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Celebrating Theatre in a COVID-19 World

Since March 12th of this year, the lights of Broadway have been dark, with the West End following suit soon after. Similarly, local and regional theatres across the U.S. have had to shut their doors and cancel their seasons. Even some successful professional shows, like Beetlejuice and Frozen, were forced to close prematurely. Although safe live performances are rare in the new pandemic landscape— a socially distanced production of Godspell at Berkshire Theatre Group made headlines back in August— artists around the world have confronted adversity head-on and have embraced digital possibilities. For anyone looking to celebrate theatre as the pandemic continues to rage on, here are some fantastic online options.

Streaming Theatre Content Online for Free

While you can’t attend a theater in-person quite yet, that doesn’t mean you have to stop watching your favorite shows or discovering new ones! Youtube is an incredible free resource for streaming professionally shot musicals and plays. There are dozens of pro-shot shows on the platform, including Legally Blonde, Cabaret, and the original Broadway production of Into the Woods. Since the beginning of quarantine, the Youtube channel “The Shows Must Go On!” has been airing a new show each week, including popular titles such as The Phantom of the Opera and The Wiz. After a summer hiatus, the channel is set to continue releasing content in the fall as well. Stars in the House supports the Actors Fund and live streams episodes daily featuring performers and cast reunions; Kristin Chenoweth, Tina Fey, and Andrew Lloyd Webber are just some of the notable guests so far. The New Works Virtual Festival is set to premiere on Youtube on October 25th with a surplus of virtual play readings performed by distinguished theatre personnel. Team Starkid is also known for their original musical theatre productions, all uploaded on their channel. 

Streaming Theatre Content Online — Paywall Version!
Laura Sheaffer running
Laura Sheaffer

The paid options for pro-shot theatre are endless. BroadwayHD is a streaming service devoted to maintaining an extensive library of musicals and plays. The site has musicals like Falsettos and 42nd Street, plays such as Indecent and A Doll’s House, a vast collection of Shakespeare, and even a handful of ballets. Meanwhile “Great Performances” on PBS has aired classics like An American in Paris and The King and I. Other platforms have begun to take notice and stream pro-shot productions themselves. The Spongebob Musical is available to buy on Amazon Prime Video, and Disney + made waves this summer with Hamilton. Another Disney + option, the show Encore! hosted by Kristen Bell, reunites castmates from past high school shows to re-stage their productions years later. 

Luckily, theatre lovers have a lot to look forward to in the coming months when it comes to online content. Heidi Schreck’s award-winning play What the Constitution Means to Me airs on Amazon Prime Video on October 16th, David Byrne’s American Utopia will be available on HBO Max by October 18th, and a movie adaptation of the recent Broadway musical The Prom will be hitting Netflix in December. Disney + is also planning to release a pro-shot of the West End production of Aladdin, and Netflix will premiere the new musical Diana before it opens on Broadway after the shutdown. Even the most prominent theatre event of the season— the 74th Tony Awards— is planned to receive the digital treatment soon enough.

Also be on the lookout for Ars Nova Supra— a new streaming platform launched by Ars Nova, an Off-Broadway, non-profit theatre. A new show premieres each week throughout the fall, with tickets costing $5-10 per event. The shows are typically anywhere from 30-60 minutes long and include a live-chatting function for the audience to interact with. This pioneering move helps the effort to keep audiences engaged, even if they are stuck at home.

Educational Theatre Options

Now is a great time to take advantage of online resources and learn something new! Broadway On Demand is a newer service with a mix of free and paid content that is largely focused on education— there is a variety of masterclasses with theatre professionals on topics such as acting, directing, and producing. Lincoln Center at Home boasts a calendar full of events, including artist series and pop-up classrooms taught by distinguished artists from around the world. If you’re interested in exploring even more options, Playbill has an extensive livestream list for online theatre events across the internet. 

There are also plenty of educational theatre options on Youtube too. The American Theatre Wing channel has an informative “Working in Theatre” series that focuses on a variety of different disciplines within the field. The Crash Course channel also has an extensive theatre and drama playlist covering theatre history and theory. If you want to try and use your extra time in quarantine to master a Broadway dance routine, I’d also recommend looking up and trying out some musical theatre choreography tutorials.

BU Resources
Madeleine Salman

The Boston University College of Fine Arts hosts frequent webinars covering different topics within theatre. For instance, “Theatrical Design: Page to Stage” on October 16th invites professional lighting and set designers to discuss their work and share their process. More virtual programming is to be announced for the School of Theatre Fall 2020 season. The BU Arts Initiative offers additional exciting events throughout the semester, including multiple lectures and talkbacks with arts professionals. 

The theatre groups on campus are also hard at work providing fun opportunities via Zoom. BU On Broadway plans to host online showcases, tech challenges, and their annual Miscast event, where performers are encouraged to sing from a role they typically wouldn’t be cast in. Stage Troupe has launched several virtual initiatives, such as their Stage Troupe Inspiration Project, where teams will adapt short theatrical pieces for Zoom; the organization also has other events this fall, including One Acts, online Elements of Theatre workshops, and the new musical Already Home written by the club’s president. Wandering Minds is holding a book club each month as well as putting on two Halloweekend shows – The War of the Worlds and The Haunting of Hill House. BU Shakespeare Society is even recording audiobooks for some of the bard’s shorter plays to share online. 

As we continue to wait for the day when watching live theatre will be safe again, these options help to temporarily fill the void caused by its absence.

Never forget, one of the greatest aspects of theatre is the community it creates, so even finding a short script online and reading it aloud with friends on Zoom can be a fun alternative. 

Be safe and keep the arts alive! 

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Courtney is a junior at Boston University majoring in Film and Television with minors in Theatre and Arts Leadership. She loves spending time performing, crafting, and playing with her dogs Romeo and Jasper.
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