FilmedonStage.com is an online databse for filmed Broadway and West End theater. While very few professional productions make it outside of the theater, in rare occasions producers decide to film their shows for commercial release when contracts can be reached with all unions involved. FilmedonStage.com strives to collect in its online database all professionally filmed Broadway and West End theater productions and grows daily as more productions are getting filmed and released to cinemas and home distribution.
So why are so few Broadway and West End shows captured for posterity?
Theater producers have long been wary about attempts to film their shows. The fear, of course, is that any broadcast of the performance will disincentivize audiences from seeing the real thing–the cannibalization effect. Even after a show closes on Broadway, touring producers will sometimes object to deals that allow a show to be shot and broadcast while it’s still on the road, and shows can tour for years.
Maria Somma, a spokesperson for Actors' Equity Association (AEA), says that every show that wishes to be recorded for broadcast in its entirety must be evaluated separately, and "all the terms and conditions must be negotiated on an individual basis." If the producers decide to broadcast a production, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and/or The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) become involved along with AEA to draw up the specific contracts for the rehearsals, filming and broadcasting. If a home video release (Streaming, DVD, Blu-Ray) results from the broadcast, it is typically SAG or AFTRA that takes over with the negotiations.
These contracts are long and involved, and since each recorded production is treated as its own case, the headache-inducing minutia can sometimes threaten to take over. Because of this, producers often think long and hard before deciding to record, broadcast and release a DVD.
Most Broadway musicals that have been broadcast on television have done so on PBS, either through "Great Performances" or "Live from Lincoln Center." The difference between these programs is that most "Great Performances" broadcasts eventually become available for purchase, while those from "Live from Lincoln Center" do not. According to "Live from Lincoln Center," the shows that they have broadcast (such as The Light in the Piazza, Contact, and South Pacific) were cleared for television broadcast only, and the "arrangements with the artists, guilds, and unions prohibit us from making them available in any other form." The 2008 Broadway revival of Company was filmed as part of 'Great Performances' at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre shortly before its closing in July 2007 and was released on DVD in May 2008. This was possible, Somma says, because of the decisions made through either AFTRA or SAG.
Many productions such as Cats, Billy Elliot the Musical, and The King and I were recorded in the West End, exempting producers from American union broadcasting rules; therefore, home distribution and cinema releases are more popular across the pond.
The first Broadway production to be broadcast in its entirety while still running on Broadway, Legally Blonde, changed how producers perceived filming live theater for commercial use. The deal struck between its producers and the MTV executives had very specific regulations. "Part of what was stipulated and set up upfront was that there would be a limited amount of showings," says Kristin Caskey, one Legally Blonde's producers. "They (MTV) were allowed, I believe, six airings over a six-week period. And once that was done, it was done."
Following a spike in ticket sales on Broadway shortly after the broadcast and a very successful national tour, Legally Blonde's filming paved the way for other producers to think again about filming expensive, commercial productions.
Soon enough, the Broadway smash-hit 'Rent' filmed its final performance on Broadway and released it to cinemas nationwide - a move that also began a trend of productions going directly to movie theaters around the country before home distribution. 'Memphis', the 2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical, was the first production that followed 'Rent' in going directly to movie theaters while still playing on Broadway - a recording that also helped spike the interest for a full West End production in 2012.
In 2013, Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, Tony Award-winning producers, wanted to democratize the niche market of Broadway by filming live productions and making them available to a wider audience through their site BroadwayHD. As long standing members of the community, they formed agreements with all 17 unions, guilds and associations behind Broadway shows so that show creators are compensated for filming. BroadwayHD has partnered with leading theatre companies such as Roundabout Theatre Company, The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, The Geffen and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and filmed dozens of productions throughout the years.