The Shows Must Go Online: 12 Ways to Stream the Stage

At least a dozen platforms are hosting live and recorded theater productions, monologues, brand new works and rave-reviewed musicals. John Lamparski / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

In Shakespeare’s day the plague routinely shut down playhouses, and now it’s our turn in Elizabeth drag: every single blessed theater—from the Gershwin, where Wicked had been playing to 1,933 souls to the 80-seat Brick in Williamsburg—is dark. For theater artists and fans, the silence is deafening. The lack of drama is tragic. The absence of comedy may drive us mad.

Something tells me that after this horrible self-quarantine period ends, a thousand playwrights will have written a thousand one-person shows, born out of the creative stress of so much isolation. Or maybe the opposite will occur: large-cast dramas will be in vogue, celebrating our messy, overpopulated social lives. Certainly actors will be happy to pile into rehearsal rooms and get back to their art. And the rest of us, who just love going to shows, will breathe a sigh of relief as we sit among strangers, waiting for the lights to go down.

Until then, we must act like sports fans, and applaud at screens. Over the past week or so, on social media, theater folk have been sharing their favorite online alternatives to the live experience. Some established streaming services you may already know, but other virtual venues have popped up. Some will cost money in the form of a subscription—but still far less than tickets. Read on for a survey of what’s out there, in no particular order.

BroadwayHD

Regional theaters such as American Contemporary Theatre in San Francisco have turned to this popular platform to get virus-canceled shows in front of a wider audience. Lydia Diamond’s baseball drama Toni Stone and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s media satire Gloria were taped in previews and will be available to ticket buyers. But that could be you: visit the A.C.T. site or call 415-749-2228. Purchasers will receive a link to a password-protected site from A.C.T. this week to view the production, which will be available until until midnight on Sunday, March 29.

Founded in 2015 by Tony Award-winning producers Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, BroadwayHD is the only service streaming full-length stage plays and musicals captured specifically for multi-platform viewing to fans across the globe. Its library of more than 300 productions include such curiosities as Al Pacino’s rough-hewn but fascinating treatment of Wilde’s Salomé (starring him and Jessica Chastain); and scads of musicals, from the well-known (Kinky Boots) to the deliciously obscure (Meryl Streep in 1982’s Alice at the Palace).

On the BoardsTV

For years, Portland’s daring experimental theater On the Boards has been filming and streaming its programming online for reasonable prices. Now through April you can use the code ARTATHOME20 at OnTheBoards.TV to watch everything for free. See experimental classics by Young Jean Lee (The Shipment), choreographer-performance artist Okwui Okpokwasili (Bronx Gothic), Tina Satter’s Half Straddle (Seagull: Thinking of You), Radiohole (Whatever, Heaven Allows) and more. Careful not to go down an avant-garde rabbit hole—or do!

Theatre Without Theatre

If pre-recorded theater seems too distant and you want something fresher and more immediate, try Theatre Without Theatre, a new Instagram feed in which theater artists record a song, a speech, or just share sweetheart vibes to keep us all strong during these rough times.

24 Hour Plays: Viral Monologues

Another IG-streamed treat: The 24 Hour Plays releases its first-ever series of Viral Monologues at IGTV @24hourplays and online. Twenty of theater’s top writers have been paired with 20 actors and have written unique pieces just for them. Tonight from 6 p.m. until midnight, the new monologues will be published, one every 15 minutes. What? You want celebrity names? Actors: David Cross, Richard Kind, Rachel Dratch, Bobby Moreno, Denis O’Hare, Hugh Dancy, Russell G. Jones, Tavi Gevinson, Marin Ireland, Ashlie Atkinson, Haskiri Velasquez, Patrick Wilson, and Dagmara Domińczyk and more. Writers: David Lindsay-Abaire, Hilary Bettis, Hansol Jung, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Christopher Oscar Peña, Jesse Eisenberg, Kathleen Hale, Lily Padilla, Harrison David Rivers, Rachel Axler, Lily Houghton, and more.

Cincinnati Know Theatre

This small but contemporary space in Cincinnati will be putting archival productions online for viewing. In a twitter post, Know Theatre artistic director Andrew Hungerford promises, “The first two shows I’ve prepped to go online are a small-town, sci-fi memory musical and an Appalachian fairy story with songs.” In other words, weirds stuff, not community-theater Virginia Woolf or The Music Man.

Play-Per-View

This is super-new. Producer Jeremy Wein has partnered with the marvelous stage actress Mirirai Sithole (School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play) to create Play-Per-View, a livestream play reading series that launches Friday, March 20. The effort, they say, would help raise money for the Actors Fund, the Dramatists Guild, Broadway Cares and other organizations who are hurting. “Currently we have Marin Ireland, Maria Dizzia, Lucas Hnath, Tori Sampson, Jonathan Caren, and Bess Wohl,” Wein says. Each livestream is one-night-only, one time it might be a solo piece, the next it could be a night of monologues, or a musical. Or “dream casting”—actors doing roles they wouldn’t normally do.

La MaMa Re-Fest 2020

Re-Fest 2020 is La MaMa and CultureHub’s annual festival which brings artists, activists, and technologists together to envision their role in re-shaping the future. This year, La MaMa partnered with Howlround TV so the events could be completely livestreamed; click there to see what the future has in store for us.

Great Performances

It requires the price of becoming a member of Thirteen, but don’t you want to support your local PBS station? Especially when it gets you a Passport to 47 seasons of world-class concerts, musicals, plays, and opera at Great Performances

Marquee TV

Want to see the Royal Shakespeare Company brings its decades of expertise to bear on the Bard? Click onto Marquee TV’s theater channel and take your pick. Fancy watching David Tennant swan about as Richard II? Come on, you know you want to. A subscription goes for $8.99 a month or $89.99 a year.

Audible Theater 

Less strain on the eyes, and you can design all the sets, lights, and costumes yourselves. As you may know, the audiobook giant Audible has been getting more involved in producing live theater Off Broadway in New York, then recording it and distributing it on its platform as high-concept, storytelling-oriented audio drama. Missed that Alan Cumming solo piece? Here he is, murmuring with that sexy Scottish brogue in your ear.

Digital Theatre

Despite the generic name, this is a very cool site that allows you to see British productions of note. (Until NT Live decides to sell at-home streaming, this is the closest we’ll get.) For £9.99 (that’s $12.26) a month, you can see, for example, Richard Armitage in that primal, acclaimed production of The Crucible everyone was talking about a few years back.

All-Arts

This excellent hub for arts news includes captured performances for viewing at home. Nose around and you’ll discover James Earl Jones and Raúl Julia in King Lear; a full performance of Philip Glass’s opera about Walt Disney, The Perfect American; Peter Brook’s ancient-modern classic The Mahabharata; and Balanchine’s ballet Jewels at St. Petersburg’s famed Mariinsky Theatre. New York area viewers can also access THIRTEEN’s Theater Close-Up series, featuring Off-Broadway productions from New York as well as regional theaters.

The Shows Must Go Online: 12 Ways to Stream the Stage