COVID-19

To survive the pandemic, live theater turns to streaming. Unions are on board.

Erika Beras Nov 20, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Simone Joyner/Getty Images
COVID-19

To survive the pandemic, live theater turns to streaming. Unions are on board.

Erika Beras Nov 20, 2020
Simone Joyner/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

With live theater indefinitely shut down by the pandemic, some theaters considered streaming their shows for audiences at home.

It would be just another adaptation to life these days — hybrid-type performances. But the two main actors’ unions have been in a dispute over the virtual turf.

Actors’ Equity Association, which represents live stage performers and workers, and Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the union for television and film workers, disagreed over which one should handle live plays filmed for broadcast.

Actors’ Equity members wanted to make content for streaming, but traditionally, streaming work had gone to SAG-AFTRA workers. But the show must go on, and on Thursday the two announced they had resolved their differences.

With restrictions over what type of streaming platforms would be allowed, how long a show could run and how many people could watch it, the unions agreed that Actors’ Equity Association could represent these theater broadcasts.

Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle said, “This agreement for us was, not to overstate, a form of triage.”

The pact will only allow new productions to stream for limited audiences of people willing to pay. They will be shot as if they are live. So do not expect to see these plays on big streaming channels like Netflix, Hulu or Disney+. Production will not be as elaborate as, say, “Hamilton,” Shindle said.

But the new rules do add room to experiment. “I would love to see theater shot the way that professional football is shot or tennis is shot,” Shindle remarked.

As the pandemic drags on, it feeds audiences who are hungry for content, said media analyst Tim Hanlon of the Vertere Group. “There’s a heightened sort of desire from a consumer perspective to truly find something new and different.”

And even though this agreement only lasts through the end of next year, Carnegie Mellon University marketing professor Michael D. Smith said it  may change the streaming wars landscape.

“We’ve got systems that worked perfectly well in the old way of doing business, where there were bright lines between what is a live production and what’s a recorded production,” he said. 

But this deal crosses those lines. And, Smith concluded, it’s an example of how the pandemic has accelerated change.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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