I’ve written a “Sightings” column for today’s Wall Street Journal about the reason why so few regional theater companies are webcasting their shows. Here’s an excerpt.
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Since America’s theaters shut down in March, I’ve been reviewing streaming webcasts of theater productions. Not only have I been consistently impressed by the artistic and technical quality of these performances, but I quickly realized that they were good for theater in all sorts of ways: putting a company back in touch with its patrons, putting unemployed actors back to work, and providing theaters with an income stream that is small but potentially significant (San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre brought in $60,000 with its first two webcasts). It can also give a regional theater a national profile that would be impossible to get in any other way….
But I’ve also noticed that only a small proportion of American theaters are putting their shows online. When I ask their artistic directors why, they typically say the same thing: “Actors’ Equity.”
Actors’ Equity Association is the union that represents professional stage actors and stage managers. It has long been opposed on principle to pay-per-view webcasting, arguing that it discourages people from coming to the theater to watch a live performance, thus leading to shorter runs and fewer work weeks for Equity members.
Even after the pandemic closed American theaters, Equity initially insisted on putting a tight cap on admission to webcasts, limiting it to the number of people who could theoretically have seen the show in the theater had it been open….
For this reason, several theaters, most notably New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre, started working instead with SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents film and TV actors (the initials stand for Screen Actors’ Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), whose policies on streaming webcasts are less restrictive. This triggered a jurisdictional dispute between the two unions…
The good news—of a sort—is that Equity and SAG-AFTRA announced on Thursday that they’d signed an agreement giving Equity the right to represent stage actors appearing in webcasts through the end of 2021….
But the restrictions on theater companies remain onerous….
* * *Read the whole thing here.