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

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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