I did something illegal yesterday. . .

. . . And I feel so guilty, I just have to get it off my electronic-chest, and confess it here . . . in front of all of you.

I . . . I . . . took a video of a Broadway show.

I know, I know.  But please, don’t judge me yet.  First, watch this 10 second clip of Janis Joplin that I shot from row J.


Now before you send the Broadway Usher Police after me, understand that I didn’t do it because I’m a crazed Joplin fangirl.  I did have a point.

I did it to demonstrate that if we think taking photos and videos of performances is bad now, well just wait, because it’s about to get a lot worse.  You see, not one person in that audience knew I was shooting that video.

Because I shot it with my new Google Glass.

If you haven’t seen Google Glass, it’s an eyeglass like device that can shoot stills and video faster than Joplin can riff!  It’s operated discreetly by a slight swipe and a tap and everything you see is instantly captured and shareable.

Incredible marketing opportunities abound (I could have sent that video around the world seconds after it happened without anyone knowing and without me having to stop watching the show (not looking down at my phone, or typing anything.  It’s communication multi-tasking!))

But it’s obviously intruding in areas that should be protected.

So what do we do?  What can we do?

Sure, Glass will become more instantly recognizable by the Usher Police after it goes mass market.  They can ask people to remove them (and then people will put them back on and take some shots and then off they come).  But see, Glass is just the beginning.  The cameras will get smaller, easier to operate, and capturing media will be practically undetectable.  At some point in the not-so-distant future . . . we’ll be taking pix and vid by just thinking about it!

We’re going to lose this fight.  It’s like drinking a beer in public.  Technology is putting a paper bag around cameras.  So maybe we should stop fighting and focus on making sure people use technology that doesn’t distract others . . . or allowing them to shoot only during designated times?  (I’ve always been a fan of allowing photos/vid during curtain calls – see this post.)

I don’t know, though. Even as I typed the above, it made me nervous.  I’ll admit we have a problem, and at the same time that problem could be one of the biggest weapons we have in modern day marketing.

And I’ll also admit I don’t have a solution.

Do you?

(Oh, and while I’m at it . . . there’s another bit of technology that is infiltrating our airspace.  During the show last night, a guy two rows in front of me took a puff on an electronic cigarette.)


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  • Frank Galgano says:

    I have such mixed feelings about this subject! I agree that it’s a loosing battle and we should probably be focusing on other things rather than spending time, money and other resources trying to stop people from recording/photographing their favorite shows. I mean, if they are filming…it’s most likely because they LOVE theatre. (if they’re trying to sell the video, it would ALSO be to someone who LOVES the theatre! not so bad in my book)

    However, I was in the off-Broadway company of Naked Boys Singing for 3 years, and I’ll tell you…I stopped that show so many times because people had cameras in the audience. That was a show that I wasn’t ashamed of…but I certainly don’t need video evidence floating around the inter-webs!

    So…where and HOW to draw the line?!

  • Sierra Rein says:

    My husband has Google Glass, and the option to have an instant and very subtle way of archiving your own POV of your experiences is very tempting. Check out his Google Blog at http://thepete.com/category/theglasslog. I even sang once with it on so others could see my POV at an open mic, as an experiment. While currently the audio and video quality is not super (especially in the dark), I agree that it’ll be quite hard in the future to keep people from posting entire shows from their POV online for others to watch. It’s not feasible or legal to technologically jam recording devices, so I guess the challenge will ultimately be how to make the theatrical experience – seeing a show in person – more satisfactory/fun/fulfilling than seeing it (for free) on a flat screen.

  • john Sweeney says:

    I absolutely have an answer…

    Get ahead of the issue. You should post videos of your shows for the whole world to see.

    I don’t go to concerts because I’ve never heard the music before. I don’t go to plays because I don’t know the story.

    I go because even the best recording can’t replace the live experience.

    If someone is disrupting your performance, do something about it. If they aren’t, what are you worrying about.

    Don’t try to avoid the inevitable – find a way to take advantage of it!

  • Samuel Gelman says:

    This is a copy from a fan forum(http://www.billyelliottheforum.me.uk/forum/index.php) that I belong to. The show is Billy Elliot and the theater is the Victoria Palace in London. Our Gallery admin has made a contact with the theater to arrange this for the leaving shows and the anniversary or special shows.


    We have very kindly been given permission by the Victoria Palace for photographs at Harrison’s last night

    The rules are the same as usual and must be adhered to. They are:




    Thanking everybody in anticipation of your usual co-operation

  • Randi says:

    I absolutely agree that more videos should be made available by the production in order to both build anticipation and quell the desire to have such video.

    I also really wish Broadway theatres installed the (albeit admittedly expensive) hawkeye equipment that advanced movie theatres use during screenings and stuff — the device is attracted to anyone who takes out a phone or electronic device and lights up on them in a manner not intrusive to the audience but enough for the usher to find and escort out. (Happened to my mom at CinemaCon; hilarious.)

  • Lois Jacobs says:

    Besides being a theater goer, I am in an usher in the professional houses in Boston. We stop cameras because of the producers. We do what we are told. Whether it is a rock concert or a Broadway show, management tells us to either stop the cameras or not.Some rock people don’t care. As a producer, you instruct the House manager who tells the Head Usher the policy. New equipment will make it harder.

  • What a great discussion starter! As an actor trying to navigate modern-day marketing, which thrives on photos and videos, I have bemoaned the stringent rules by Equity against recording performances.
    I understand piracy is an issue as it has had an effect on CDs and DVDs sales. However, those are physical products on both ends, whether a pirated DVD or a commercial DVD. One is just cheaper than the other. But the argument that live theater would suffer from recordings is not as strong because it is a completely different and more tangible medium. For example, a majority of people still prefer actual books, even though ebooks have been out for years now.
    So the question is how to deal with cameras in the theater. As an actor, those flashes and red video dots are distracting, but more subtle ways to capture the performance (like Google Glasses) are not intrusive at all. Maybe you could charge higher ticket prices to those sitting in a certain section who want to video/photograph the show? And then offer them credits or partial refunds if they turn over those usable videos to actors/producers? Maybe you could push for camera jammers to be legal in theaters? Maybe you could search for and utilize these YouTube videos to sell tix rather than shut them down? It’s free advertising for the show and can get people to wanna see it live.
    Whatever the answer, it has to be addressed and not simply ignored or pushed aside as Equity and others want to do. Theater is a live experience that technology cannot compete with. However, it is a useful and essential tool to reach out to and ultimately increase current and future theatergoers.

    • David Rigano says:

      Reminds me that the only existing archive footage of the original production of Company is a bootleg that’d was made from the audience on tour, and that’s what you can see at Lincoln Center. Now and then it does come in handy.

  • Polo says:

    Expensive memories. That’s all an audience is left with when they leave a production. The same with authors and songsters that have any sort of production which someone puts up money. Without video documentation of their work all their left with are expensive memories. Bring on the video, but make it pristene and hi-def.
    The Grateful dead let everyone record all their shows with audio, let’s do the same for Broadway using state of the art video.

  • Ilene Argento says:

    Frankly, I have to agree with John Sweeney’s comment … I go for the live experience, for the ‘no performance is identical,’ for the sound, the lighting, the feeling in the theatre. I HATE when people at concerts and the like take pictures or videos with their cell phones – VERY distracting to what their screens and have them sometimes even blocking my view, however, if your using something like those glasses, and it has no sound, light blinking, nothing to disrupt an audience member or person on stage, who cares? The quality still doesn’t compare with being there, but it could work to the advantage of a Producer with a GOOD show. Many people google clips of shows before deciding what they want to see. Others are hopeful to get the perspective from various seat locations (especially short people like me!). It’s a losing battle, so as long as it doesn’t disrupt, why not? Now, if people start SELLING their videos, THEN we’ve got a problem!

  • Liz Gosselin says:

    Hi Ken,

    So glad (and a bit envious) you posted about your theatre experience with GoogleGlasses. I’ve been wondering when that would come up. I’ve recently started attending National Theatre Live productions at my local Cineplex. I loved watching “The Audience”, as well as Sir Kenneth’s production of that Scottish play, and the NT’s 50th Anniversary celebration. I’m more than happy to pay a higher ticket price to watch a recording of those plays. All the while, though, I’m thinking, why am I not getting this opportunity from Broadway plays?… I realize these broadcasts are expensive to produce. How would that be if we could harness the audience’s participation in broadcasting? Nothing can ever replace theatre’s immediacy and real-time impact. My experience in NTLive made me buy a season subscription in one of my community theatre’s season. We need to remind people why theatre can be such a powerful medium. I think exposure to more than a theatre’s marketing material would be a major step forward.

    • David Rigano says:

      The Metropolitan Opera has the funds to professionally film a lot of their shows, and while not a live showing, they do offer free outdoor showings of the takes during the summer, which is a great way to see fantastic operas done really well. But this brings up another point: why are we the only major world power without a federally subsidized theatre? I think it’s amazing how much emphasis you guys put on your National Theatre, but we unfortunately don’t have anything like that.

  • LA Producer says:

    What I believe would be awful would be someone posting a less than stellar performance shot with Google Glass! Why not shoot promo vids of the best songs (or edit a montage) that’s filmed with high quality equipment and perhaps 3-4 cameras? Really capture the excitement of what someone will experience at the live show.

  • Jeff says:

    The best answer to shitty amateur video is amazing professional video. Pearl Jam has an entire secondary income stream by selling a copy of every concert after each leg of the tour, professionally mixed. Before that, fans traded bootlegs. Who would want to hear a fan bootleg now, when you know in a few weeks you can get soundboard quality?

    Would I have a Blu-Ray of the Godspell Revival? Of course. It doesn’t even matter when you sell it. Wait until after it closes if you’re concerned about cannibalizing sales, but announce that it is coming someday to kill the market.

    The Rent Blu-Ray from Broadway is something I adore, but let’s be honest, would I ever play it again if an HD copy of the OBC was released? Probably not.

    I’m sure there are licensing issues, and royalties issues, and a whole can of worms involved, but similar to premium seats addressing scalping, quality professional video addresses bootlegging.

    There are movies where I decide whether to see it on the big screen or if my HDTV at home will suffice. But I don’t think of theater the same way. No fan would wait for the video rather than see the magic live and in person.

    Did the Memphis video help or hurt sales? You can certainly see enough Phantom videos to never go to the theater again. Would it help Spider-Man close the gap? As you’ve shown, bootlegging is already happening (I bootlegged a show tonight; a music concert, though. Will I listen again, or delete it in a few months? Who can tell? I don’t post them online ever, though.)

    So, the industry needs to figure this out. Would a Lion King concert video really empty out the house? Doubtful.

  • Rich Mc says:

    I see these videos as a counter-productive influence in eliciting audience interest or in theater marketing generally.
    Think about it – usually poor-to-fair audio/video quality and totally incapable of capturing or even giving a whiff of the live theater experience; this is especially true for musicals with elaborate staging effects. Producers should do what ever it takes to prevent or squelch demand for these videos. Preempting them with professionally shot, hi-quality ‘shop’ videos may be an answer, with the caveat that something ‘extra’ needs to be added content-wise that foretells the live experience behind the digital veil. (After this clip, think I’ll pass on seeing Janis Joplin.)

  • Janis says:

    Everybody’s giving in too soon. Technology made Google glasses possible and technology can make their use in certain areas impossible.
    Sooner or later, technology will be available to make illegal filming impossible. And it will be available sooner if there is a huge and loud demand.

  • Robert Kellogg says:

    Star to Stage Manager: “Oh Bob, there is someone in the house filming me. I can see the red light. I just can’t work with this. Do something!” So I leave the deck, rally the ushers and search the house, trying not to disturb the performance. (Good luck!) I find a not so sober patron with his little red light on his convention’s lapel pin. I go back stage to sooth the star.
    Oh, how I miss those days! Now, from me to any star on Broadway. “They are all filming the entire show. It’s life! It sucks! Get used to it”
    And my announcement to the House: “Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. We would like to remind you that the use of glasses of any kind, during this performance is strictly prohibited.”
    Ken, you are doing a great job. I love watching you grow in your success.
    An old friend from SHOWBOAT
    Bob Kellogg

  • Why not 11 seconds of homemade Kinky Boots video?

  • Max Gilman says:

    I agree with most commentators, bring on the google glass recorders and recordings. Much less disruptive and bothersome than all those shmendriks trying to take hidden videos with their iphones, ipads, etc, with large glaring screens brightening up seating areas while your trying to watch a play or musical. No one I know will stop going to live shows because they can see a copy on a DVD from someone. I can watch West Side Story on DVD, as well as any 100s of musicals or plays. Do I still attend live theatre after 44 years? Absolutely. Why, because you cannot get from a TV monitor what you can get from being in the audience. (Not being that creative, I won’t list all the differences). Would I rather see Orlando Bloom live on stage in Romeo and Juliet (from row P) rather than a video on line? You bet your ass! (And there were plenty of morons trying to video him on their iphones last night). I think it will be the best of both worlds, google glass recording which no one notices without disturbing anyone around you, and having a “memento” of your trip to the theatre, when your memory starts to go (so many shows I saw those 44 years ago, and I have to rely on my best friend for many of those memories). As long as no one is selling their copy, who cares. If they do, that’s infringing on copyrights and they deserve to be fined and jailed. I wish I had google glass when I visited the Hermitage Museum this summer, and take video of all the rooms where its not permitted. Just to have a memento. Would it stop others from visiting St Petersburg, Russia? More likely, it would make more people want to go. And I’d have some treasured memories to see before my own eyes.

    Now, regarding those damned electric cigarettes..put them away in your pocket where your regular cigarettes used to be. Who needs smoke rising in a dark theatre regardless of what is causing it. Scary is what I’d think. Take your 15 minute intermission and smoke your electric cigarette brains out!!!

  • David Rigano says:

    I think the e-cigarette is the worse offender to there live experience in this story. It doesn’t master what kind of smoke it is, there should be no smoking during the show. If it’s a vapor e-cigarette that won’t bother anyone before the show or during intermission, then fine. But its disruptive to the show and should not be allowed while the performance is underway.

    Interestingly, though, I saw a very convincing e-cigarette used in a show last night in a theatre that I know cannot use real flame or smoke due to their deluge system. It was a period piece and it looked like a real cigarette from the audience. This might be very useful on stage, and the audience doesn’t need the awful smell of herbal cigarette slowly wafting through the house.

  • Paula says:

    I have only one comment about video recording at a performance. It is so annoying and disrespectful
    to audience members seated near someone taking
    video or photographs. At the Il Divo show, a man in the row in front of me held up his camera
    constantly to take photos. I was in the orchestra, so I paid a good price. I want to enjoy the show I go to and not be distracted or
    the view obscured so that I can’t see the show.

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