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Broadway bootlegs: Friend or foe?

Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, Culture Editor

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Should fans of a product have the right to consume its content, no matter their location or class? Conversely, should fans have the right to steal copyrighted material that creators labor over for years?

In many cases of bootlegs, the story sounds like a Robin Hood situation. One deceptive hero makes their way into a theatre at the risk of being caught and heavily fined and takes a video of the performance, thus stealing from the elites who are profiting off of tickets that sometimes make their way into the $10,000 range.

But many Broadway actors and creators don’t see it that way. “Dear Evan Hansen” star, Kristolyn Lloyd tweeted, “I dislike audience members who film shows about as much as I dislike our current #POTUS.”

And one of Broadway’s biggest names at the moment, Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and original star of “Hamilton: An American Musical,” couldn’t agree more, regularly calling out bootleg-watchers and filmers on social media. But an important fact to realize about Miranda is that he is trying to help fix the problem from the inside.

While Broadway tickets usually start out on the show’s webpage between an estimated $70 to $200, which is still a higher sum than many can afford, there are bots, or online scalpers, that are able to buy out most or all of tickets before real people can even buy one. From there, the bots are able to sell them on other websites on which they can mark the price up to the thousands. However, they usually stick to the safer hundreds unless a celebrity is leaving their role soon.

But Miranda’s effort to fight this with the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2016, fines companies that use bots to the point where those companies could lose money and go out of business.

And while this does make theatre more accessible to some fans, just because something is in law does not mean that it fixes the problem right away, nor does it fix every problem related to it.

Tickets are still being sold at outrageous prices, despite the fact that there are currently “better online ticket sales.” One of the hottest ticket items right now is “SpongeBob Squareants: A New Broadway Musical,” and if two parents brought one child to see it on a weeknight, it could cost up to $1,350 and as low as low as $270 on Stubhub.

But even if cost wasn’t an issue, Broadway fans would still watch bootlegs because of geographical inaccessibility. Only a small fraction of the Americans live close enough to New York to be able to see a show that is on the original Broadway. And while a larger number are able to drive to the nearest major city to witness their favorite musical, many shows take months to make it to theatres around the country, if they ever do.

One solution to the issue of inaccessibility might be for Broadway to beat the bootleg crowd by selling its own filmed stage performances.

Although this idea has been tossed around before, leading Broadway employees to claim that no one would see their lives shows if people could watch it in their living rooms, the simple fix to this problem is to only sell the filmed version after the show has closed.

Would this end bootlegs completely? It certainly would not because consumers are impatient, but it would lessen the amount of stolen content immensely. Yes, consumers are impatient, but they are also picky; why would someone waste two hours watching a pixelated, over-exposed copy of a play when they could watch a close-up of Kristin Chenoweth singing a high E in HD?

And while this didn’t quite work out with the theatrical disaster that was “The Sound of Music Live!” (2013), if the directors would film the original Broadway cast with an actual, reactive audience, it would give viewers at home a sense of seeing the real show. Filmed productions like

“She Loves Me,” “Falsettos,” “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” “Company,” “Shrek: The Musical,” “Newsies” and more have already done this successfully.

Bootleg filmers are not heroes by any means. They do steal copyrighted material and then sell it for a profit online. Some bootlegs escape to YouTube for free viewing, but even those are taken down frequently because they are stolen material.

If fans could support their favorite show by buying a copy of it for $30, instead of paying $25 for a poorly-filmed bootleg, I’m sure they’d choose the former.

As a regular consumer of bootlegs myself, I know that I would opt for the professional copy, even if that meant saving up or begging for it on my birthday. And just because I watched the “Hamilton” bootleg five times doesn’t mean that I didn’t go to see it when it came to Chicago.

One of Broadway’s top rising stars and most infamous bootleg consumers, Ben Platt of “Dear Evan Hansen” tweeted last July, “I just inhaled my daily… Wicked bootleg.” And I can’t help but think he’d buy the professional recording too.

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Broadway bootlegs: Friend or foe?