, and used the hashtag, #Hamilfilm.
In August 2020, Diana the Musical, a new Broadway musical which was still in previews at the time of the shutdown, revealed that the show would be filmed live without an audience and released on Netflix. Press around the announcement described it as a taping, filmed version, specially filmed version, recorded without an audience, and recording.
It was announced in February that Come From Away, the Broadway musical that tells the real-life story of the Canadian town of Gander which hosted 7000 stranded passengers after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, will be filmed in May. A variety of terms were used to describe the soon-to-be-released product: filmed live or live filming, filmed live version, live stage recording, filmed stage production, pro-shot, capture, and live taping. To add to the confusion, one reporter stated that it was unclear if this filmed live version would be different from the film adaptation that had been previously announced.
When we delve deeper into the filmed live theatre world, there are differences that are important to define so audiences and industry folks alike know what they’re dealing with. Some productions are filmed and broadcast live, such as most content from Live from Lincoln Center, BroadwayHD captures of She Loves Me and Daddy Long Legs, or the National Theatre’s Follies. These productions are often made available after the live broadcast, and billed as “live”. Other productions are filmed live with an audience, and edited with close-ups and on-stage angles that are filmed separately from the actual performance, such as Love Never Dies, Newsies, and Hamilton. Then there is another category of shows that are filmed to look like their stage show versions, but are filmed without an audience, such as the National Theatre’s 1998 production of Oklahoma! or the 1999 made-for-VHS Cats.
While the pandemic has resulted in a slew of filmed live musicals being made available online, often live recordings made for archival purposes, it has also opened up new categories, and ways of filming that are not always made clear to audiences what they’re watching. There’s filmed live in a theatre without an audience present, such as Fiver, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, or The Last Five Years all filmed at Southwark Playhouse, filmed live remotely on Zoom such as Curveball Creative’s Who’s Your Baghdaddy, or filmed separately and edited together like Irish Rep’s clever Meet Me In St Louis. Finally, there’s a new self-titled theatre/film hybrid of stage shows filmed in theatres and presented as films, such as Curve Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard.
So what should we call filmed live theatre? It’s one of my favorite questions to ask guests on the Filmed Live Musicals podcast. Take a listen to Episode 15 The Grinning Man with composers Marc Teitler and Tim Philips, to find out what I think is one of the best answers so far!
This week on the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, host Luisa Lyons chats with New York-based Australian director Benita de Wit.
We chat about creating pertinent work with college students during a pandemic, the LIU Post Sondheim cabaret One More Thing Not to Think About, what makes a good theatre capture, what makes theatre “live” and human, why a student production of Kiss Me, Kate stuck in Benita’s memory, the upcoming stream Alter/Ego and how Bowie is relevant to Gen Z, and what it means to theatricalize pop music.
Benita de Wit is a New York-based Australian director of theatre and performance. They are the Associate Director for the international tour of “Bat Out of Hell” and have an MFA in Directing from Columbia University. Recent credits include “One More Thing Not To Think About” (Post Theatre Company), “The Laramie Project” (Pace University), “Slaughterhouse” by Anchuli Felicia King (Belvoir, 25A), “The Silence” (MIT, Associate Director), "The Moors" (Off Broadway, Assistant Director), "The Rape of The Sabine Women by Grace B Matthias". Benita is an Adjunct Professor at Pace University and an Associate Member of SDC. Learn more at www.benitadewit.com.
One More Thing Not to Think About
The Laramie Project
Filmed Live Musicals is the most comprehensive online searchable database for musicals that have been filmed live on stage. Visit www.filmedlivemusicals.com to learn more. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support the site at Patreon. Patrons get early access to content, no matter how much you pledge.
This week on the podcast, host Luisa Lyons chats with Marc Teitler and Tim Phillips, the composers of the smash-hit British musical The Grinning Man.
Filmed live at the Bristol Old Vic in 2016, The Grinning Man is a dark and visceral musical based on Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughed. Topics include the development of the musical, Marc and Tim's initial resistance to releasing the archival footage, how the musical came to be filmed with motion capture, and more!
The Grinning Man is currently available to stream on demand from the Bristol Old Vic. More tickets and info here.
Follow Marc Teitler on Twitter, and Tim Phillips on Twitter.
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While some of us are spending the pandemic baking bread, binging Netflix, and staring into the void afraid and half-hopeful that this will now be life as we know it, folks across the world are jumping online to make art, and specifically, musicals. The rapid turnaround of these musicals and, more importantly, their immense popularity, is leading folks in the theatre community to wonder if virtual development is the future of musical theatre making.
The most prominent musical flavoring much of the discussion is Ratatouille The Musical, the world’s first musical “created entirely over TikTok.” Based on the 2007 Disney animation about a Parisian rat who loves to cook, the musical had a very short gestation period. It began life in October 2020, when a TikTok user Emily Jacobsen posted a love ballad for Remy the Rat that went viral. In December 2020 Seaview Productions (who got a shoutout in the December newsletter for their promising new partnership with Sony Productions) negotiated with Disney to put on a virtual production of Ratatouille the Musical as a benefit for the Actors Fund.
Ratatouille the Musical aired on January 1st, 2021, and was only available to stream for 3 days, followed by a one-off encore screening a week later. The cast featured the talents of Wayne Brady, Tituss Burgess, Kevin Chamberlin, André de Shields, Andrew Barth Feldman, Adam Lambert, Priscilla Lopez, Ashley Park, and Mary Testa, under the direction of Six writer and director Lucy Moss. The music was recorded by the recently formed The Broadway Sinfonietta, an all-female identifying, majority women of color orchestral collective. The event was viewed by over 200,000 people, and raised $2million, the most successful fundraiser in Actors Fund history.
While yet to be performed on a physical stage, Ratatouille the Musical already has a huge global following, was put together in a month, and for a budget of $200,000. When you think of the years, and millions of dollars, it normally takes to mount a Broadway show, it’s no wonder theatre folks are excited.
Director Lucy Moss has stated “I hope it opens the doors and/or eyes of producers and the gatekeepers to democratize theater even further, and to show them that something of real merit can be created not in the “traditional” way.” Writing for Forbes, Lee Seymour believes virtual productions could help bolster Broadway’s return — “crowdsourced projects could provide a solution, or at least an augmentation, especially to cultivate younger fans.”
A new in-the-works musical starting to generate some heat is Bridgerton the Musical, based on the recently released original Netflix series, Bridgerton. Composed by Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear, early songs have gone viral, with “Burn For You” reaching over 4.5 million views. The hashtag #BridgertonTheMusical has attracted over 2.5million views. Receiving some attention from Netflix itself, Barlow has claimed “…the gatekeepers that be are kind of no longer in power. The people have the power, and that’s an exciting thing.”
Another new created-virtually musical, or series of musicals, garnering attention is Averno. Created by 21-year-old Morgan Smith, Averno is “is a transmedia universe — think the Marvel universe, but with musicals (and comics and novels and more) about witches.” Through collaboration with a diverse group of young artists, Averno has created “13 musicals, 4 novels, a TV Show, a podcast, a concept album, a webcomic musical, virtual reality, and more.” The universe exists across various websites and social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Spotify, and YouTube. Broadway Records, one of theatre’s leading record labels, recently released three Averno musicals as concept albums — “Over and Out,” “Willow,” and “Bittersummer.”
What do you think? Will Ratatouille be served up on Broadway? Could Bridgerton The Musical sit alongside Bridgerton on Netflix? Will the Averno universe come to rival that of Marvel?
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.
So, 2020, huh?! It has been a tumultuous, painful, bizarre year with so much loss, grief, and uncertainty. But on the other side of darkness, there is light. And if one good thing has come out of the pandemic, it’s that filmed live theatre content is more available than ever. From Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Shows Must Go Online, The National Theatre and Met Opera’s weekly streams, Disney+ releasing Hamilton, to smaller independent theatres like Southwark Playhouse, Wise Children, or Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe releasing previously filmed content, and creating new musicals to stream.
This year I launched the Filmed Live Musicals podcast. I chatted with director and writer Al Monaco, Tony nominee Brenda Braxton, the founder of Scenesaver Caroline Friedman, the executive director of Sarasota’s Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe Julie Leach, dancer and engineer Lena Wolfe, actor and puppeteer David Colston Corris, actor and producer Kimberly Faye Greenberg, academic Kelly Kessler, dancer and associate choreographer Barry Busby, collector Robert Sokol, and the award-winning composer Paul Gordon! The Filmed Live Musicals podcast is available for download wherever you listen to podcasts, and transcripts are available for each episode.
The Filmed Live Musicals database currently has information on nearly 200 musicals. The list I’m currently working on has almost twice that! And that’s not even including musicals that have been filmed without an audience, or the new genre of “zoomsicals”, musicals performed over Zoom.
In 2021, I’m looking forward to continuing to grow the site, learning about new filmed live musicals, and spotlighting artists from all around the world who make them happen.
My Favorite Things (2020)
To close out 2020, here's a list (in no particular order) of my favorite filmed live musicals released this year!
Filmed Live Without an Audience
Zoomsicals (musicals performed online/virtually)
What did you see this year that you loved?
Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter and Facebook!
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It's the final episode for 2020 of the Filmed Live Musicals podcast!
This week, I chat with writer, designer, and publisher Robert Sokol. We talk about Robert’s extensive cast recording collection, cast recordings in languages other than English, how changing the language affects a musical, the pros and cons of recordings going digital, Japanese takarazuka theatre, watching theatre online, and more!
Robert Sokol is a writer, designer, publisher, and producer. Credits include leadership roles with the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, the TBA Awards program, and the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), as well as concerts, conferences, and other events from New York to Los Angeles. Robert and his husband Ron Willis own VIA MEDIA, which provides playbill publishing and other creative services as BAYSTAGES. A Munich native, he has been collecting musical cast recordings for half a century and specializes in translations of Broadway and West End musicals. You can follow Robert on Facebook.
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