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Making Theatre Accessible Online

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

While these past few months have been a worrying time for many within the theatre industry, there is still a silver lining. Despite the fact that theatres across the globe have closed their doors indefinitely due to the pandemic, theatre has still found ways to thrive.

Many theatre companies have been releasing filmed versions of past performances either for free, or for donations to the company itself or organizations supporting industry professionals during these uncertain times.

With Broadway shows like Bandstand and Hamilton being released to the general public, I couldn’t help but wonder:

Why don’t more musicals do this?

Musical theatre is not easily accessible to most people for many reasons such as: finance, disability, and location.

Theatre is an expensive hobby. The reality is that a lot of people simply cannot afford a ticket, and in the cases of those who don’t live near a commercial theatre hub, additional expenses include transportation and accommodations.

For example, I purchased tickets to Hamilton in Toronto as a gift for my mother. The cheapest tickets I could find side by side came out to roughly $300 and were towards the very back of the theatre. Naturally, seeing it in HD for $8.99 was a much better alternative.

I am no stranger to ‘nosebleed’ seats, and I generally enjoy a fuller view of the stage. However, what is wonderful about these recordings, is the ability to experience close ups, capturing brilliant performances. By making these recordings available, it gives everyone access to a good seat.

Many theatres provide separate performances for those who may have some difficulty experiencing live theatre. Relaxed performances are becoming more common, as are dates where an ASL interpreter is present, but these options are not always given. Making these performances available to view from home not only makes theatre more accessible, but more inclusive.

Theatre accessibility is a huge issue that cannot be easily fixed by just professionally recording shows and releasing them online. There is a lot to be done when it comes to live theatre, as well as the physical theatres/venues themselves. This includes, but is not limited too; interpreted performances, relaxed performances, box office prices, and wheelchair accessibility.

When it comes to pricing, I can understand that theatre is a business and people do make their living through this art form. However, I still think as an industry we need to make sure we are accessible and inclusive.

Aside from accessibility, there are many other benefits to releasing shows in this way.

In cases where the director of the stage show directs the filmed version, the audience is given the unique opportunity to see the show as the director envisioned it. Live performances have so much happening onstage at any given moment, and oftentimes little moments can get missed. In these filmed releases, our attention is directed to the appropriate places while still providing the bigger picture.

The most important reason of all is legacy. Imagine being able to find footage of the show that changed your life, or performances from legends who have since passed away. This is a way of documenting the history of the theatre industry and sharing it with the world.

I am not an expert, and I understand that the process is far more complex than I can imagine.

However, it would be amazing to have these shows filmed professionally before they close on the Great Bright Way, edited, and released for purchase online.

There is definitely a market for it, and I think that by making theatre more readily accessible, it could even increase ticket sales! For those of us paying to visit Broadway or The West End, money has been spent on accommodations, which leads to being picky when it comes to choosing shows. For example, after seeing Hamilton on Disney+ and enjoying it, I am more likely to invest in tickets to a show I know I’ll love.

I also believe this would stall Bootleg culture, where shows are recorded illegally and then distributed amongst fans. If there was a way to enjoy a show in HD from home, people would rather pay for that than something grainy and poorly filmed.

Ultimately, it all comes down to this:

If we can make theatre accessible during a pandemic, we should be able to do it all the time, and hopefully we are able to move forward in this direction as the world opens up.

There’s something really magical about experiencing legendary theatre at home, even if it isn’t the same as being able to see a show live. Having this opportunity available during these difficult times has been such a treat.

Which shows have you been able to catch at home?

Leave us a comment sharing your thoughts on these filmed performances!

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