Eric Tucker in the Live-Stream of Bedlam’s “Hamlet”

ACTORS — How The Live-Stream of She Loves Me Could Be The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Your Career

…we are essentially in the midst of a realignment of cultural expression and do we see the present as an invitation in the arts to fundamentally reinvent what we do and how we operate?
Ben Cameron, President, The Jerome Foundation

My heart started to thump.

Remember when you were a kid and you could feel in your bones that something exciting was about to happen? That’s what I felt, way back in 2007 the first time I watched a live-streamed show. Even though it was just two friends talking, I got it immediately. Like theater, this was LIVE, I felt like I was in the same room with the hosts, I was leaning forward the same way I lean forward in my seat at a really great play. The creative potential was so obvious….

This could be a whole new idea of what theater can be, integrating entirely new, creative digital elements into the theater experience.

Guiesseppe Jones and Arthur Aulisi in our 2007 live-stream of “35”, written by Sharr White, directed by Adam Forgash

That night I ended my podcast, and began to plan for what would become “35” — the first live-streamed scripted event which “opened” live online exactly six months later.

I’ve been working in live ever-since, boot-strapping the first company dedicated to live-streamed theater dance and music, live-streaming more than 60 theater, dance and music events (with a number of corporate jobs thrown in to pay the bills) and building the first platform and first mobile app dedicated to live-streamed performing arts. So when AEA sent out a letter to their members informing them that AEA was finally discussing “Taking the lead role in partnering with our employers to promote the digital presentation of live theater” my inbox exploded.

I’ve always been certain that eventually the rest of the industry would discover what I already knew — that when done right live-streaming is a thrilling companion experience to being in the theater. The upcoming live-stream of She Loves Me makes it clear, live-streamed theater has finally arrived and it is a great thing for performing artists.

As an actor (although mostly a producer and director now) I am passionate about the opportunities live creates for performers — I live and breathe live-streamed arts, so let me tell you:

Why live-streaming will be great for you…

  • Your work will be seen! No more tiny audiences for the show you worked your guts out on. Our live-streams have reached tens of thousands of global viewers.
  • You will create new career opportunities. Our NY actors have had their work seen by LA agents. Our actors have booked jobs because directors were able to see their work live online. Our actors have been seen by producers who had never seen their work before.
  • You can build a bigger audience. If you are a savvy social media user you can expand your “fans” to viewers all over the world.
  • You will be helping to build a new audience for the theater. It is crucial that we speak to today’s audiences in the digital language they love. Our subscriber bases are literally dying but a great live-stream excites younger generations about the thrill of live theater.
  • You will have more material for your reel (provided the live-stream is shot well — Think Grease Live as opposed to some of the other recent live-streams)
  • You will get to be on the ground floor or an entirely new creative, theatrical expression, per the marvelous Ben Cameron’s quote above. Digital tools empower us with a whole new level of creative opportunities, again, think Grease Live as opposed to some of the other recent live-streams.
  • You will be personally and financially invested in every piece of work you create. What!!!???? (See my suggestions below)

But hey! We can’t allow producers to just stick cameras on our shows willy nilly can we? How do we make sure our images, and our work is not being exploited? By creating live-streaming guidelines that support our careers and futures, no matter the size of the production company we are working with.

John Cameron Mitchell Sings “Wicked Little Town” from “Hedwig and The Angry Inch” live from City Winery

While AEA live-stream contracts can vary a ton (see article in Hollywood Reporter) live-streaming doesn’t have to be a financially impossible venture for a smaller theater company if we utilize models that AFTRA and SAG have been working with for decades.

It is safe to speculate that the She Loves Me shoot costs well upwards of a million dollars. The actors are probably getting paid an additional week’s salary per shoot and the producers own all the rights. That model seems to work great for million dollar productions, but if the future of theater includes a digital presence, what about all the thousands of regional theaters and off -broadway theaters? How can they possibly build a digital theater presence?

How live-streaming can be affordable for everyone and a win win for all: actors, producers, playwrights, designers, theater companies…

  • Actor compensations should be tied to shoot budget. You can get a professional, interactive broadcast quality live-stream of your show for .001% of what it costs to shoot a broadway show, but union fees can be the same no matter the cost of the shoot, blowing budgets well beyond the capacity of most theaters. Tie compensation to budgets and every theater artist is invited to play in the sand box. (SAG-AFTRA has been doing this for years and years)
  • Require ownership via an indie film style points system. If the producer makes money, than shouldn’t everyone? This is a standard compensation model in the digital world and Hamilton proves it’s possible for theater too.
  • Insist that the producer is serious about creating digital value from the live-stream. This means a real shoot, with teams that are expert at shooting the performing arts, not the director’s sister with a camera. This means contracts that stipulate actor ownership. This means proof the producers have a serious digital marketing plan in place for both the live-stream and the post live-stream property.
  • Get digital credit! An online performance should mean an online program, with links to your web page, your agent, and your social media accounts.
Madeleine Bundy in the live-stream of Kim Daviies’ SMOKE, produced by The Flea Theater

I’ve thought about little else since our first shoot of “35” in 2007 and could go on an on about the new creative possibilities live-streaming creates for theater artists. Equally so about the opportunities that live-streaming provides for us to build new audiences, increase our relevance in this digital century, and create new financial stability for actors, playwrights, producers, dancers, designers, musicians…. and I have, in many past blog posts. But for now, I’ll leave my beginning thoughts here. Know that I am always available and excited to discuss any of the above and can always be reached by visiting our site.

I know that many of you still don’t believe that live-streaming is a legitimate form of theatrical expression. I’m so happy to continue the conversation with you as well. Just reach out!

The author in the live-stream of Gwydion Suilebhan’s Abstract Nude