The threat of COVID-19 is shutting down theaters across the world, but it’s not killing theater – which is increasingly going online.
There are two types of online theater now – the ongoing online sites that offer video-capture recordings of shows that were on stage, many on Broadway, but also Off-Broadway, and international performances.
The second type are newly created livestreaming events that are in response to the current situation, and from which may emerge exciting new forms of theater.
Theater-focused online streaming site:
Several of the ongoing services – Marquee, the Metropolitan Opera and On The Boards — are offering free access for the month, in response to the crisis.
BroadwayHD offers hundreds of productions, from the recent acclaimed Broadway revival of Carousel to the original Sweeney Todd. A subscription costs $8.99 per month after a seven-day free trial.
Digital Theatre focuses on British productions, from Shakespeare to West End versions of Broadway shows. Subscriptions cost £9.99 a month, but you can rent a specific production for £7.99 and up
Marquee offers dance, opera and theater from around the world, including productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Donmar Warehouse. Subscriptions normally cost $8.99 a month, but Marquee is offering 30 days for free.
The Met is offering a different opera every day for free, each starting at 7:30 p.m. and staying up for 20 hours. During this period of shutdown and social distancing, they are offering it for free.
On The Boards is a decade-old website that began in their Seattle-based theater and now offers some 60 performances by such avant-garde artists as Young Jean Lee, from their own theater, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the Fusebox Festival in Austin, and Performance Space 122 in New York. On The Boards is offering its show for free through the end of April with code ARTATHOME2020.
Theater available from regular online streaming services
Musicals and other Broadway shows, some of them taped directly from the stage, that you can rent (for as little as $2.95) or buy (usually for $9.99) if you have a membership on Amazon Prime. (Some, such as Carousel are free with Amazon Prime membership.)
Netflix, available only by subscription, has lately made a habit of video-capturing Broadway shows on stage shortly before the end of their runs. Among the current offerings: American Son, John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons, Oh Hello, Shrek, Springsteen on Broadway. There are also a revolving selection of movie adaptations of the original stage musicals
Currently, Hairspray, Jersey Boys, Sweeney Todd.
PBS Passport offers access to shows past and present from the Public Broadcasting System; it requires that you become a member. ($60 annual or $5 monthly) In addition to the full library of episodes from Great Perfromances, there is also a special collection of Broadway plays on Broadway on PBS including The Sound of Music, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, Red, Much Ado About Nothing and Kinky Boots.
New Livestreaming shows
There are new offerings sprouting up every day, as theaters and theater artists adjust and innovate in the new reality.
On their Facebook page, the National Yiddish Theatre presented “Yiddish theater, past, present and future,” which is still available. The theater promises to do more.
The Broadway revival of the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical Company is using their Instagram account to present different cast members each night.
A series of one-song performances by Broadway stars from their own homes. Since it began March 13th, there have been performances (which you can still see) by Jagged Little Pill’s Kathryn Gallagher, Dear Evan Hansen’s Andrew Barth Feldman singing from Godspell , Andy Karl and Orfeh, Carolee Carmello singing from Hello, Dolly!, Hadestown’s John Krause.
This twice daily combination performance and talk show, with hosts Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, was launched on Monday March 16 with Kelli O’Hara, and has a roster of top-notch Broadway talent every day since. It’s turned out to be a combination of concert, talk show, and public service announcement – and it may well be the start of a new genre.
An instagram account that’s been offering a nightly “theatrical broadcast,” and soliciting artists to contribute more. Among the broadcasts so far (and still available) are Emily Walton singing from “Darling Grenadine” and Margot Seibert from “Unknown Soldier,” (which I reviewed.) both musicals that were playing Off-Broadway until all theaters were shut down.
Twenty theater writers — including David Lindsay-Abaire and Stephen Adly Guirgis — were paired with 20 actors — including Hugh Dancy, Rachel Dratch, Marin Ireland, Richard Kind, Bobby Moreno — for 20 original monologues, which were posted from 6 p.m. to midnight on Tuesday, March 17 and are now available
A newly released recording of this 90-minute musical by the creator of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
Ren Dara Santiago’s play set in Harlem in 2014 “delves deep into the psyche of a teenage girl and her two brothers left to raise each other.” It was playing on stage when the theaters were shut down, but will now be available for pay-for-view online March 23-April 5: $15 tix.
Teenage Dick at Theater Wit in Chicago
The play by Mike Lew imagines Richard III as a disabled h.s. student, will be livestreamed starting 3/20. It’s a production of a Chicago company, but thanks to the miracle of Livestreaming, it’s available beyond Chicago. I’m not sure how they’re going to be doing this, but the theater is promising talk-backs after each performance.
In New York, LaMama ETC, which has long experimented with livestreaming events all over the world, is planning to livestream their own productions.
Here Arts Center, another downtown NYC theater, which just presented the puppet Anywhere online, plans a weekly series Here@Home
And that’s just a sample of what’s here and what’s to come.