The threat of COVID-19 has shut down theaters across the world, but it’s not killing theater – which is increasingly going online.
There are two types of online theater now – the ongoing online sites that offer video-capture recordings of shows that were on stage, many on Broadway, but also Off-Broadway, and international performances. This includes sites/podcasts offering audio plays.
The second type are newly created livestreaming events that are in response to the current situation, and from which may emerge exciting new forms of theater. These tend to be free, and double as fundraisers; most are available for only a few days; some are live, one-time only. These are more or less divided into
Also, check out my essay on HowlRound on the new pandemic theatre aesthetic
This post is periodically updated. Look for the latest monthly calendar of openings for specific shows.
Regular Online Streaming Sites
Several of the ongoing services – Marquee, the Metropolitan Opera and On The Boards — are offering free access for the month, in response to the crisis.
Theater-focused online streaming sites:
BroadwayHD offers some 300 productions, from the recent acclaimed Broadway revival of Carousel* to the original Sweeney Todd. In celebration of Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 72nd, the service has put together a “playlist” this month featuring such titles as Gypsy, Putting It Together, Cats, Phantom Of The Opera, and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. A subscription costs $8.99 per month after a seven-day free trial
Digital Theatre focuses on British productions, from Shakespeare to West End versions of Broadway shows. Subscriptions cost £9.99 a month, but you can rent a specific production for £7.99 and up
Marquee offers dance, opera and theater from around the world, including productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Subscriptions normally cost $8.99 a month, but Marquee is offering 30 days for free.
The Met is offering a different opera every day for free, each starting at 7:30 p.m. and staying up for 20 hours. During this period of shutdown and social distancing, they are offering it for free. The Met offers a weekly guide to the operas they are streaming.
This is not actually a “regular online streaming site.” It has been created to address the current crisis. Starting April 2nd, and every Thursday thereafter, the British theater will stream FOR FREE on its YouTube channel a production from its NT Live collection, recordings of their stage productions that are such high quality that they are normally presented in cinemas worldwide. The first production online April 2 (and for seven days after that) was “One Man, Two Guv’nors,” the slapstick comedy with a Tony winning performance by James Corden.
On The Boards is a decade-old website that began in their Seattle-based theater and now offers some 60 performances by such avant-garde artists as Young Jean Lee, from their own theater, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, the Fusebox Festival in Austin, and Performance Space 122 in New York. On The Boards is offering its show for free through the end of April!
Free in the NY area. “a unique collaboration” between Channel 13 WNET and the large community of non-profit Off-Broadway theaters. The plays are up only for a limited time. Currently: Uncle Vanya with Jay O. Sanders; School Girls, or the African Mean Girls Play; Buried Child; Incident at Vichy; Old Hats; and all three plays in The Gabriels series.
Audio Play Sites/Podcasts
Playing on Air has been offering short, original radio plays on its website (also on iTunes and on radio stations) since 2012, all still available on its site. Its new season, starts Sunday, April 5, with a new short play every Sunday for ten weeks (schedule) by such playwrights as Dominique Morisseau, Doug Wright and Rajiv Joseph, performed by John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei, Ngozi Anyanwu, Tony Shalhoub, Michael C. Hall, etc.
Soundstage, launched April 9, is an original play podcast from Playwrights Horizons that is offering world premieres every two weeks by playwrights including Robert O’Hara, Heather Christian, Lucas Hnath and Jeremy O. Harris.
First up, “Prime” by Heather Christian (My review.).
LA Theatre Works
LATW, founded in 1974, embraced audio recording in the 1990s, and now offers radio plays online via Soundcloud for free. (Past shows are available via free subscription to LA Theatre Works podcast) Recent and forthcoming titles include “The Sisters Rosensweig” by Wendy Wasserstein, starring Jamie Lee Curtis, JoBeth Williams and Caroline Aaron. “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard,” by Israel Horovitz starring Judith Ivey and Jason Robards (!); “Lost in Yonkers”; “The Importance of Being Earnest”; “The Graduate.”
For the past several years, it has been recording live stage shows, and turning them into audio books for sale online. Before the shutdown, it was producing its own plays at Minetta Lane Theater, recording them as well for subsequent audio books. I notice a number of these plays are currently being offered for free. (including these through April 17)
Theater Available from General Online Streaming Services
Musicals and other Broadway shows, some of them taped directly from the stage, that you can rent (for as little as $2.95) or buy (usually for $9.99) if you have a membership on Amazon Prime. (Some, such as “Carousel,” are free with Amazon Prime membership.)
Netflix, available only by subscription, has lately made a habit of video-capturing Broadway shows on stage shortly before the end of their runs. Among the current offerings: American Son, John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons, Oh Hello, Shrek, Springsteen on Broadway. There are also a revolving selection of movie adaptations of the original stage musicals. Currently, Hairspray, Jersey Boys, Sweeney Todd.
PBS Passport offers access to shows past and present from the Public Broadcasting System; it requires that you become a member. ($60 annual or $5 monthly) In addition to the full library of episodes from Great Perfromances, there is also a special collection of Broadway plays on Broadway on PBS including The Sound of Music, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I, Red, Much Ado About Nothing and Kinky Boots.
Update!: PBS reportedly has unlocked a selection of its shows in its Live From Lincoln Center and Great Performances series, from April until the end of May. (Try some of the links above: I linked successfully to “Red,” “Present Laughter,” “The Sound of Music” — not the movie — and the Public Theater’s splendid production of “Much Ado About Nothing” starring Danielle Brooks.)
TrickleUp, a new “grass-roots subscription platform” for $10 a month, hopes to raise money for artists in need. Launched March 23 by a group of downtown artists and artistic directors, It promises “videos of solo performances, conversation, and other behind-the-scenes goodies,” Its catalogue so far features such fare as Taylor Mac reading scenes from “Gary”, Sarah Ruhl reading some of her poems, Mia Katigbak singing La Vie En Rose, Dominique Morisseau doing a monologue from Skeleton Crew, Suzan-Lori Parks singing “Colored All My Life,” Lucas Hnath reading material cut from his play “A Doll’s House Part 2”
This “new live-streaming theater initiative” co-founded by theater producers Jeremy Wein and Mirirai Sithole promises “unique, one-time-only, live-streamed theatrical events and original series,” with proceedings going to arts organizations affected by the pandemic. They offer consistently first-rate theater.
I’ll start with the four most impressive new series:
Hosts Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley launched their series on Monday March 16 — one of the first — and it has been the most reliable, offering new programs twice a day with a roster of top-notch Broadway talent every day in a combination of performance, talk show, and public service announcement, with a doctor on call, in what feels like a new genre. But what may be most innovative about Stars in the House is how it has expanded into…traditional theater.
Starting April 1, Stars in the House added a new play series, Plays in the House — live readings of popular plays by (when possible) the original cast members, every Wednesday and Saturday matinee. The first up was Heidi Chronicles, and then The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife. Then in May, it added “Plays in the House Teen Edition” every Sunday afternoon, “live-streamed readings of plays for young people, performed by young people to support not-for-profits bringing theater to young people.” This even has an artistic director, Anika Larsen. The drawback of the live play readings of the two Plays in the House series is that, unlike the regular Stars in the House shows, the videos don’t stay up.
Begun in March, this has become a weekly collection of original monologues, lasting on average four or five minutes (although one was as long as 19) debuting every 15 minutes on Tuesday nights starting at 6 p.m. on the theater company’s Instagram page. (My Q and A with playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who had a play in each of the first three weeks.) Each program pairs established playwrights with often starry performers. The videos stay up. This has been an impressive achievement, but can feel overwhelming.
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) March 25, 2020
The Homebound Project, begun in May, has now committed to four editions. Each edition is on a specific theme and generates about ten short plays pairing an established playwright with an actor, many of whom are at least familiar faces. Each edition of the project, a fundraiser for No Kid Hungry, stays up for four or five days.
Livelabs: One Acts from MCC, begun in May, presents original one-act plays (running time under 45 minutes) every Wednesday at 5:30. Their shows don’t stay up. This promises to be an impressive series, on evidence of the first two offerings: Frankie and Will, a comedy by Talene Monahan that imagined William Shakespeare (Michael Urie) in lockdown during the Plague; The Sentinels by Matthew Lopez (The Inheritance) that followed three 9/11 widows (Katrina Lenk, Jane Alexander and Denée Benton) over ten years, going backwards in time.
The cabaret club is scheduling videos from its archives, with occasional live shows on its Facebook page. (Schedule in link.)
Launched with Revelations on March 23, the company will offer other dances, live and recorded, interviews and short films.
On their Facebook page, the National Yiddish Theatre presented “Yiddish theater, past, present and future,” which is still available. The theater promises to do more.
The Broadway revival of the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical Company is using their Instagram account to present different cast members each night.
“At home performances from the Broadway community” — basically a single song each day by a different Broadway star (so far Annaleigh Ashford, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Alice Ripley) on TodayTix Instagram account in support of The Actors Fund.
A series of one-song performances by Broadway stars from their own homes. Since it began March 13th, there have been performances (which you can still see) by Jagged Little Pill’s Kathryn Gallagher, Dear Evan Hansen’s Andrew Barth Feldman singing from Godspell (pictured), Andy Karl and Orfeh, Carolee Carmello singing from Hello, Dolly, Hadestown’s John Krause.
Daily dives into their archives (City Center Encores! etc.) on their Instagram channel, starting on March 22nd, with Donna Murphy singing “Could I Leave You” from Follies in honor of Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday.
Five major theaters — Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf, The Public Theater, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Woolly Mammoth — have commissioned original plays, none longer than ten minutes, from dozens of playwrights, and made the scripts available to read for free.
The series will feature Broadway stars performing stripped-down, contemporary versions Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes originally released as part of R&H Goes Pop! Each performance will be followed by a live Q&A with the performer. The series started with Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes on March 25.
A different Andrew Lloyd Webber musical launches for free every Friday for 48 hours on this new YouTube page. First up: Donny Osmond stars in the 1999 film of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
An instagram account that’s been offering a nightly “theatrical broadcast,” and soliciting artists to contribute more. Among the broadcasts so far (and still available) are Emily Walton singing from “Darling Grenadine” and Margot Seibert from “Unknown Soldier,” (which I reviewed.) both musicals that were playing Off-Broadway until all theaters were shut down.
A 15-minute variety show Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
In New York, LaMama ETC, which has long experimented with livestreaming events all over the world, is livestreaming their own productions. having launched a weekly Downtown Variety show, featuring short acts of dance, music, theater, new media, comedy, A/V performance, and stuff that doesn’t (yet) have a label. My review of Downtown Variety # 1
Here Arts Center, another downtown NYC theater, which presented the puppet Anywhere online, offers a weekly series Here@Home on Wednesdays, and #stillHere every Friday at 1, plus an elaborate project called #COVIDEO: “A community of artists and audiences will come together to independently create ten seconds of video art. Each day, one section is created in response to the previous ten seconds. After ten days, they are strung together into one video.”
As with any theater, individual shows have limited runs. The shows I initially posted have all come to the end (except for Ghost Quartet) Check out my latest monthly calendar of openings
A newly released recording of this 90-minute musical by the creator of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.”
Immersive Theater for the Age of Self Distancing
Three LARP (live-action role play) shows via telephone by the innovative immersive theater company Sinking Ship Creations:
Girl On The Phone – You get a call from a kidnapping victim, and need to help her escape.
Frantic Recall – A chat with a psychic about a past life.
The Other Side Of The Line – Where you try to convince a friend of a friend that vaccines don’t cause autism.
This is subtitled “An Immersive Audio Spa for Physical Distancing,” and is from This Is Not A Theater Company. You sit in your own bathtub during the play, and listen to poetry, dramatic scenes, and dancing, which you do with your fingers or toes to music by Philip Glass and Chopin. (This is all audio; no sharing of naked pictures.)
The list grows daily.
And watch out: Livestreaming (and its aesthetic) is going mainstream too.
Here’s Lin-Manuel Miranda on a homier, less snazzy version of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, playing and singing (interview starts at around 5:30; song at around 13:10) “Dear Theodosia.” from ‘Hamilton.”
*And if you want to get a taste of Carousel for free, here is Joshua Henry (who starred in Carousel) singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” on his Instagram account –one of the countless theater artists performing spontaneously online
How about Melissa Errico on Facebook who sang “Look to the Rainbow” on St. Patrick’s Day.