Musical theatre has been a well-beloved Fine Art for decades upon decades. Countless Broadway shows have come and gone, and countless more are yet to be written. But as with any kind of visual performance, particularly the ones that cost money to view, musical theatre is constantly being pirated. Some audience members are there solely to see and enjoy the show. Others are there to steal it.
Usually armed with an iPhone camera, there are a few individuals who illegally record the performance, in the same way that one might record a movie at the movie theater. After the show has been recorded, the footage is then uploaded to the web to become a ‘bootleg’.
The bootleg’s initial purpose is to allow people to illegally view stage performances, Broadway and off-Broadway alike, without paying a cent.
Sometimes, however, this can be convenient for those who cannot afford to see the show, or who want to see a show that was closed.
Clearly, though, bootlegging live performances is a problem for a number of reasons.
First of all, the videos are guaranteed to be low-quality, taking away from the experience of seeing the show live.
Second of all, going to a musical (or a play, for that matter) costs money for a reason. There are hundreds of people who work so that the performance is possible. The writers, the composers, the actors, the tech crew, the makeup crew, the costume crew, as well as many other groups of individuals, and the theater staff themselves all need to be paid. These people do their jobs to make a living, providing for themselves and for their families. When a show is illegally recorded and uploaded to YouTube, who knows how many people are able to watch the performance without paying, taking away funds from the cast, crew, and everyone else whose career is affiliated with the production.
But are there times when bootlegs can be a good thing? I’d say yes.
For instance, ‘Tuck Everlasting’ (a book by Natalie Babbitt), was made into a musical and opened in April of 2016. Sadly, the show closed in May 2016, after a mere thirty-nine showings.
There is a bootleg of that show online, and because no one’s making money off of it anymore, it is probably going to remain online. Tuck isn’t playing anywhere, since it never got a national tour, and it was open for only three months. The bootleg is the only thing that we have left of that show, aside from the cast album.
Due to the fact that no one will be able to see that specific show, I’d recommend watching the bootleg. Yes, it is ten times less as memorable as it would’ve been had you seen it live, but that opportunity isn’t achievable anymore, so in this case, a bootleg serves as second-best.
There are some shows that just close too early, and there are some shows that not everyone can see before they close. Though bootlegs harm the theatre industry while the show is still running, they can help make the show accessible after it closes.