Live theatre productions on YouTube?
November 1, 2019 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Can you point me to great videos of live theatre online?

I love this production of House of Blue Leaves, crappy video quality and all. I love this production of Into the Woods.

Can you point me to other great live theatre performances on YouTube or elsewhere? To be clear, I'm not really looking for in-studio live recreations of plays (such as the BBC often does with Shakespeare) and I am really not looking for film adaptations of plays. I love to hear the audience and see the actors at work in an actual theatrical performance.

I like adventurous stuff — wild, experimental is great, and hard to find. Dance, opera, musicals, straight theatre, all great.

If there's a motherlode of these — a streaming channel, or a website — then that's extra great. In particular, I'd like to see more theatre works from the past 30 years.
posted by argybarg to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm on my phone, so no link right now, but there exists a streaming service called Digital Theatre+ that is exactly what you are looking for. It does have a subscription fee. High quality recordings of high quality stage productions.
posted by Adridne at 9:52 AM on November 1, 2019

I just found a video of the Robert Wilson/Tom Waits collab The Black Rider on YouTube. Absurdist musical theatre from Germany in 1990? Yes please.

Unfortunately, it looks like Digital Theatre+ is only available for institutions. Too bad! I would pay a normal subscription fee for this.

Excited for this thread...I hope you get a lot of answers!
posted by nosila at 10:01 AM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have some bad news - but then a tiny bit of good news (although some hoops may need to be jumped through).

The theater union prevents the filming of theatrical performances in almost all cases. Its exact guidelines are here: basically, the only way that a theater performance can be filmed is if the producer has asked for special permission from the union first. And most of the time, producers don't. So any "filmed theater" thing you see on Youtube may be a pirated thing, and that means that it will most likely eventually found out and killed.

The good news, though - one exemption to the no-filming rule involves the New York Public Libary's Theater on Film and Tape Archive, which tries to get a filmed version of each Broadway and Off-Broadway show. The deal they worked out with the union is that the TOFT can make a tape of the show, but that tape HAS to live in the library itself, and the only way you or I could see it is to physically go to the library and ask for a screening there. So it's a hassle, but it's doable.

More good news - in my experience, the UKs' Digitial Theatre+ does allow for individual access - I have an account myself, and that's how I have a copy of a thing (I got it to keep a copy of the David Tennant/Catherine Tate MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING production for ever and ever and ever eeeeee).

Finally, there are the very early glimmers of filmmakers doing actual video versions of plays themselves, since there is starting to be some interest. Lin-Manuel Miranda has said that there is a video of a HAMILTON performance that he's been trying to figure out the right time to release, and Spike Lee filmed the closing night performance of PASSING STRANGE and you can get that on Amazon video. Confirming that this is indeed Spike filming the stage performance (with maybe a couple of shots he set up on the stage after the audience left for clarity's sake), as opposed to the "film version of the play".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:44 AM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I realized I should clarify that this also only applies to shows that are produced under a contract managed by Actors' Equity. While about 99% of the theater in this country is produced under an Equity contract, there are companies who don't use Equity. The quality there may be a little more hit-or-miss; Equity actors are really, really not supposed to be in non-Equity contract shows, and most of the good enough actors get into Equity before long, so the people you'll see in non-Equity shows are either mediocre, desperate or doing a friend a favor, or are just weirdly devoted to a particular company that is shunning equity (there was a company in NYC for years that was non-Equity and had been around since the 60s, and was using its "we were doing groundbreaking theater aren't we important" reputation to attract company members).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:55 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Amazon Prime has a BroadwayHD channel. I've heard great things about Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, but I'm not sure if it's performed with an audience or not. Still, it looks like that channel is a combination of filmed stage versions and adaptations of Broadway hits. Might be worth checking out.
posted by gideonfrog at 11:12 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh god I love that old House of the Blue Leaves broadcast so much. One of the thing that got me into theater.

I can’t check for sure because I’m on my phone but you used to be able to watch all three acts of August: Osage in crappy audience-cam from the Broadway production with most of the original Steppenwolf cast. It’s magnificent. I hope nobody has taken it down.
posted by less of course at 12:22 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Team StarKid's youtube channel has a bunch of their performances, which are pretty charming and the recordings of which have improved dramatically in the last 10 years.
posted by lantius at 12:45 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are a few shows up now and coming up soon at Great Performances on PBS.

I don't know if everyone will see the same availability that I'm seeing (they do some geolocation stuff to try to match you with a local PBS station), but for me, at least, 42nd Street is currently available (through November 29), and four other things look like they'll be available soon - looks like

* The King and I should become available on November 8,
* Red on November 15,
* Much Ado About Nothing on November 22, and
* Kinky Boots on November 29.

(Note: DO NOT TRUST the "Expires" dates on those pages - based on past experience, all of those will expire in a few weeks, not sometime in 2022.)

(There are some older shows available to PBS members - see Season 46 for Doubt.)

It can also be worthwhile just to type the name of a show into Youtube and filter by "long (over 20 minutes)" - I think I found an obscure Tom Stoppard play that way once.

(Also, it looks like Sunday in the Park with George is still available on DVD, and that's totally worth seeing - check your library!)
posted by kristi at 1:55 PM on November 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, since I'm mentioning libraries - many libraries have a subscription to Kanopy, which offers some theater - such as this Red Torch Theatre production of The Three Sisters and this Satyricon production of King Lear.

And I really thought it was Kanopy that offered the recent production of Sondheim's Company, but it looks like that may actually be through Alexander Street - also offered by many libraries - which has a whole Theatre & Drama collection (links to playwrights), which has a 30-day free trial (but I don't know if that's limited to library adminstrators or if it's available to us mere mortals). (But if you don't have access to Alexander Street, or your library doesn't offer Company, you may be able to find DVDs of both the Neil Patrick Harris production and the Raul Esparza production.)

So if you have a decent local library, maybe contact your local librarian (there's often a contact link on the library website) and ask if they have any streaming options or DVDs that might fit the bill?
posted by kristi at 3:38 PM on November 5, 2019

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