"Record That Shit" - Should Musicals be Filmed?
Updated: Jun 2
Fans of theatre know how difficult it can be to go and see a show you are dying to see. You need to be in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, and once that window has passed the opportunity is gone. But then again, if you are a fan of theatre, odds are that is something you cherish. The exclusivity of theatre makes it feel personal and emotional, whether it is a small show to a limited audience or the next big show to rock the west end, there is a certain satisfaction in saying “I was there”. Scrolling through social media the other day though, I came across a post from blogging social media platform Tumblr who felt quite vehemently the opposite in regards to Broadway musicals:
“If Broadway doesn’t want bootlegs floating around then they need to get their act together and make legal recordings. You can say all you want that theater is meant to be enjoyed live, but the fact of the matter is not everybody can get to NYC to go to a Broadway show. Not everybody can afford to take the time off of work and buy a plane ticket to NYC and buy a night in a hotel AND get the ticket to the show. People want to see the shows, that’s why there’s a bootleg market in the first place, but it’s unreasonable to expect that everyone has the time, money, and ability to make it out to the one place in the world to see something on Boradway, especially if it’s a limited engagement. So record that shit, slap some subtitles on it, and sell it so we can buy it legally.”
Upon first reading, this reeks of millennial entitlement. Not being able to afford something, yet still expect to have access to it at the potential expense of the creators behind it, given that by introducing legal recordings may decrease ticket sales. I usually maintain that if a show is performing somewhere, and then the show belongs to that area. It belongs to the people who have the opportunity to see it, whether they travel for it or not. Introducin
g recordings would dilute that authenticity, and take away the fleeting opportunity that is live performance, ironically making it more disposable than allowing a show to pass without ever being preserved.
But then again, my instinctive reactions fail to take into account that it is a particular section of theatre that Sarahexplosions refers to. Broadway is a very different animal to theatre and musicals that perform in smaller venues, acting as both a landmark and a tourist attraction in addition to a piece of art. The same is true of Shakespeare’s Globe, which has been producing and selling recordings of their shows since 2012. While I cannot say I have every attended a show on Broadway, it’s iconic nature is similar to that of London’s West End, and as such they charge incredibly high prices yet appeal to a mass audience, encouraging the same elitism that makes theatre so alienating and unapproachable to many people. It is a lot more commercial that theatre on a larger scale, depressingly so as one only has to look around to find diverse and creative theatre locally. Nevertheless, theatre and musicals from the West End and Broadway do not necessarily have the same local relevance of, for want of a better term, normal theatre, as people from all over the world travel to see it.
Having never previously looked into bootleg recordings, I was surprised at how easy they are to find. There is certainly an industry to be taken advantage of, legal or not. Yet somehow I have my doubts that producing legal recordings would get rid of that industry, when we live in a world that films, a medium that can be bought in umpteen variations of quality to be rewatched at any given time, is so often watched through illegal downloads and fuzzy recordings of cinema screens.
At the moment, the most Broadway and the West End offer are audio recordings of all the songs from their shows, which prove incredibly popular and lead to musical enthusiasts knowing all the words to every song before ever seeing the stage show. Take the cultural phenomenon of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sung and rapped musical “Hamilton” for example. Within days of opening night, the internet was demanding a bootleg of the show, to which Miranda replied “I'm thrilled you haven't heard a shitty, half-iphone recorded version yet, because I spent 6 years writing this and when you hear it, I want you to hear what I intended. I'm sorry theater only exists in one place at a time but that is also its magic.” While there is a soundtrack of the musical, there has yet to be a filmed recording of it. Of the thousands across the globe that have all the words to all the songs ingrained in their head, few will ever actually be able to see it. There is a certain tragedy in that, so perhaps filming the shows to make them more available to the masses would not be such a bad idea.
That said it would be remiss of me not to mention that I do always not hold such large scale theatre in high regard – primarily as it puts to question the near universal truth that theatre is never made for money, whatever the quality of the shows produced. They do not belong to the same restrictions of time and space that most productions are, with runs that go on for years instead of weeks and gain worldwide reputations. As such, only allowing the upper middle-class to see them is questionable. So with my slight disdain comes an acceptance that if people want to see the musicals they love without the inordinate expense – why on earth not?