Monday, August 27, 2007

Online Bootleg Footage: Toward the Future, From the Past

For the article “Equity Nixes Pirated Plays on YouTube” by Nicole Kristal:

First of all, I want to tell you about a gift God has recently bestowed upon mankind. It’s called black electrical tape. For those of you into sports, there’s black hockey tape. If you’re going to go through the risk of videotaping a show, which could result in some pretty hefty fines, find some black tape and stick it over the red light.

I can understand Lea Salonga’s frustration. In a darkened theatre, a small red light would be more than slightly noticeable and would become a significant distraction. As an actor, you need to be able to focus on your character and not be caught off guard by talking children, ringing cell phones, or little red lights.

Personally, I’m really torn by the bootleg debate. I don’t think it is ever okay to watch a bootleg instead of paying to see the show or buying the OBCR. This latter point is really important. The fewer OBCRs that get purchased, the more and more shows will go unrecorded—like James Joyce’s The Dead, the revival Follies, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. As it is, if it wasn’t for smaller recording companies of recent years like Sh-K-Boom, we probably never would have gotten Amour, Little Women, or High Fidelity. If we want shows to get recorded, we simply must support those recordings.

As for videotaping, it’s a tough line. It’s a black and white issue in that, because the producers ask that you refrain from it and because it is against the law, it is clearly wrong. It’s a violation of copyright. That’s wrong.

But then there’s the education side of me. An audio recording of a show is an amazing record of those performances, but as I learned from hearing Ragtime for years then seeing it at the Lincoln Center, it is still not a complete record. And the reality is that for many people on this planet, a trip to the Lincoln Center isn’t just a subway stop away.

YouTube and BlueGobo are essential places to learn about the great shows and performances of the past and recent past. Seeing great performances from shows on Broadway through recordings from television appearances and The Tony Awards have been a monumental source of inspiration and education for me. You learn so much not only from the acting performances but in the choreography, the staging, the costuming, the lighting, and the set design, not to mention about concept, tone, or style.

However, those are limited sources. You are limited to marketable moments, often nipped and tucked, from early in the show’s run. For example, the “Painting My Portrait” performance from Jane Eyre that I linked in my Amazing Broadway Performer profile on Marla Schaffel was astounding. No memory can fully hold the power of that performance, which, even with limited quality, was perfectly captured by that bootlegger. I get chills watching that footage. She is amazing. I can’t believe that anyone connected with Jane Eyre wouldn’t want that clip to be available to anyone wanting to know more about that show. No photo or list of award nominations can properly capture the essence of the set and costumes in live performance. If given the choice between rough bootleg footage and a memory wisped away in the wind of time, I can’t believe many performers would not at least appreciate the former.

Plus, there are so many great performances that never get recorded otherwise, such as very talented replacement and tour casts who typically never get the benefit of a full onslaught of media attention, such as Idina Menzel or Maya Days in Aida or Amy Bodnar and William Paul Michals in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Most theatre books don’t even acknowledge these casts, let alone discuss the merit of these performances. Those are great interpretations that deserve to be more than footnotes on or, worse yet, like most tour casts, forgotten altogether.

I can certainly understand that producers of shows currently on the boards or on tour wouldn’t want their shows to be showcased on YouTube because they are selling those moments for premium prices. However, I am shocked that those producers are running from YouTube rather than utilizing it as one aspect of a well-rounded promotional campaign. There’s got to be some way of making these sites work for them. For example, someone uploaded a promotional video from the Wicked tour. Here is a producer-led effort to highlight the best parts of a show in order to sell it. What a great thing to be posted on YouTube! If I was a youngster looking to travel to New York and wanted to know which show to see, I think YouTube would be a starting ground. Plus, kids get so fanatic about their favorite things that these producer-led posted video clips/montages would get MySpace/Facebook linking. When kids are looking at their friends’ MySpace pages, they check everything out. Those high-quality promotional videos would get the show some major face-time.

It’s always hard to tell what the truth is in articles like this. You have one or two people speaking for an entire legion of union members. I can’t believe that there aren’t many Equity actors who don’t appreciate the love and adoration a posting on YouTube means. Most Broadway performers don’t get professional video like Andrea Rivette and Coleen Sexton in Jekyll and Hyde, regular concert appearances like Audra McDonald, or feature film roles like Kristin Chenoweth. It’s also not like anyone posting on YouTube is making any money off these videos. It’s simply sharing favorite moments from favorite shows so that, even when the show has long closed, people can still experience and learn.

I’m just not sure I see anything wrong with that. This “panic because it’s new” mentality could be a case of running from the future, toward the past.

the Broadway Mouth
August 27, 2007


Anonymous said...

As a member of the musical community, I strive to find videos of musicals that may never make it to the West Coast. Just FYI, I'm not a member of law enforcement, nor in favor of a lawyer. I just want to SEE it. It'll be 3 years at LEAST before it hits home. I have four recordings of Wicked, 3 of Rent, et cetera. I would LOVE to see the full show. I've already memorized the libretto. I would love to see the show. mernoir @ wavecable . com I would love to share all I have. Including a recording of Evil Dead: The Musical. ;)

Amelia said...

Do you know where I could find a video/audio recording of the 39 steps? I have been looking DESPERATELY. You seem like of all people you would know. Thanks.

Broadway Mouth Blog said...

Sorry Amelia, I wouldn't know. If you hunt around enough, however, I'm sure you can find something. Best wishes!

Ricardo said...

I live in Chile and we have NO musicals that come here. Literally, NONE. YouTube/Blogs is the only way I can even see the Tony award performances, or even the TV commercials for the productions. It's just another way the US wants to keep other people maybe? i don't know, but it is very frustrating because i want to see the shows so much but it is impossible because they will never come here on tours and there are no productions here at all of anything, and there's a lot of other people in the world who have the same problem, so video is the only possible way we can see a production.