Why You Are Streaming Broadway Shows Produced In London

I have been following Diep Tran on social media for years so I got a minor thrill when she announced she was named editor-in-chief of Playbill last October.  Last week she posted an explainer about why it is so difficult to stream Broadway shows resulting in most content on Broadway HD being filmed in London.

A lot of it has to do with the upfront costs. It isn’t easy or cheap to create a high quality recording of a Broadway show. Tran reports that the production of Hamilton paid close to $10 million to record the show and then sat on it for years until Disney+ offered $75 million to stream it. Most productions aren’t so successful as Hamilton that they were able to front that amount and then wait for a good offer.

Contributing to those costs is the fact that unlike film productions, theatrical productions involve people who are members of dozens of disparate unions with whom a streaming contract has to be negotiated. Tran notes that during the pandemic Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA created a contract that allows livestreaming of productions, but the number of streamed views is tied to the live attendance of the production. Other than that, there are no standard contracts associated with recording or livestreaming a production so every negotiation of terms basically starts from scratch.

So while it may be easiest to assume its the producers wanting you to see the show live that limits streaming, there are actually many more people either invested or contributing to that situation.

All this is much easier in England as Tran writes:

But wait, you might be asking, the National Theatre in London has figured out how to stream its shows, why can’t Broadway producers? Well for one, the National Theatre receives subsidies from the UK government, which helps fund their livestreams. And union rules in the UK are different than the U.S., and the payout for residuals is much less for U.K. productions.

I suspect, however, that there may be increasing pressure toward a standard set of terms that will enable US based shows to be more easily streamed in coming years. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this being accomplished by moving shows out of NYC to places with robust production resources, but fewer unions involved.

Best Creativity Is Messy Creativity

In the past I have written critically about the use of creative practice as a prescriptive tool to boost the development and achievement level of children (i.e. attaching headphones to your belly to expose a baby to Mozart in utero).  Back in November, The Guardian had a long form piece on the related topic of giving kids educational toys with the same end in mind. Research basically shows it doesn’t work:

But, despite the best efforts of millions of striver parents, it doesn’t seem to be the case that you can turn three-year-olds into geniuses by giving them plastic ukuleles for their birthdays, or even drilling them on their violin scales. (You may well be able to foster in those children a paralysing perfectionism and deep sense of inadequacy.) Equally, you don’t have to grow up with hundreds of toys, or speaking three languages, in order to be extraordinarily bright. (In fact, you can still learn several languages with a high degree of fluency in later childhood and beyond.)

Not all of that nuance has broken through to parents. Already in the mid 1980s, Brian Sutton-Smith, probably the most prolific play scholar in history, could write: “We have little compelling evidence of a connection between toys, all by themselves, and achievement…”

The oft repeated story about kids being more interested in playing with the box the toy came in points to the exact type of play that does contribute to skill development. The less concrete and realistic the intended use of the object is, the better.

It seems that basically that from birth through adulthood, the best pursuit of creativity is messy, unstructured creativity.

After watching kids play with more than 100 different types of toy, the researchers concluded that simple, open-ended, non-realistic toys with multiple parts, like a random assortment of Lego, inspired the highest-quality play. While engaged with such toys, children were “more likely to be creative, engage in problem solving, interact with their peers, and use language,” the researchers wrote. Electronic toys, however, tended to limit kids’ play: “A simple wooden cash register in our study inspired children to engage in lots of conversations related to buying and selling – but a plastic cash register that produced sounds when buttons were pushed mostly inspired children to just push the buttons repeatedly.”

As a result of such research, it is increasingly acknowledged that the best new toys are the best old ones – sticks and blocks and dolls and sand that follow no pre-programmed routines, that elicit no predetermined behaviours.

What Did You Change In Yourself To Memorize Those Lines?

I know a lot of people in the performing arts literally or figuratively roll their eyes at the inevitable question, “How do you remember all those lines.”   However, Stephen Colbert reminds us that you don’t have to always answer the exact question as asked. In a tribute to former teacher/friend/mentor Frank Galati who recently died, Colbert recently shared a commercial break conversation he had last October with John Lithgow where he discusses Galati’s thoughts on that question.

“He said, ‘how do you remember all those lines? Let’s not take for granted that there is something magical about that. You’ve changed something in yourself. People don’t sit down and memorize two hours of text. You did. Why did you do that? How did you do that?’ He goes ‘What are you when you go on stage? What is that other thing that you are becoming? How are you presenting yourself. What are you willing to become this person who wants to present ideas and emotions to an audience. How do you become beautiful?

And that the beauty of the world we see all around…and when you go on stage you answer the accusation of the world which is that you are hiding your beauty.  The beauty of the world accuses you of hiding your beauty. When you go on stage, whatever you are, whatever part of humanity you are, you are just as much a part of the world that you find beautiful. And therefore, when you’re on stage, you’re as beautiful as an statue, you’re as beautiful as any sunset. When you allow people to see you, beautifully…”

Colbert goes on to relate how Galati cited a story about choreographer George Balanchine instructed a dancer to raise her leg beautifully, which is different from gently or lovely, but that she did so beautifully because the instruction had meaning for her.

The beginning of that story where Colbert cited the idea of changing something in yourself to be able to accomplish the memorization resonated for me. Often the act of memorizing text is only one small part of what is required to memorize the character you are going to portray. That character is different from you as the actor so you have to recall a 1000 little things, including the text, to bring that person to the stage.

That is different for every actor and every part. Thinking about it in that context allows you to respond differently to that oft asked question.

Perhaps this clip resonated with me because the morning of the same day I heard it, I heard a story about a woman who made the 2,744 step ascent of the steep Manitou Incline 1003 times in 365 days. (First woman and fourth person to ever do that)  If you were to ask how she did it, she made a similar remark to Galati’s about changing something in oneself:

“I felt like it was something that I would have to level up in every area of my life: physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially … to be able to accomplish something like that,” Jones said.

It might not be a big surprise that you would have to change something about yourself to accomplish a physical feat, but a similar recognition doesn’t really exist for acting. There may be an assumption that is can all be accomplished by sitting in your living room chair. Providing a more complete answer to the question of how lines were memorized may shift that perception.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot…Reach Out

For about a year now, I have seen Dan Pink post on social media about his survey of people’s regrets and how it can be healthy to embrace them. Finally, I decided to read about what he had to say when I saw some interview links toward the end of the December.

The interview with him on the Behavioral Scientist webpage was pretty interesting just in terms of how quickly people responded and how eager to talk about their regrets people were. They initially received 15,000 responses from 100 countries and are now close to 23,000 from 109 countries. Of those initial responses, 32% provided their email addresses and opted in to be contacted for further conversation.

Something he mentions is that younger respondents pretty much equally regretted things they had done and things they hadn’t done, but as people got older they were more likely to regret things they hadn’t done.

While it is mentioned in the Behavioral Scientist article, a separate piece on the Inc website focused on Pink’s #1 lesson to reduce regret – “Always reach out.”  Essentially, if you are wonder if you should reconnect with a friend you lost touch with or a family member with whom you may be estranged, Pink says the answer is yes.

A team led by University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business marketing professor Peggy Liu conducted a series of 13 experiments with nearly 6,000 participants all designed to gauge why people don’t reach out to friends or acquaintances and what happens when they do.

The study design may have been complicated but the results were straightforward, according to a writeup of the findings in the New York Times: “Across all 13 experiments, those who initiated contact significantly underestimated how much it would be appreciated. The more surprising check-ins (from those who hadn’t been in contact recently) tended to be especially powerful.”

As I read this, it struck me that arts organizations can use people’s willingness to discuss their regrets as the basis to create experiences for their communities. Maybe it is a storytelling topic. Perhaps it is a pop-up exhibit of artifacts from your regrets similar to the one Nina Simon discusses hosting for failed relationships in a TED Talk. Or perhaps it is the driver of a dialogue between generations similar to many of the recordings made for the Story Corps project.