What my father said that pi$$ed me off.

My dad really knows how to get my “billy” goat.  (That will make sense in a minute.)

About five years ago I got my father tickets to see the Metropolitan Opera . . . in HD.  You know about that, right?  It’s the program that the Met has that brings the opera to the rest of the country/world by showing telecasts in movie theaters.

See, my father loves the opera.  But he doesn’t love going to New York City.  So the Met brought the opera to him.

When I first gave him the tickets, he refused them.  “No,” he said in his fusion of an Indian/British accent.  “That is not the way to see opera. It is meant to be seen live!”  (He’s a bit of an opera snob, as you can tell.)

But I forced the tickets on him, just like I forced a VCR on him in 1983, and an iPhone on him in 2010.

And, well . . . he hasn’t missed a telecast since.

And when he sees one he likes, he calls me to tell me how I should go see the actual production . . . and that he’ll buy me tickets (word of mouth, anyone?).

The telecasts are working for my dad, they are working for the Met, and more importantly, they are working for the opera . . . a challenged art form that used to be one of the most popular forms of live entertainment, which is now only produced by non profits.

So what did my dad say that made me so mad?

“Kenneth,” he said (only about 3 people in the world call me that, by the way, so don’t you start!), “When I was at the opera this afternoon, they showed a preview of Billy Elliot . . . they are going to telecast it in the movie theater.  I’m going to see it!”

Akljsdlkjfklajsdjfoiwjeifojsaldkjfklawjelkfjaskldjfas.

(That’s a slew of expletives if you didn’t figure that out yet – and now do you get the “billy”-goat reference?)

I loved Billy Elliot.  And I actually want to see it.  That’s not why I’m irritated.  What I’m mad about is that this is a British production, being recorded in and broadcast from Great Britain . . . and not from Broadway.

The British are winning the war on the telecasting of theater.  First it was the National Theatre and their plays, and now this.  And where are we?  Still floundering, trying to figure out how to do it.

Sure we’ve had a few attempts (Romeo and Juliet, a Roundabout here or there, and Memphis was probably our highest profile production), but nothing in any regularity, and nothing that has demonstrated a financial model that makes it worth doing again.

And we have to figure this out.

Some say it’s the unions.  Well, to the unions I say you’re missing out on a whole slew of work by not offering a financial incentive for Producers to do this more often.  I don’t even think Producers are looking at this option to make a ton of money.  We just want it for the promotional value, and to not lose a ton of money.

Some say it’s the production costs.  Well, to that I say, in this day and age, we can’t figure out an easier way to shoot stuff?  And hey – production companies – stop looking at this as a “one-off” and realize you could have 10 shows a year easy if you made your costs more reasonable.

There are a bunch of obstacles in our way.  And I know that anything new in Broadway makes everyone nervous that they are going to give away the store if they agree to it, so they just don’t do anything.

And what happens when we do nothing?  The British kick our butts.

I always say that New York City is the theater capital of the world.  London is starting to tell everyone . . . through telecasts . . . that I might be wrong.

And that really pi$$es me off.

(Tune in tomorrow for another piece of evidence that demonstrates London’s desire to steal the title of “theater capital of the world” away from us.)

 

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Comments
  • Kathy Hochberg says:

    I saw Frankenstein twice and loved it! There is so much American theater I would love to see telecast!! Open the Broadway Show Archive and …well…

  • rob says:

    So, I’ve been a subscriber for a couple of years, and have loved your writing and your insights (and have forwarded blogs to a bunch of what became your new subscribers) — you’re welcome. But this is the first time I’ve been motivated to comment. My wife and I (both in theatre for 25 years, but who’s counting) recently funded a pioneer program of The Royal National Theatre Live productions at a University of our choice. It was costly, but well worth it for the students and the overwhelming community response. Imagine what we would have done had there been a Broadway alternative available. So, again, I find myself thinking, and this time saying, “how right can this guy be so often?” You nailed it once again.

  • Something I STILL have on my old Magnavox (I think they made ’em) hard drive video recorder/DVD burner is “Legally Blonde The Musical” which was broadcast a few times in 2007 on MTV over one weekend. Numbers for the show went through the roof for the network. But more importantly, it led to us seeing a live road tour of the show because we loved the music/production.

    One issue: I believe to do it right some serious cash is required. Watch “Rent Live on Broadway” and notice all the camera angles, the quick cuts and excellent audio. Or “Memphis.” Same with “Legally Blonde.” Can producers afford a quality video product on top of the additional union fees, writers/composers royalties, etc. to create what in essence is a promotional video? Will there be DVDs/downloads available after the broadcast? How is everyone paid (or paid off) in this brave new world? Most importantly: can producers break even doing a Fantom (that’s the company) broadcast to movie theaters at $25/ticket?

    Don’t mean to go on, but have researched this idea for six years–it gets me going. 🙂

  • LizG says:

    Ken,

    Broadway’s “Of Mice and Men”, filmed by NT Onlive, mind you, was broadcast to Cineplexes just last week. There’s hope.

    http://www.cineplex.com/Movie/of-mice-and-men-national-theatre-live-premiere

  • Just throwing this out there….”The Last Ship” (Sting’s recently opened venture on Broadway) is having trouble filling seats…. can’t help but wonder if he gave too much away when he presented the concert version (which was re-broadcast recently) on PBS as a “warm up” to the eventual opening of the show.
    Memphis and Legally Blonde were not heading towards an opening nor newly opened shows when they were on television, they had already run a nice race, so to speak.

  • Dan Kehde says:

    As an outlander, I’d like to see it happen. We’re underserved by the tours as it is, it would great to have professional productions run in the movie theaters. It would be even greater to see off broadway out here as well.

  • I’ve seen Frankenstein, Coriolanus, and most recently A Streetcar Named Desire at Symphony Space here in New York. What I love is that not all the productions are coming from the National, they are coming from the West End, the Donmar, and the Old Vic. There was a time when you could see productions from Paper Mill on PBS. I would love to see shows that are being done in limited runs such It’s Only A Play, You Can’t Take It With You, and others filmed and then shown so that audiences around the country can perhaps be inspired to go out and see a play.

  • David says:

    Some mention should be made of the current PBS series Theatre Close-Up where they are recording Off Broadway plays for Broadcast and all available on their website…
    http://www.thirteen.org/topic/programs/theater-close-up/
    Some wonderful productions have already been done and hope they continue this.
    I think one difference between Broadway and Opera is the fact that Broadway musicals do have tours that cover much of the country, while a Met production can only be seen at the Met. I think this would make showing them in theaters not very inviting for producers at least until the touring companies have run their course.

  • Zachary says:

    I saw the broadcast of Memphis a few years ago and was absolutely thrilled at the prospect of being able to see Broadway productions more locally…and then…nothing. When I got the announcement that Billy Elliot was going to be shown I immediately told all my friends, neighbors, family members, and the cashier at Target. Okay, maybe I wasn’t that extreme, but the point is that these kinds of events make theater so much more accessible to people who otherwise may not get to experience it. As a kid growing up 2,000 miles from the Great White Way, my opportunities to see live musical theater were limited to community theater (which was still very good) or high school productions. If this production is of the same caliber as Memphis or The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall we are all in for a treat!

  • Anonymous says:

    Someone start a Broadway TV channel.

  • Rochell says:

    Excellent post!We will be linking to this particularly great article
    on our site. Keep up the good writing.

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