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Theater professionals plan live-streamed performances after theaters shut down

In the wake of the Broadway shutdown, theater professionals and actors are seeking other ways to deliver performances to fans. Some took the form of concerts, with Telly Leung and Alice Ripley planning to perform a live-streamed set Monday.

Telly Leung will live-stream a concert this Monday in light of the Broadway shutdown. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

In the wake of the Broadway shutdown, theater professionals and actors are seeking other ways to deliver performances to fans.

Some took the form of concerts, with Telly Leung and Alice Ripley planning to perform a live-streamed set Monday. Others looked to readings, such as the weeklong, live-streamed series organized by producer Jeremy Wein and actor Mirirai Sithole, in order to keep performers working and to continue the art form.

These measures come as many have called for Broadway shows to be live-streamed while the theaters are dark. However, the process of doing so is entangled by union contracts and financial costs.

For the theater artists, the idea of live-streaming came out of a desire to be productive as theater across the country stalled. Leung, who recently starred in “Aladdin” on Broadway, decided to put on a 30-minute concert of show tunes, as well as songs from his solo albums and more, to be streamed via Stageit, a website for virtual concerts. Ripley joined the project after posting about her own desire to do a pop-up concert on Facebook and then later deciding to join forces.

The two were originally going to collaborate in person, but had decided as of Monday morning to perform separate, back-to-back concerts as a social distancing measure. Leung’s set will begin at 1 p.m. on Stageit and Ripley’s will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Facebook.

“We have no idea if it’ll sound good, if the system will crash (due to more musicians performing online), if people will actually watch, or if this really works – but we wanted to give this a try and we wanted to find a way to keep making music when everything is cancelled,” Leung wrote in an email to Broadway News.

He described the concert, his portion of which will be broadcast from the living room of Leung’s musical collaborator, Gary Adler, as a “beta test” for potential future collaborations. Viewers will be charged $5, with part of the proceeds benefiting the Actors Fund.

Wein, a live event producer, is also planning to live-stream a weeklong series of readings featuring bold-name actors, in collaboration with Sithole. He said he is in conversation with new playwrights as well as several Off-Broadway playwrights, including those whose runs may have been prematurely ended by the shutdown.

“This could be another really great way to put a cap on those shows that really didn’t get a period on their runs,” Wein said.

He hopes to launch the channel, either on Stageit, Twitch or another streaming platform, in the next week-and-a-half. The channel will also be soliciting donations to the Actors’ Fund and other organizations.

The prospect of live-streaming full-length shows from theater companies is also being considered, according to streaming platform BroadwayHD. The company has been in touch with American Conservatory Theater and Berkeley Repertory Theatre and said it is also open to collaboration on Broadway.

“As theater producers ourselves, in addition to co-founders of BroadwayHD, we understand the crisis that productions are currently facing and how they are looking for creative ways to still service their patrons in these trying times. We are definitely open to collaborating with theater owners and producers on Broadway and at regional theaters across the country,” Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane, co-founders of BroadwayHD, said in a statement.

The Dramatists Guild, which represents playwrights, lyricists, composers and librettists, also said it was in support of the idea of streaming, union rules permitting. The Guild has called for theaters of any size in any locale with reported coronavirus cases to “consider closing until medical experts have advised that such public gatherings are safe again.”

“We hope that shows that wish to do it find an accommodation with the unions that will permit it, and that, if they do proceed, they follow CDC protocols for the safety of their companies,” said Ralph Sevush, executive director of business affairs and general consul at the Dramatists Guild.

Meanwhile, others are exploring ways to continue on in the spirit of Broadway, with actor Laura Benanti asking high schoolers who were part of canceled shows to submit videos of themselves singing and with BroadwayWorld featuring daily videos of Broadway actors performing from home.

Howard Sherman, director of Arts Integrity and a columnist at the Stage, has put out an ask on social media for Broadway actors to perform short snippets, which he’ll record and post online in the spirit of the #Ham4Ham videos he shot in the past.

“Even if all this does is to prompt theatre people to create new material they can share – whether it’s songs, short plays, instrumentals – then at least it’s contributing to the idea that theatre people cannot go silent,” Sherman said.