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COVID-19

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

Erika Beras Nov 20, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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