The Playgoer: Theatre and New Media

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Theatre and New Media

by Abigail Katz

Nelson Pressley of the Washington Post wrote an article recently about the advent of YouTube and how it affects theatre, particularly Broadway. It raises the issue of new media and the arts- what is legitimate marketing? At what point should actors be compensated? How can illegal footage and its appearance on the web be monitered? Pressley spoke to some members of the industry who said the following:

"We're there to protect the actors and their images," says Maria Somma, spokeswoman for Actors' Equity Association. Equity monitors online violations and has succeeded in getting YouTube and Google to take down illegal performance footage. But, Somma says, "the problem is, it goes back up."

In terms of using B-roll footage on the web:

Should actors be paid for such usage? Should penalties be imposed when such footage mysteriously migrates from official Web sites to less-governed areas of cyberspace This is the frontier, and the contract negotiated between Equity and the Broadway League this summer (scheduled for ratification this week) specifically allows for more marketing flexibility in the brave new world.

League Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin notes that official show Web sites are creating increasingly sophisticated content, and she says the rise in youth-oriented productions is helping to drive the change. In bygone years, St. Martin says, "you didn't have seven, eight, nine shows that appealed to audiences of 12- to 25-year olds. And that [online] is where they find their entertainment."

Pressley also addresses how advertising has changed with new media:

Media corporations are reportedly growing less interested in banning contraband video (shared yuks from TV, for instance) than in milking unplumbed advertising opportunities from whatever arrives online. As it is, much of the theater that's viewable through the virtual window is already legit in the form of commercials- Lane doing 16-second spots as the bombastically profane U.S. president in David Mamet's "November" (recently closed), or teasing montages for such current Tony- winning shows as "In the Heights" and "Boeing-Boeing."

So what is fair in this new age of communication and seemingly unlimited access to almost anything? Even with Equity wrapping up its most recent agreement, new media will most certainly continue to be an issue down the road in future negotiations. And what about authors, directors, and desisgners? Should they be compensated for footage appearing on the web, whether it's illegal or legitimate?

It's true that no new invention can replace live theatre, but that doesn't mean the world of theatre goes unaffected by changing technology. This is a conversation that will no doubt go on for quite a while.

1 comment:

Miss Lynn said...


You raised an interesting question which I briefly mentioned recently in my own blog, B-more Theatre. At least in Baltimore, most of the local theatre scene can be found on Facebook. Actors, directors, designers, audience members, etc. I think the next logical step is to use this new form of media to infuse our audiences with fresh faces. A really great example of this is Almeida Theatre's YouTube video promoting their production of The Last Days of Judas Isacariot by Stephen Aldy Guirgis. Also on YouTube there is a user called WestEndTheatre that has multiple videos to promote various productions in London. After a little research I found out that the user is actually an advertising agency in London that specializes in live entertainment. If it works for London, why wouldn’t it work for New York?

Social media is taking over the way that we interact with the world at large. In theatre, we sometimes miss the boat for awhile when it comes to new technology or resist it for fear it will change what is so dear to us. As much as a hate saying it, I think we should take a clue from Hollywood on this one. What if theatre fully embraced the idea of trailers? What if it was built into the marketing budget for a show? Viral marketing is making its mark on the world at large, so why shouldn’t Broadway and other theatres capitalize on this? The one thing to remember is that viral marketing works because it is free; there are no subscriptions to buy, no mailing lists to sign-up for, you engage as much or as little as you want to.

I know I haven’t discussed what the effect would be on the performer, but the theatre community at large should embrace this new way of marketing. If not, they might just be left in the dust…