Behind the Curtain

Official Blog of International City Theatre

Is It Still Live Theatre if Taped for Streaming?

December 10th, 2010

The internet and its abundance of technologies continues to redefine how we live our lives, especially our consumer behavior. One such technology is video streaming. Companies like Netflix have single-handedly brought video rental giants like Blockbuster and Hollywood Videos to their knees because of this easily affordable and accessible technology. Today, you can play a flat fee of $20 a month to watch as many movies as you would like on your computer. Like anything, technology trends always receive different modifications from different industries, and the same holds true for the theatre industry.

There is a non-profit organization in Seattle called On the Boards, and they have developed what is essentially Netflix for theatre. This organization owns a space where they present international theatre, dance and music productions. They film their performance with four HD digital video cameras, edit them and then upload them to their website for rental and/or purchase. You can view their work at

For $5, you can rent a video for 48 hours. If you would like to download and purchase a video, the cost becomes $15. Such a service, while innovative, may become problematic for different theatres.

On the Boards does not typically use Equity actors, so they don’t have to worry about the union’s restrictions and rules regarding filming live performances with Equity actors. Under current Equity agreements, equity-waiver theatres could never film and sell taped performances without paying a very large sum of money that they could not afford. Also, for someone who is not as informed on theatre and the difference between professional and non-professional theatre, they may be given an inaccurate representation of the quality of theatre and its potential.

The bigger issue is simple. Can you still call it theatre if you are watching a taped video of a live experience? Does providing the option of streaming these performances influence whether people will attend a performance or not? Could this be used as a marketing tool to convince people to attend a live performance of a production?

The questions are limitless, and both sides can be argued. Whether this is good for theatre in the long run is yet to be determined, but one thing is definitely certain. The perception of theatre is changing, and it is our responsibility to have as much of a say in that change as possible. Our vote is for sold-out performances for all productions. We feel pretty confident that all theatres will join that campaign first.

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