The threat of COVID-19 is shutting 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.
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 are more or less divided into
This post is being updated regularly, as more and more theater goes online.
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) is “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.
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.
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. The first event was “Family Friendly with the Civilians,” On March 29: Alice Ripley reprised her solo show “The Pink Unicorn” live, $5 a ticket. (My review of The Pink Unicorn when it was in person)
The 24 Hour Plays is going weekly with Viral Monologues!
3. Week 3: This week’s all-star lineup includes performers Derrick Baskin, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Ato Blankson-Wood, Mike Carlsen, Hugh Dancy, Erin Darke, Lora Lee Gayer, Will Hochman, Francis Jue, T.R. Knight, David Krumholtz, Elizabeth Marvel, Sienna Miller, Debra Monk, Christopher Oscar Peña, Lauren Pritchard, Jessica St. Clair, Tara Summers, Tamara Tunie, and Alison Wright. Rachel Axler, Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen, Mario Correa, David Cross, Sarah DeLappe, Lydia Diamond, Jason Grote, Jess Honovich, Nora Kirkpatrick, David Lindsay-Abaire, Donald Margulies, Cat Miller, muMs, Dan O’Brien, Ife Olujobi, Liliana Padilla, Max Posner, Howard Sherman, and Zhu Yi will write the monologues.
2. 24 Hour Plays is releasing a new set of Viral Monologues March 24 on IGTV. 24 actors have been paired with theater’s top writers, who have crafted unique pieces especially for their actors. From 6 PM until midnight, the new monologues will be published, one every 15 minutes.
Performers joining the fold this week include Kelly Aucoin, Dylan Baker, Becky Ann Baker, Anna Baryshnikov, Nicholas Braun, Marylouise Burke, Juliana Canfield, Ty Defoe, Daveed Diggs, Ashley Fink, Noah Galvin, Clark Gregg, Damon Gupton, Ryan Haddad, Josh Hamilton, William Jackson Harper, Daniel K. Isaac, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, muMs, Coral Peña, Danny Pudi, Michael Shannon, Jessica St. Clair and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. The writers of the monologues: Will Arbery, Clare Barron, Eric Bogosian, Bekah Brunstetter, Joseph Dougherty, Kristoffer Diaz, Sarah Gancher, Gracie Gardner, Stephen Adly Guirgis, J. Holtham, Lily Houghton, Elizabeth Irwin, Sofya Levitsky-Weitz, Aaron Wigdor Levy, David Lindsay-Abaire, Tim J. Lord, Gabe McKinley, Dan O’Brien, Anya Richkind, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Charly Evon Simpson, Alena Smith and Tracey Scott Wilson.
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) March 25, 2020
- First set of plays, still available for viewing: Twenty theater writers — including David Lindsay-Abaire and Stephen Adly Guirgis — were paired with 20 actors — including Hugh Dancy, Rachel Dratch, Marin Ireland, Richard Kind, Bobby Moreno — for 20 original monologues, which were posted from 6 p.m. to midnight on Tuesday, March 17 and are now available
Here, for example, is “A Story of Survival” by David Lindsay-Abaire in which Rachel Dratch plays a character who discovers ‘a bottle of Purell on the bottom shelf, sad and lonely, just like I am right now,’ but notices that an older woman has her eye on it too.
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.
This twice daily combination performance and talk show, with hosts Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, was launched on Monday March 16 with Kelli O’Hara, and has a roster of top-notch Broadway talent every day since. It’s turned out to be a combination of concert, talk show, and public service announcement – and it may well be the start of a new genre.
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: Heidi Chronicles, and then The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife. The hosts promise that future plays will star Harvey Fierstein, Tony Shaloub, and Brooke Adams, among others.
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 Tuesdasy at 7 p.m. starting April 7th
Rosie O’Donnell is resurrecting her talk show for one night, March 22, as a fundraiser for The Actor’s Fund.
Partial list of those promising to participate from home: Sebastian Arcelus, Skylar Astin, Beth Behrs, Erich Bergen, Nate Berkus, Stephanie J. Block, Matthew Broderick & Sarah Jessica Parker, Tituss Burgess, Norbert Leo Butz, Kristin Chenoweth, Gavin Creel, Darren Criss, Gloria Estefan, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Harvey Fierstein, David Foster, Morgan Freeman, Neil Patrick Harris, Megan Hilty, Judith Light, Barry Manilow, Rob McClure, Audra McDonald, Katharine McPhee, Alan Menken, Idina Menzel, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kelli O’Hara, Lauren Patten, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Randy Rainbow, Andrew Rannells, Chita Rivera, Seth Rudetsky, Lea Salonga, Miranda Sings, Jordin Sparks, Ben Vereen, Adrienne Warren and James Wesley.
Some of the individual plays were performing on stage, and thanks to new agreement from Actors Equity, are switching online.
At Home Theater Series via Show Shepherd
On March 26th and March 27th, this theater consulting firm is presenting a series of four (so far) productions streamed one time only on Instagram or YouTube in real time, for free. On March 26th at 8:30 p.m., for example Is Kahn’s musical “Mother Jones in Heaven” will be performed on YouTube by Vivian Nesbitt with John Dillon on guitar.
Peter Michael Marino one-man show about the making and un-making of his West End-Blondie-Madonna musical flop, “Desperately Seeking Susan” $10
This play depicts a fandango, which is a lively, spontaneous, communal musical celebration as practiced by immigrants from Latin America who have brought the tradition to New York. It had already opened at La MaMa (my review) when it had to shut down. Now En Garde Arts is bringing it online starting March 20th. Tickets: $15, or $10 for students
A newly released recording of this 90-minute musical by the creator of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.”
A.C.T.’s production of this play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which takes place in an office much like the New Yorker magazine and takes a shocking turn (my review of an earlier production in New York) is available for streaming through April 5.
After its week-long free streaming of Lauren Gunderson’s “I and You,” the UK theater is now dipping into its archives weekly. This week: “Wild” a pitch-black comedy inspired by the Edward Snowden saga.
The Actors Theatre is offering two of the plays in this year’s Human Festival for pay-per-view (“pay what you can”): “Where the Mountain Meets the Sea” by Jeff Augustin with music by the Bengsons, and “Are You There?” a series of short plays by Vivian Barnes, Jonathan Norton, and Gab Reisman about the way technology has revolutionized the way we communicate with one another, from telephone party lines, to CB radios on lonely highways, to the glory days of online chat rooms
This one-on-one theater performance by Edward Einhorn’s Untitled Theater Co. # 61, presented in 10 minute slots, has now become a virtual experience via Skype. To book individual slots e-mail email@example.com
Ren Dara Santiago’s play set in Harlem in 2014 “delves deep into the psyche of a teenage girl and her two brothers left to raise each other.” It was playing on stage when the theaters were shut down, but will now be available for pay-for-view online March 23-April 5: $15 tix.
“Teenage Dick” at Theater Wit in Chicago
The play by Mike Lew imagines Richard III as a disabled h.s. student, will be livestreamed starting 3/20. It’s a production of a Chicago company, but thanks to the miracle of Livestreaming, it’s available to New York theatergoers. My review.
In New York, LaMama ETC, which has long experimented with livestreaming events all over the world, is livestreaming their own productions. First up: Downtown Variety #1 on March 20, featuring short acts of dance, music, theater, new media, comedy, A/V performance, and stuff that doesn’t (yet) have a label. Poetry Electric: Powerful Words, Power Women on March 23. My review of Downtown Variety # 1
Here Arts Center, another downtown NYC theater, which just presented the puppet Anywhere online, plans 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.”
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.)
This Is Not A Theater Company adapts of Charles Mee’s play “Heaven on Earth” for a chatroom, on the free app Discord. The audience will chat, and watch various videos, including dances and songs sent recently by artists from Argentina, Nepal, India, Turkey, and China.
This 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.