Yes, There’s Now A Netflix For Broadway

Welcome to the future, where you can stream theatre to your computer like Netflix with BroadwayHD!

When I first heard about it, I couldn’t wait to try it out—but to be honest, I wasn’t 100 percent sure on how I felt about it. Netflix for theatre?! Part of me felt like that was completely insane, since so much of what makes theatre theatre is that it’s live! At the same time, I think the concept is brilliant because so many people will be able to watch plays that they were only able to read in school.

For $7.99 a shot, or with one of the subscription options (unlimited/month for $14.99, unlimited/year for $169.99) you too can catch your favorite plays with real live actors. When I was a kid, I remember going to the library to take out VHS tapes to watch plays “live,” but this is an amazing step forward to having all of these shows in one place on the internet. It’s a great tool for people who want to read a show and then watch it, because there’s nothing quite like watching the characters written on a page come to life on a stage. I’m a huge nerd, so while I personally wouldn’t recommend forgoing watching AND reading a play, I know tons of people in high school who would’ve much rather watched a live action version than be force fed the text in school. Lots of my friends found the Shakespeares we had to read boring, and I can’t help but think this would be a great option for them. Instead of only watching high school productions, how fun would it be for students to watch pro actors making the text they were required to read come to life? Not only that, but how cool is this for people who don’t live in areas where theatre is accessible, or can’t afford to go to a Broadway show? A quick google search found that the average price of a ticket on Broadway for this week was $95.43. That’s pretty steep for one night. For $7.99, you won’t necessarily have the same experience (because nothing compares to watching a show live) but you will definitely have an experience with a work you may never have been able to see without BroadwayHD.  

There are some classics that I’ve read many times but never been able to actually see live, and BroadwayHD gives me the opportunity to see them. Ibsen’s A Doll House is a great example of this. I had to read this a million times in University, but I’d never actually seen a live version. The play premiered in 1879, and I’ve always wanted to see a live version. Thanks to BroadwayHD, I’m finally able to see A Doll’s House with actors other than the ones who live inside my head. (And trust me, the actors inside of my head get lots of air time!).

Shows I Checked Out While Testing Out the Site

I watched King Lear with Ian McKellan (woo Gandalf as King Lear!) and Member of the Wedding with Anna Paquin when she was a preteen. (So yes, baby Sookie Stackhouse for you True Blood Fans!) King Lear was exciting to watch, and was filmed for BBC. While not filmed with a live audience and definitely staged for a television special, I still felt like I was watching a play. I have to say, there’s no way I would ever be able to see this show in real life, so watching it in my living room via HDMI cord was pretty amazing. PLUS I get to watch it as many times as I wanted. It was actually a little strange to be able to pause the show, even on the television screen. (HA. IAN MCKELLAN I AM IN CONTROL OF HOW I SEE YOUR PERFORMANCE. WHO’S THE WIZARD NOW?!)



Member of the Wedding on the other hand, I found to be disappointing on a site like this, because it was the movie version of the play. I’m all for film adaptations, but I think it’s a bit of false advertising. I expected to be watching fully staged/archival versions of Broadway shows throughout this library. But that’s being very nit picky because of what the site proposes, and I did enjoy the movie.

I think that BroadwayHD is a great research tool to use for any person who has an interest in theatre or does it professionally, but I have to say I don’t necessarily “get off” watching it the same way I do watching live theatre. The magic is gone. I think it would be amazing if in the future they could figure out how to do live streams of shows currently on Broadway. I know that The National Theatre has already started doing this in movie theatres, which I actually tried out earlier this year (I saw Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch). The theatre was packed, and I thought it was amazing that so many people around the world were watching a 17th century play, no matter what the reason for doing it was. The energy from the collective audience in the L.A. movie theatre I watched it in was palpable. Better yet, Cumberbatch used his star power to ask for donations for the Syrian refugee situation at the end of his performance, which speaks to the power of being able to reach that many people through a live-streamed theatre event. I wonder if I had watched what I streamed on Broadway HD with other people, if it would’ve been a different experience for me. I’ve talked to many people involved in theater about the live stream debate, and not every single person thinks watching a live-stream or a video recording of a show counts as watching theatre. (Although my counter argument to that is, does that mean that people who watch baseball on television aren’t really watching baseball?)

Along the lines of competing with live theatre, one of the founders of the website, Stewart F. Lane stated, “We don’t want to, and we’re not going to be able to, compete against the actual experience, the communal experience of sitting in a theater and laughing with a group of people and seeing live performers onstage… But you can get a sense of it [with BroadwayHD] because you are seeing it in real time. It’s not a movie or a TV show, it’s real actors on stage, sweating and spitting and dancing their hearts out.” (By the way, that’s real time for the actors, not for the audience—we’re not in live mode with BroadwayHD yet.)   

Personally, my very favorite part of BroadwayHD, is the way that it is an actor/director buffet. You can catch both Ian McKellan and James Earl Jones play King Lear. You can watch Kevin Kline, David Jacobi, and Adrien Lester play Hamlet. Search one version of a play, and there are many options for you to enjoy!

If you love plays and you’re not addicted to live theatre, then I suggest you use this to wet your feet into becoming a full blown addict. In terms of the future, the founders have already hinted at streaming the opening nights of Broadway shows. SOOO exciting. This looks like a whole new way to experience theatre in the digital age.

We’d love to hear some theatre aficionados thoughts on this, so tweet us what you’re thinking @litdarling and/or @RachelResnik. Try it out! Are you a fan or not?

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