With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing and state lockdowns, theaters across the country closed their doors. As part of an industry that depends on social gatherings — often in large numbers — those that work in theater are facing incredible anxiety about when they will return to performing, their own financial security and the future of the theater industry.
While stages have darkened their lights, theater communities and their devoted fans have shown that the art form isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, theater is an essential art for getting through tough times like these.
As one of the few gathering spaces where people from all walks of life can enjoy a shared experience, the theater is a site for storytelling and empathy. Some of my favorite memories are connected to theater, from performing in my high school’s musicals, to attending Broadway tours near my hometown. Theater transports the performer and the viewer to a different time and place in a way that is visceral and imaginable, enlisting all of the senses.
During this time of isolation, I’ve found myself missing theater more than ever. Despite our inability to attend live performances, however, there are still many ways to access theater remotely.
Through virtual meet-ups and readings, artists have demonstrated their adaptability and creativity and have delivered powerful performances. Some artists are reuniting with their past cast members to perform musical numbers and record them for fans. Others are getting together to put on remote productions, and some are taking this time to write new stories that will one day be performed on a stage.
For those missing the lights, sets and costumes of full-length productions, they can still access some of their favorite shows online. Here are some of the best places to stream performances.
The online site for Playbill, Broadway and Off-Broadway’s popular magazine, has always been my go-to resource for theater news. Now, I use it to keep up with streamed performances, though Playbill has also been directly streaming some shows on its own site.
In April, they streamed a filmed version of “Bandstand,” one of my favorite Broadway musicals, about World War II veterans that form a band together. In May, they streamed “Puffs, Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” a comedic off-Broadway play about the neglected Hufflepuff house of Hogwarts.
There is a price for streaming, but it’s a small percentage of what a ticket costs for a live Broadway show, and Playbill donates a portion of the proceeds to charitable organizations.
BroadwayHD is the Netflix for theater, providing hundreds of filmed Broadway performances on demand. Access to all of the shows requires a subscription, but during the pandemic, BroadwayHD has been streaming several performances for free through a program called Rodgers & Hammerstein Movie Night, which encourages viewers to donate to the Actors Fund.
Shows have included the 2018 revival of “The King and I” and the National Theatre’s 1999 production of “Oklahoma!” that features a pre-Wolverine Hugh Jackman.
3. Lincoln Center
New York’s Lincoln Center has launched Lincoln Center at Home, an online portal featuring recorded performances. In addition to streaming past theater productions from Lincoln Center, the portal also streams performances from the Metropolitan Opera, music concerts and classes for children and families.
If you can’t get enough from the daily streams, the site also includes links to on-demand performances from the Jazz at Lincoln Center concert series and more.
4. National Theatre
Looking for a production from across the pond? London’s beloved National Theatre is providing theatergoers with streams of its past performances on its YouTube channel, with each production available to stream for a week. Recent streams have included “Frankenstein,” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller, and “Antony and Cleopatra,” with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo.
Well-known for its National Theatre Live initiative, which brings filmed performances to cinemas around the world, the theater has an archive full of beautifully filmed productions featuring some of the best British actors. In addition to the streams, they’ve also been uploading cast interviews on their YouTube channel.
5. Shakespeare’s Globe
If you’re in need of some plays from the Bard, look no further than Shakespeare’s Globe. With Globe Player, you can buy and rent past productions from the open-air theater on demand. The Globe has also started streaming free YouTube Premieres of past performances on their YouTube channel, including their 2020 production of “Macbeth.”
If that’s not enough Shakespeare for you, they created several video projects, such as Love in Isolation, in which artists perform Shakespeare’s words from their homes.
6. PBS Great Performances
Great Performances, PBS’s television series that highlights performing arts, is streaming productions and concerts all summer long from various theaters and groups, such as the Minnesota Opera and the LA Phil.
Some performances are available longer than others, but all of them are free. A notable recent stream is The Public Theater’s 2019 Shakespeare in the Park production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” featuring an all-black cast led by Danielle Brooks and set in contemporary Georgia.
7. Theatre Without Theater
Theater doesn’t always take place on a stage. Theatre Without Theater, an Instagram account created in response to the pandemic, posts evening theater broadcasts created by artists in their own homes.
Originally created to “fill the void arising from recent events,” the account narrowed its focus in April by partnering with theater companies that are performing remotely and featuring young student artists trying to enter the industry.
In addition to the performances, the account includes conversations and interviews with artists. The beauty of Theatre Without Theater is the incredible breadth and creativity that they showcase, even during a time when performers are unable to meet in person with one another.
There’s something for every theater lover — there’s Nicholas Podany, who plays Albus Potter in Broadway’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” performing the parts of several characters during a scene at Platform 9 3/4. There are even senior thesis features from university theater departments.
Thanks to the theater community’s creativity and dedication, performing arts will continue to sustain us through these unprecedented times.
If you can, consider donating to the theater companies I’ve mentioned (particularly Shakespeare’s Globe — they are a charitable organization without government subsidy and have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic). There are also organizations like the Actors Fund that aim to meet the needs of entertainers. By supporting performing artists, we can ensure a secure future for the theater community.