Streaming studios is a new option for anyone who wants to digitally deliver a theatre productions. In a recent article, Playbill wrote about several Digital Streaming Platforms that have emerged to fill the gaps created by COVID-19. In addition to MTI, which I mentioned in an earlier post, and On The Stage, the Playbill article highlighted another alternative. Up to this point, we’ve discussed solutions for theatrical groups with existing access to a physical performance space. If you fall into that category, digital platforms make it easy for take your production and put your show online.
On the other hand, if you do not have a dedicated space you can now rent one. This also applies to you if you are an individual performing artist, not only theatrical groups. In response to the current climate, there are several theater companies converting parts of their theater to streaming studios. Renting these streaming studios, you can capture a play, reading, or even a short film. While fairly new, they already span from California to New York:
One director, Ralph B. Peña, explains how he came up with this idea provide a way for artists to create. More importantly, a way to keep performing artists employed. And, last but certainly not least, to keep performing artists in NYC, an important creativity hub. You can watch Ralph give an overview of Ma-Yi Studio in the video, below.
In their August newsletter, Lower Manhattan Headquarters (LMHQ) welcomes members back to their collaboration space. According to LMHQ’s website, they re-opened, by appointment only, in July. This is great news for the tech industry, as they appear to be leading the way. You can find a full description of the safety guidelines in a google drive document. Aside from the expected precautions, of note is:
Access is Tuesday through Thursdays only, 8 AM to 5 PM
Member must make reservations no later than 10 PM the night before
If no one signs up the night before, LMHQ will not open
Among the spaces that I usually scrape for event information, this is the first one that is physically open. Despite a limit of 11 people to the event space, LMHQ is still limiting itself to virtual events. This is inline with other event spaces such as Alley and Betaworks. However, even limited to 50% occupancy, LMHQ has a meeting room rated for eight people. And their open area, with a strict mask policy, is allowing groups of 3 people at a table. This reopening plan will be worth keeping tabs on.
If you are affiliated with a collaboration space, I am eager to hear from you and learn about their re-opening plans. Feel free to reply directly to me.
Earlier this year, towards the start of the COVID-19 Quarantine, I wrote about the #SafeAtHome to Slow the Spread’s impact on SaaS. As TechCrunch points out, some startups have taken this time to sharpen their teams, product, and pitches. Clearly, business to business (B2B) software is trending. Perhaps VCs consider it more trustworthy. This can be attributed to VCs funding enterprise tech over consumer based services until there are:
rebounds in consumer confidence
increases in consumer buying power
better therapeutics and a vaccine
In that sense, VCs are acting just like everyone else waiting the pandemic out. Whether you currently are at a B2B SaaS company, or reading this inspires you to start one, here is a link to an interesting event next week:
We’re hosting a free digital summit with 20+ hours of content, 2 tracks, 30 speakers designed to provide high-impact and measurable value to companies selling to the enterprise.
Please click on the image above to get your Digital pass, and the SaaStr Team will confirm registration.
At my local production, the first vocal rehearsal had the entire cast spaced out as best the could in the stage room. To my surprise, everyone kept their face coverings on for the duration. The vocal director himself used both a cloth face covering and a face shield. He also threw out the idea that in addition to being mic’d for the performance, the cast may be asked to wear face shields.
The first set of questions that came to mind were all around the microphones.
how are they going to handle the mic distribution?
Will each performer have dedicated hardware?
How often will they disinfect mics?
Once those logistics are in place, the combination of face shields and mics could offer your theatrical group a safe pathway to a streamed show, live or scheduled. Personal face shields is just one of many precautions that you should consider. In addition, I’ll restate disinfecting. This applies to the usual high touch areas, but also props, costumes, and mics. Last week I also mentioned using digital backgrounds instead of physical sets. If this isn’t feasible for your theatrical group, consider putting up partitions as barrier shields.
I look forward to these elements bringing added safety to theatrical productions and becoming creative elements. Directors can break the fourth wall and draw attention to the added scenery barriers. Costume designers have freedom to style face shields as part of traditional headpieces or new one altogether. It could turn out to be a lot of fun.
The important part is the safety and the integrity of the performance, especially if you are considering a live stream. Ask your performers to face shield up when they can’t distance and a mask would prohibit the proper facial expression the role demands. Yes, they may be uncomfortable. Yes, the acoustics may not be ideal. But it will keep everyone on stage and safe.
Theatrical licensing agencies, including MTI and Concord, have secured rights to live stream select musicals, comedies, and dramas. This has occurred all in the last month as a direct response to COVID-19. During this quarantine period, schools and theatrical groups cancelled performances. These licensing houses had no choice but to seek alternatives to stay in business. Live streaming to the rescue!
An Example Close to Home
Here in NY, I know of one community theatre group that is conducting outdoor, socially distanced rehearsal. And the demand was great! They purposely chose a show that has
a small company, with no ensemble
a simple set, keeping stage crew to a minimum
a short runtime
Their expectation is that in another month’s time, restrictions will allow large enough groups to gather indoors for performances. However, the musical in question does not include streaming rights. For this reason, backup plans for the culminating performance include:
limiting the show to a selection of songs
a suitable outdoor venue
My expectation is that this proves you can produce live, stage performances; musical, comedy, or drama; in a safe manner as we reopen. If you are a theatrical group exploring this new delivery mechanism, let’s take a quick look at some factors to consider.
Licensed Productions: The Plays the Thing
It all starts with the license. Your theatrical group must sit down and decide what kind of production you want to run. Then, you review the list of available shows and select a suitable match. On the other hand, theatrical licensing agencies I have spoken with assure me they are continuing to seek out rights holder to partner with and grow their existing catalogs. For that reason, bookmark the plays and musical catalog sites. Check back frequently as the list of shows with streaming rights should be updated constantly.
Rights can vary in a few ways. While I’m biased towards live streaming, some shows only allow scheduled streaming or on demand viewing. Furthermore, rights to a particular show may limit you to a school or kid’s edition and not the full version. In those cases, agencies may only grant the rights to a school.
In the example above, the play choice had a small cast and minimal sets. Focusing on the sets for the time being, they have two main aspects: structural and labor. For safety reasons, your theatrical group will want to keep staff to a minimum. Here is where live streaming has a major advantage: digital scenery.
completely virtual, move and transition with just clicks
less crowding backstage
frees tech staff up for other task
Depending on your theatrical licensing agency, these may be included for certain shows. Most likely, backgrounds and drop will add cost, but a fraction of physical sets. On top of that, your budget may even allow for more locales than you originally planned, when considering storage is now hard drive space not a warehouse.
Theater Crowd Control
Last but not least, special consideration must be given to the audience. When considering safety, the critical factor will likely be restrictions on large gatherings. In my opinion this should be the deciding factor to live stream or produce a virtual event (pre-recorded, remote productions, et al). Similar to keeping backstage at a low occupancy, the house should be empty of patrons.
Prior to going live for a “full house” your company should get used to the technical aspects. A few of the theatrical licensing agencies allow dress rehearsals and the ability to offer complimentary tickets. As a result, you can test your show to make sure it looks the way you want. Afterwards, you can open it up to bigger audiences.
An exclusively web-based audience now provides your theatrical group with new possibilities. With a firm grasp on the technical side of the house, you can sharpen the live streaming costs and find sweet spots for:
budget, in comparison to renting a larger theater
My hope is if you are a theatrical groups that previously had to rent an outside space, you can re-purpose your budget, or a portion, into offsetting the live stream costs. And if you own your own space, live streaming will allow larger audiences beyond your usual capacity. Lastly, in both cases, as you get comfortable with the technology, the streaming budget increases, improving production quality.
Standing Room Only
This is by no means a complete and comprehensive guide to producing a musical or play during a pandemic. One glaring omission at first reading this should be: I don’t mention video requirements. In my experience, many theatrical groups have a house videographer or often work with a video production company. But, there are many other considerations, that video will not solve. Just to name a few:
testing or screening of cast, crew, and staff
socially distancing rehearsals and blocking
disinfecting rehearsal spaces, costumes, and props
From a technical perspective, take a look at my gear page for ideas on what you will need to live stream your performance. Depending on your level of comfort and expertise, a mobile device may be all you need. But you will need to convert the video into a web friendly format. You can use software or dedicated hardware. Just like set, costumes, and props, you may choose to buy or rent.
Once your show is on the web, you need a video player for your audience to watch. Again, theatrical licensing agencies are delivering turn-key solutions that offer virtual:
theaters, including lobbies
Make sure to contact your licensing agent and find what show options, technical capabilities, and customer support they are offering. We are in a pandemic, but the show must go on!
Reopening schools in the Fall of 2020 was a major topic this week. Kicking off a lot of the discussion was the White House’s National Dialogue Safely Reopening America’s Schools. At the forefront was the CDC and their guidelines. Among the many COVID-19 related publications, below are a few, related to K-12 schools, including date of latest revision:
I’m of the opinion that no one is arguing against reopening schools. However, a majority of concern surrounds uncertainty with respect to the details of reopening in a safe manner. Looking to local governments to interpret the CDC guidelines and customize them for their individual situations is consistent with the messaging throughout the COVID-19 response. For that reason, we are most likely looking at a hybrid reopening strategy.
Schools are Reassessing e-learning, EdTech Should be Too
A friend of mine, in the education space, welcomed in July with a reminder that most free trials of EdTech software expired June 30th. This impacts almost every school districts. As a result, many have dedicated the end of the school year and early part of the summer to identifying the short falls of e-learning. I hope that EdTech is doing the same. No doubt there were many lessons learned not only by the educators, parents, and students. The 100 days of summer should be more than enough time for EdTech companies, new and existing, to address the needs and improve in time for back to school fall 2020.
Here in NY, the Governor has targeted the first week of August to make a decision on reopening NY Schools. Whether the decision is to delay openings past September or a part time schedule with e-learning, this is an opportunity. Not only for corporations and philanthropic organizations to subsidize the identified necessities:
education software, student facing and on teacher/administrative side
Whatever the decision is, even full time on day 1, certain things need to happen for success. It is important that all stakeholders are on the same page regarding funding, communication, and the proposed plan. EdTech’s role is essential in those discussions.
“high levels of supermarket spending are indicative of more careful social distancing in a state.”
JPMorgan Analyst Jesse Edgerton
I’m still searching for the entire JPMorgan research report to learn more about it. For example, do they factor in take-out and delivery numbers? In any case, public gathering must still be monitored. Care must increase as we move #NYForward to Phase 3, and 4 in suburban regions. Especially as those phases relax capacity limits and more types of business start to open.
I continue to be pleased by intelligent use of data. Evidence based decision making appears to be keeping the pandemic under control. That is, in places listening to the science experts. Adding more signals to help flag potential hot spots can only improve our situation as we wait for a vaccine.
The video below, from back in May, interviews Edgerton, the report’s author. While he does not specifically discuss the report, he expressed caution about a COVID-19 resurgence.
Handing over this week's edition to my high school friend, now a Dr at University of Connecticut
I was once told by a very good friend of mine that I “wasn’t really black” because I was “smart”, “kind” in premed classes and I liked the Beatles and REM…
but I was “black enough” to be stopped by police officers because I fit the description, a laughable photocopy of a black face which looked just like me because I had eyes and a nose and ears and of course a black face. They were looking for a rapist and I, all 13 years of me, in my Catholic school shirt and tie “ fit the description”
I was “black enough” to be called a nigger randomly as I walked home one evening.
I was “black enough” to have white women step out of the elevator whenever I walked in
I am just “black enough” to be seen with suspicion and fear.
I was “scary Dr. Alerte” until I painted a smile on my face and donned the elbow padded tweed jacket uniform of the academic. The safe academic who probably won’t attack you or rob you or assault you. I wear a shirt and tie everywhere because a hoodie just might get me killed.
I named my son Atticus after Atticus Finch and I find myself secretly, quietly, happy that due to his genetics he is just “white enough” to “pass” so hopefully he won’t have to walk the road I’ve had to and hopefully I won’t be standing over his grave.
I am so very, very tired of the understood and accepted world I find myself in.
Exposure notification; trace, contact, isolate; is a major component of re-opening America. On April 10th Apple and Google announced they would be working together on APIs in the fight against COVID-19 spread. The two leading smartphone OS manufacturers would combine to accelerate the use of smartphones in contact tracing. This week, Switzerland launched the first app based on this technology. The key feature uses Bluetooth to measure proximity and duration between smartphones. At a later date if either party test positive, the other(s) receive notification.
A common refrain during #NYSonPAUSE is the use of 100 year old techniques at fighting pandemics: social distancing. This exposure notification marks the first significant technological advance during this crisis. Of course, it is not without its detractors. The new refrain is that the government, or worse, advertisers, will now use this to secretly track us.
Many safeguards made their way into the APIs, in some cases reducing their effectiveness. For example, the non-negotiable feature was that the exposure metrics could not be stored in a centralized database. The BBC article, link above, clearly depicts how centralization impacts app usage.
Contact tracing is a cornerstone of #NYForward. Once communities are able to notify the exposure to the virus at a mass scale, smart medical practices can be put into place. Namely, isolate contagious individuals and prevent outbreaks. New Rochelle used this containment zone strategy, with the jury still being out on its success.
I’m looking forward to the public health solutions that will be launching soon. Both types, ones using this set of APIs and those based on competing innovations. Let’s bring the fight against the spread into this century.
Earlier in the month several articles started popping up talking about people suffering from Quarantine fatigue, after a considerable amount of time asked to #StayAtHome. With Memorial Day just around the corner, these theories will certainly be put to the test, as the Greater NYC metro area is still shy of hitting all the NY Forward re-opening metrics. I had firsthand experience with this last weekend, with the weather obliging many more cars and walkers were visible. A week later and the metrics continuing to improve should only add to that. My hopes is that it is a moderated and safe break from quarantine.
I mainly bring this up because the fatigue appears to be setting into the schedule of virtual networking events. Have we hit a Zoom Wall? Part of it, I suspect, is resources being shifted to opening business back up. At the same time, I have noticed a drop off in
attendance at events
participation within events
availability of events
Are we saving our energy to dust off professional attire and finding alternates to public transportation. Or has the novelty of video conferencing genuinely worn off and it needs to go back on the shelf, behind a glass pane “Break in case of emergency”?
Virtual Experience Improvements IRL
My perspective continues to be that the quality of these meetings needs to improve. “Yes”, the tools are freely available. “Yes”, everyone has a different schedule. And “Yes,” everyone has their own domestic situation. However, whether you are a team manager running regular status meeting, a moderator of a panel with diverse experts scattered nationally, or president of a community board, you should:
take the time to get familiar with the software, get to know as many of the “ins and outs” as you can. You never know when they’ll come in handy.
publish best practices for a conferencing setup to all your participants. Microphones, cameras, camera height/placement, background acoustics/visuals, etc. (Check out Epiphan’s Tuesday session, below)
Moderate the participants. Mute and un-mute only speakers when it is their turns, leave time for questions, and get as many involved as possible. Just like IRL.
Again, I know everyone has a different level of expertise, comfort, etc. If you can’t dedicate the time to be a master of all of these, ask for help. From what I remember about the workplace, there was usually one or two folks that would thrive when given responsibility and ownership of a task. I’d like to think that still exists. Fatigue or no fatigue.