When theatres began canceling productions, many tried switching to live-streaming, some doing so successfully. While requests to livestream stage plays have dwindled with increased stay-at-home directives, there are still many reasons to study the industry standards we’ve already seen: live-streaming and archive streaming have many of the same issues; live-streaming may come back, and a subset of dramatists may be able to use live-streaming throughout this crisis.
Keep in mind that you, the author, must give permission for any streaming. Any special permissions should be only for the time of the coronavirus outbreak, whether that be keyed to an official state of emergency from a specific government, or a theatre’s ability to return to hosting live audiences. (1) The important thing is that streaming permissions should have an end date.
Most dramatists understand the urgency in permitting a stream of their works at this time: this might be the last royalty you see for a while, or might be a unique opportunity to get recognition in a historically saturated market. (2) You should inform your agents and other representatives whether you permit these uses, and under what circumstances.
(Even with the author’s approval, streaming a production could be stopped by other professionals, such as those represented by other theatrical unions and guilds.)
Authors get paid if, and when, any other person involved with the production is getting paid: director, actors, front-desk receptionist—anybody. Even if “nobody’s getting paid,” authors typically obtain their license fee, whether a flat fee, per performance, or a royalty against the advance. (3) Don’t let the coronavirus become yet another reason used to battle against the idea of paying you for your artwork.
To obtain a standard amount for these permissions, you still need to know how many audience members are seeing your work. Under no circumstances have we seen legitimate video streams of theatre works just sitting on YouTube or a theatre’s website, free for all the public to see, in full, whenever they want and however many times they want.
What the Guild has seen are restrictions that parallel the written agreement for live performance. For example, a 99-seat theater that licensed a production for five performances would be allowed to stream to only 99 people, and only for five performances (no more than one per day). Of course, an author could negotiate more “seats” and more “performances” as desired, so long as the royalty is likewise increased. (4) Put boundaries on access and number of performances.
The larger theatres and licensing houses have been able to limit access to paying audience members through password protection. This presents a problem for mid-sized and smaller theatres because password protection can be a cost-prohibitive service. The Guild is still researching potential solutions for affordable password protection. (5) Send proven solutions for affordable password protection to email@example.com.
Finally, consider what opportunities might be specific to you. We spoke to one theatre that had an archive of authors performing their own cabaret-style shows, streamlining permissions. We spoke to an individual who felt his particular, niche audience would pay if left to the honor code, and posted one of his own works. It’s easy enough to set up a Patreon account or put out your Venmo information. (6) Be creative when imagining new opportunities for employing your artwork.