Featured image courtesy of Joan Marcus
Let’s get it out of the way now. We’ve all watched a bootleg at one point or another. Casual theatre fans have watched them, actors have watched them, and Broadway critics have probably watched them too. It could have been a single scene or the entire show, but we’ve all done it. Any theatre fan who tells you that they’ve never watched or listened to even one minute of a bootleg is lying.
But there’s one caveat with bootlegs: they’re 100% illegal. While you can watch them on YouTube without being put in prison, recording them is against the law. They’ll say it at the beginning of every single performance you’ll ever go to.
Pro #1: Bootlegs allow you to see original casts that have long-since separated, and they preserve productions that closed before their time.
I understand that there’s something so beautiful about every performance being unique and that show being preserved in only the minds of everyone who saw it and performed in it. However, without bootlegs we wouldn’t have visual records of Kristin Chenoweth’s last ever performance of “For Good” with Idina Menzel, or the Rent 10th Anniversary concert with the original Broadway cast. Furthermore, shows that closed after only a few months or even a few years are still available for us to cherish years later. Fifty years from now, people who aren’t even born yet will be able to watch these videos and learn about theatre history as it happened.
Con #1: They’re illegal to record and they’re highly frowned upon.
Pro #2: You can find them for free on YouTube (unlike legal options like BroadwayHD), and you can watch them from anywhere.
Some people simply don’t have the time or the money to see local community shows, national tours, or Broadway/West End/etc. productions. Theatre costs a lot of money, and even local productions or BroadwayHD might not be in the budget for some folks. In addition, some people live in remote places that just barely have theatre of any kind, let alone community productions. Essentially, bootlegs bring theatre to those who aren’t fortunate enough to see live theatre.
Con #2: Filming them can often be distracting to the performers.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen Broadway actors posting Tweets about someone filming the show and thereby distracting them. Here is one perfect example, featuring Broadway actresses from two currently-running shows:
Typically, the type of people they’re pointing out are just audience members who don’t know any better and not recurring bootleg filmers. (Obviously, frequent experienced bootleggers aren’t using their iPhones to record shows in HD.) Nevertheless, causing distractions to performers is never a good thing. After all, would you want someone coming into your office and distracting you from getting your work done? No one who respects the work they do would want someone to distract them at the office, most especially live theatre actors, who’ve worked impossibly hard to get where they are.
Pro #3: You can always go back to re-watch your favorite moments of a show without having to watch the whole thing.
One of the definite pros about bootlegs is that you can re-watch your favorite scenes over and over, and also watch how different actors play those scenes. In real life, you’d not only have to spend hundreds of dollars to see different casts play the same show, but you would also have to wait months (if not years) for a cast change.
Con #3: Bootlegs don’t capture the magic of theatre the way a live performance does.
This is definitely one of the main bootlegs complaints that I read from Broadway actors on Twitter, and it’s true. Skimming through boots of “Defying Gravity” doesn’t give you the same feeling that watching someone fly above you on stage does, and watching the chandelier smash on the ground at the end of “All I Ask Of You (Reprise)” on a bootleg doesn’t feel as electrifying as it does in real life. While bootlegs give you the satisfaction of seeing the scene, they don’t trigger the same sense of wonder that live theatre does.
I’m confident that I could write a dozen more blogs on the pros and cons of bootlegs. In fact, each of the above sections could be a blog post in itself.
In my experience in the fandom, they’re one of the more hotly debated topics in the whole theatre community because they have positive as well as negative qualities. While I want to be completely against them, it’s hard to be because of how accessible they are for people all over the world who may never see a live theatre production.
What are your thoughts on bootlegs? Let me know below!