(B = Bonnie Comley, S = Stewart F. Lane)
What prompted you to create BroadwayHD?
B: Stewart and I have always been huge live theater lovers and we both have very diverse backgrounds in the industry. We’re Broadway producers, members of the Broadway League, and involved with several philanthropic theater, arts and education programs. Stewart is also co-owner of the Palace Theatre in New York.
We wanted to expand the reach of this art form to a broader audience, and preserve it, so that everyone, no matter where they live, can enjoy the magic of Broadway. We launched BroadwayHD in October 2015 and have since been filling the void for many who don’t have the opportunity (for various reasons) to enjoy live theater in person – or for those who want to watch shows again and again!
What are your goals for the future of BroadwayHD?
S: Our vision has always been to capture and stream performances live, in real-time. We achieved that for the first time in March of 2016 with The New Group’s production of “Buried Child.” That was such an exciting day for us. Next, our goal was to live stream a show on Broadway, and we achieved that with Roundabout Theatre Company’s “She Loves Me” just three months later – we made history that night!
Since then, our goal has been to steadily bring more content to BroadwayHD. Most recently, we live streamed “Long Days Journey Into Night” from the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles (our first live stream in a US city other than NYC). Next, we’re streaming an entire three-part series, Richard Nelson’s “The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family” from The Public Theater on March 22-24, 2017. Don’t miss it, it’s going to be fantastic!
What are you planning to expand the current BroadwayHD offerings?
B: We’re always looking for new ways to expand our on-demand library and live stream offerings. Currently, our on-demand library contains over 170 productions, and like Stewart said, we live streamed “Long Days Journey Into Night” earlier this month and we’re streaming “The Gabriels” next week – that’s four live streams in one month! It’s a lot of work, but we’re so excited to bring more and more content to our subscribers.
After the success of the previous two live streams of Roundabout shows, can we expect to see more live broadcasts from Broadway in the future?
B: We’re always on the lookout for new opportunities to live stream a production. Our goal is to make BroadwayHD live streams available to audiences around the world as often as possible. As soon as we see a great opportunity arise, we take it!
Who would you say your target audience for BroadwayHD is?
S: BroadwayHD is for everyone, anywhere. Our aim is to expand the current reach of theater so that it can be appreciated by a wider audience. That ranges from Broadway super-fans to casual theatergoers. We’re committed to promoting and preserving live theater for everyone.
What have you learnt about your audience in the process?
S: Roundabout Theatre Company’s “She Loves Me” was the first-ever Broadway show to be live streamed, and it taught us a lot about our audience. We learned that they appreciate the ultimate theater experience – a great cast, timeless story, and great production value. Also, the overwhelming amount of viewers that tuned in proved to us that there is an appetite for what we do. They tuned in from all over the world too! We had viewers in over 60 countries that night, and that doesn’t even include those who watched the production on-demand after the live stream ended. The notes of gratitude we received from viewers were incredibly heartwarming, and we’re so excited to continue to bring them more live streamed productions this year.
What do you hope to accomplish by live streaming Broadway shows?
B: Both of us are lovers of live theater and we wanted to share this incredible art form with a broader audience. We make sure that what we capture and produce to either live in our on-demand library or stream live are as similar as possible to what you would see live in the theater. We therefore work with a TV director, lighting and sound directors, and a production team of 100 to enhance the magic and intimacy of the stage performance for the screen.
For “She Loves Me” for example, our director, David Horn, learned the show from top to bottom and picked camera angles to capture the most important moments. We also heavily redesigned the lighting of the stage to look best on camera. It wasn’t visible in the theater, but it made the stream look much more vibrant on screen – almost like seeing it in person! We played with the sound too to bring out lines, harmonies and melodies that would have been difficult to hear through the live stream. We want to make sure we’re keeping the integrity of our digital captures for both audiences – the one sitting in the house, and the one sitting at home, watching on a screen.
Have you encountered many obstacles along the way?
S: We never thought it would be easy to launch BroadwayHD, and while there have been many logistical obstacles to overcome, we’ve had an overwhelming response of people who are excited by the idea and what the future could bring. So we’re always working on giving them more!
How do you choose which shows to film as BroadwayHD exclusives?
S: There are a number of factors that play into our decision to capture or live stream a performance. For one, we want to make sure it’s a title that will resonate with audiences around the world. We also look for titles that are difficult for most to see, such as a limited run performance, a production that’s closing soon, or even a production starring a celebrity who will leave the show soon. We want to make sure we preserve those performances. In addition, we have to make sure everyone is on board with the idea – from the producers and the cast to the union and the crew working behind the scenes – everyone has to agree. Those are just a few factors we consider, but we’re always keeping our eyes and ears peeled for new opportunities!
What are your other ideas for getting Broadway to small towns that otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience shows like She Loves Me and Holiday Inn?
B: We’re proud to say that BroadwayHD’s on-demand library and live streams are available all across the United States – including small towns and cities that aren’t especially theater-rich. It’s such a rewarding experience to help spread the magic of Broadway to those areas in particular. In fact, I myself didn’t see a Broadway show until I was an adult. As a child in a family with four children, it just wasn’t on our radar. So I feel a connection to those who don’t have access to live theater, and I’m so glad we’ve been able to bring them several amazing shows already, like “She Loves Me” and “Holiday Inn.” We can’t wait to bring them more!
Do you think that live streaming more shows like She Loves Me and Holiday Inn will in the long run be an efficient solution to the problem with people bringing cameras into shows to sell bootlegs since there is a legal copy out there?
S: Definitely! We want to make theater accessible in a legal, productive way. BroadwayHD is offering on-demand access to high quality shows and eliminating the need for bootlegs. It’s very important to us that when we partner with a production, everyone is fairly compensated for their work and on board with the plan. So unlike a bootleg video, we’re bringing revenue and value back to the theater community. We also capture the performance in the highest quality possible. We take every precaution to make sure the version you’re seeing at home is as magical as the version you’d be seeing in the theater.
A college student at SUNY Purchase, I see many shows on Broadway annually and love theatre.
When writing your memoir, did you ever stop and say to yourself “Wow, I’ve had a great career and life”?
Only after I completed it.
Having played both John Adams and John Quincy Adams, I would have to imagine that you know as much as the historians do about the Adams family. How did you go upon preparing all of the historical information to get into the characters?
To be honest, I didn’t do any background work. I simply had to solve the problems in the script. Afterwards, I did a great deal of reading about both of them.
I recently heard a rumor, that you attribute your success to “Never eating lunch”. Could you please explain that?
My explanation is, that it was simply a joke, but I don’t eat lunch.
After heading into TV and Movies, you did little to no theatre professionally for the rest of your career. Do you ever miss performing on the stage and wish you had done more of it?
Yes, I miss performing on the stage, but when you think about doing eight a week, in a long run for instance, I know now that I don’t miss that.
Throughout your career you have done so many memorable and incredible performances, what do you look back on as the highest point in your career?
I would say performing John Adams in “1776”, for over two years on Broadway, would have to be the highlight of my career.
Back in 1999, you had a term as the President of the Screen Actors Guild, a very important position that has been held by some very famous people, including President Ronald Reagan. What would you say the best parts of holding that position were?
The best part would probably be meeting so many nice people, and having some of them on my team to help me get through a six month strike, and many contentious moments.
For someone like myself that is looking forward to picking up a copy of your memoir, what can we expect when we read it?
Hopefully this book might fall into the hands of someone who is considering the acting profession as their life’s work, and to other people who might be interested in looking behind the scenes of the acting profession.
If you were able to jump into a time machine and tell your younger self one thing as you started your career, what would it be?
I would study with an acting teacher, and use every opportunity to get on stage and perform.
What would your advice be to any aspiring performers that are looking to start their careers?
Work hard and don’t take the no’s seriously, and get a lot of sleep!
A college student at SUNY Purchase, I see many shows on Broadway annually and love theatre.