I think the majority of us in the musical theatre fandom can agree that we don’t want bootlegs. They are usually very low quality, both visually and sound wise, we miss the majority of the action, sometimes it blacks out, sometimes Patti LuPone screams at you; it’s just not a pleasant experience. However, sometimes, it’s the only option that we have if we want to be involved in the conversation. The majority of us watch all the performances available on YouTube when uploaded by TV stations, special performances when performed by the cast or crew, and watch the Tonys to get as much exposure to the visual element as we can. The cast recordings, whether it is through buying the live recording, the digital one, or if you can’t afford it, listening to it on Spotify, becomes our only window into the material. We memorize every word, every key change and yet we have nothing but access to this barred window. This magical world that we have created inside our heads will never be manifested because we haven’t watched the show, read the libretto, or seen the direction and interpretation; we get an unfinished product.
You can argue and say, well why don’t you wait for the National Tour to roll around? Well being from California, on the other coast, it might take a year before that even rolls out to visit us. The staging has changed and been adapted to fit the new spaces and the interpretation has changed; the original production doesn’t reach us, but rather, a replica. However, I can’t say that even if the production does come this way that the majority of people will be able to afford it. Theatre is expensive. Of course, every art has to make a profit otherwise it wouldn’t continue to work, so then, how do you continue the message that everybody can do theatre when not everybody has access to this privilege? Fans want to support in any way that they can, but what can we do when what we love is just too far out of our monetary capabilities? Does that mean that we are not worthy of ever experiencing something we have come to love?
Sondheim, luckily for all of us theatre lovers, has recorded the majority of his shows, allowing for larger audiences to have the chance to see it. Seeing Passion, my favorite show and one of his most obscure, was the way my theatre education began. I was not even a month old when the production opened, but I was able to watch the performance just the same. So, instead of hating on bootlegs, why can’t shows record their shows and then sell them after it has closed? That would guarantee high quality work, the director’s vision to remain intact, and for the power of theatre to reach those that are less privileged and not affect the cost of ticket sales retroactively. Most people would rather see it live, but some people just want an option.
Being in the US, specially California, where the arts funding gets cut more and more, having access to such quality productions on tape as Memphis, South Pacific, and Carousel (to name a few),either in concert version or fully staged, is a blessing. Bootlegs are bad and totally illegal, but sometimes it’s all we have. Why not give us a solution? The Library of Congress does have recordings of shows for archival purposes, but why not realize them for public access after 15 years? Any ideas would be welcomed by an audience that idolizes what Broadway artists create and a DVD is, unfortunately, much much cheaper than a Broadway or in Hamilton’s case, an Off-Broadway show.
What I’m trying to say is that instead of talking about the problem, let’s find a solution, one that can please the creative team, respect their work, and also acknowledge the audience’s needs.