By Rob Shapiro (musical theatre writer)
The Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT) at Lincoln Center Library is theatre heaven. If you've never been there, here's the summary from their website:
"Since 1970, the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive (TOFT) has preserved live theatrical productions and documented the creative contributions of distinguished artists and legendary figures of the theatre. With the consent and cooperation of the theatrical unions and each production's artistic collaborators, TOFT produces video recordings of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theatre productions as well as dialogues between notable theatre personalities."
If you live in the New York City area, you can walk up and watch most of the shows (some are restricted) if you have an academic-ish reason. "The Archive is available to theatre professionals, students, or researchers with work or study-related reasons for viewing." But if you don't live nearby, you won't be able to access to one of the ultimate theatre treasure troves. So, here's my wish for the day: put TOFT online!
When you learn about Broadway musicals and plays, you are limited. Some plays and musicals get published and/or licensed, and most modern musicals have a cast recording, but there's a lot of elements that can't be studied as easily: set design, movements, direction, underscoring, costumes... and how it all comes together in front of a live audience.
(I should point out that the NYPL does have the Theatrical Lighting Database a great resource for students of lighting design.)
At the same time that we have this wonderful legal archive, there is a black market for Broadway shows - people who record, share or sell bootlegs of musicals, plays, concerts and readings. Some of these passionate fans trade recordings, but others traffic in it and make money. It's probably small potatoes compared to the movie industry piracy problems. But still, at $10-$20 per recording, that's money that could be going to artists.
Right now, watching a recording of a musical at TOFT is free with a library card, which is great for people who live within NYC and are available from 12 to 6 pm Monday to Saturday. But what about directors who live in California or Australia? Or actors people who work during library hours? I bet there's a lot of folks who would pay to see an original production of their favorite musical. I know I would.
I like to think that there is a solution that allows for streaming these shows online. It could be a great way to get some more money to various unions, the artists, the NYPL and all in the name of theatre education. I doubt it will be easy, but what if we could start from scratch and find a model to make it work...
Who wants to start the negotiations?