Filmed theatre production ‘Hamilton’ causes controversy

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Morgan Bruewer

On Feb. 3, the Disney+ recording of “Hamilton” caused controversy when it was nominated for two Golden Globe awards. The nominations, for best actor – musical or comedy and best motion picture – musical or comedy, brought the conversations theatre professionals have been having recently about filmed theatre to a new arena. 

Dr. Christianne Roll, Associate Professor of Musical Theatre at Florida Southern College, is in favor of the emergence of filmed theatrical productions. 

“I think the filming of live theatre, personally, is a good thing,” Roll said. “I think that thing that they did with ‘Hamilton’ was amazing.”

She made a point to say that the idea of filmed theatrical productions is relatively new, and she is one opinion of many, so what is true today, may not be true tomorrow. Roll also brought up how filmed theatre is making the art form more accessible for new groups of people. 

“A lot of things we are talking about right now, in 2021 is this idea of privilege or accessibility, so we have now given so many more people the opportunity to see this piece of art,” Roll said. “I don’t understand how that could possibly be a bad thing.” 

Diversity, accessibility and inclusion have been hot button topics the past six months,  and no industry was left untouched, musical theatre included. Filmed theatre is a tool being used to level the playing field between those who can and cannot afford to see a Broadway production or tour. People who may not have been able to afford nearly thousand dollar tickets to “Hamilton,” can now access the same piece of art for $7.99 per month from Disney+.

However, some opponents of filmed theatre have said that more accessibility to theatre productions could kill the theatre industry, as people will not want to go out for a night on the town to see a show when they can enjoy it from the comfort of their own couch with snacks and a pause button for at least half the price. When asked about filmed theatre’s effect on live theatre’s future, Roll was quick to respond. 

“I keep thinking back to this analogy I heard, where rock bands tour. That doesn’t mean that people still don’t buy their records or their albums, right?” Roll said. “So this idea that no, you can only go to New York, you can only see it in New York, you can only see it at the Straz Center, that might be an antiquated idea at this point, so we might need to evolve as an art form.” 

Roll instead see’s filmed theatre as a way to keep theatre relevant with today’s audiences in tandem with live performances.

Junior musical theatre and technical theatre major, Liam Fisher, does not share Roll’s enthusiasm for filmed theatre.

 “Filmed theatre is on the rise for sure, and I don’t know if I like that or not,” Fisher said. “Live theatre is great because of the energy in the room, and I don’t know if filmed theatre can exactly capture that magic. But live streamed and filmed performances on a local level are nice for my family who can’t see me perform.”

Critics in the movie industry may not agree entirely with Roll’s enthusiasm for these films. They were fast to make their voices heard on whether or not filmed productions like “Hamilton’’ should even be eligible for the Golden Globe awards, considering that it is technically a recording of a performance originally intended for the stage. The argument is that this type of film is in a completely different genre than movie musicals like the 1952 classic “Singin’ in the Rain,” because this movie was always intended to be seen on the big screen. 

Filmed theatre in the past had been barred from being nominated based on the fact that they are considered “special events” or “special releases” and therefore belong in another category. “Hamilton’s” categorization could be a game changer for nomination considerations in the future.

It seems like filmed theatre is here to stay, at least for now, and many more musicals are on the track to move from The Great White Way to Hollywood. Movie adaptations of “Dear Evan Hansen,’’ with music by “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman” duo Pasek and Paul, and Tina Fey’s musical adaptation of “Mean Girls” are on the fast track to movie theaters.“Dear Evan Hansen” has a Sept. 24, 2021 release date from Universal Studios.

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