Broadway Bootlegging

I grab my headphones, open my laptop and sit glued to the screen as if I’m watching a movie on Netflix. In truth, I’m watching blurry faces dance across a screen to the sound of crackly music and voices. 

Any lover of Broadway musicals will know it can be an expensive hobby. At the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, tickets go for around $80. Big, in-demand shows on Broadway cost a few hundred. Average individuals like myself can only afford one or two shows a year, and thus, we find bootlegs online. Photos taken by myself

There are fans who go into shows, film them, and post online so others around the world can access a taste of an experience they would not access otherwise. These videos are low-quality, and no substitute for seeing a show in-person. However, they help spread the powerful messages written into musicals, and actually lead to more appreciation for actors and others in the industry.

The theatre has always been a place of inspiration and social advocacy on various issues. Such a force for change deserves to spread to all levels of society, not just those with the money and access to metropolitan areas with theatre. 

In her article News Flash: Broadway Has Always Been Political in response to anger toward the cast of Hamilton after their speech to Mike Pence, Katherine Brooks writes of how theater has been filled with political commentary from the time of Plato to modern shows like Rent and Hamilton. Because such productions have brought musicals and its form of advocacy into popular culture, it is high time that Broadway became more accessible. Until then, online bootlegs are our greatest tool. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik, provided by PhotoPin

Online bootlegs do not take away revenue for Broadway productions; in my experience, they actually promote it. Seeing a terrible video makes me desire tickets even more, and typically, I only desire to watch shows online because it takes a couple of years for the touring cast to finally reach my area. With almost every musical I have paid to see, I have watched the recording beforehand. 

Creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has actively campaigned against bootlegging, promising in 2015 that they would produce an official, recorded edition of the show, not a “shitty, half-iphone recorded version.” However, fans have yet to see that, and I am still waiting to get a ticket for the touring cast, if they do not sell out too quickly.

The point is, Broadway shows maintain tremendous value to society, but have incredibly limited access. Until situations change and there are more ways to cost-effectively see shows, whether digitally or in person, I will keep on watching bootlegs. Even more importantly, I am no less of a supporter because of it. 

Cover photo by Joe Shlabotnik, provided by PhotoPin