Bootlegs: Good or Bad?

July 19, 2020
Today's post is a little different, as it addresses a bit of a controversial topic: bootlegs. This is quite a tricky topic to talk about as I believe there are both pros and cons to it, so I thought I'd share my opinions on the subject.

If you're unaware, bootlegging is when an audience member films a show from the audience without permission, which results in copyright infringement. So basically, illegal recordings of shows. But let's be honest, most of us have probably watched a bootleg or two in our lifetime, especially within the past few years. As technology advances, bootlegs are becoming much more popular, and with the lack of theatre at the moment, more bootlegs are beginning to surface.

PRO: Bootlegs are accessible for everyone

I think the main reason people bootleg a show, is because theatre isn't accessible as we would like it to be. No matter how you feel about them, you have to admit they do allow people from all over the world to enjoy theatre. It's an expensive hobby! If you don't live near a big city like New York or London, it's not just the price of a ticket that's expensive, its the travel and accommodation on top of that which can add up to a lot. Bootlegging means a wider audience are able to enjoy theatre free of charge.

CON: Bootlegs are illegal

I think that's self explanatory...

PRO: Bootlegs give us the opportunity to see a specific performer, cast or a special performance of a particular  show

A great thing about bootlegs is that because there are so many, if you missed out of seeing a specific cast or performer, chances are they'll be a bootleg out there somewhere. I know there's so many understudies/covers/swings I would have loved to have seen, but never got the chance to. A lot of theatre fans also love to see the original cast of various shows, and bootlegs give us that opportunity. Finally, cast changes, opening nights, closing nights etc. There's something so special about specific performances for a lot of musicals out there, but timing and money means that not everyone can experience them live.

CON: Filming bootlegs can be distracting to performers and other audience members

Filming a show from the audience really is distracting to the performers. There must be nothing worse than seeing that bright light in the audience whilst you're trying to perform. It's also incredibly disrespectful to not only the cast but other audience members. Whilst I have been guilty of watching a bootleg, I'm hate seeing people filming when I'm watching a show. People pay a lot of money to see live theatre and it is disturbing to see someone messing about with their phone attempting to film when you're trying to enjoy the show. If you're not paying full attention to the performance you're watching, then you're not appreciating the work you've paid to see.

PRO: Actors like to see their previous work

This might seem like a weird one for some people, but I know a few actors who have said that whilst it's distracting being filmed at the time, it's quite nice coming across a bootleg of a show they were in previously. It allows them to revisit a specific role they've played and stops them judging their own performance as they are no longer in that show - they can just enjoy it. I know I love watching recorded performances of my own amdram shows from my school days. Some actors feel the complete opposite and hate seeing bootlegs of themselves, but I guess it's just different for everyone. 

CON: Bootlegs just aren't the same as live theatre

Whilst bootlegs are a great way to see shows we may not have had to opportunity to see, there really is nothing like live theatre. Live theatre allows actors to feed off the energy of their audience without the barrier of a screen. When watching a bootleg, you loose the excitement of sitting in an audience, and can easily loose focus by grabbing you phone.

PRO: Bootlegs allow you to re-watch your favourite moments from specific shows

If you're an avid theatre fan, you'll know we all have our favourite moments from our favourite shows. Whether it be a certain scene or song, we all have them. Bootlegs allow you to see those moments over and over again and also see them performed by different actors / different casts. In real life, not many people can afford to see the same show over and over again, so bootlegs are a great way to revisit your favourite theatre moments. 

CON: Bootlegs can slow down ticket sales

Now I personally don't fully agree with this one, but I know a lot of people believe that someone watching bootleg will stop them from buying an actual ticket. Shows rely on tickets being sold, and the more bootlegs out there, there's a chance there could be fewer ticket sales. However, I know for me personally, seeing a bootleg or a recording of a show always makes me want to see the show live, even more so than before. If you loved a recording of a show, imagine how much better it would be to see it live! Additionally, linking back to the accessibility of theatre, many people who view bootlegs are unable to attend live performances anyway, whether it be for geographical or financial reasons. So whilst these people are viewing bootlegs instead of actually seeing a show live, it really doesn’t take any money away from a show if there was no possibility of a ticket being purchased in the first place. 

Overall, bootlegs certainly aren't the worst things within theatre, however they are illegal. I think we'd see a lot less bootlegs surfacing if we had more professional recordings of shows. The new Hamilton release on Disney + is the perfect example of this, as thousands of people around the world were able to watch. We've also had shows like Kinky Boots and Everybody's Talking About Jamie streamed in cinemas, which I think is a great way for more people to access theatre. 

Whilst I'd like to be against bootlegging altogether, it really does allow people from all over the world to experience the magic that is theatre. But regardless of your opinion on bootlegs, we all have to agree nothing can beat live theatre. 

Mia x

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