streaming studio with a black video camera

Streaming Studios Give Theatre Groups New Option

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.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

Stay healthy and keep streaming!

Ralph B. Peña discusses Ma-Yi Studios, in NYC

Manhattan Space Open for Collaboration

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.

Stay healthy and keep streaming!

Face Shields up After Curtain Goes Up

Face shields are no substitute for face coverings with tight seals over the mouth and nose. However, as we began discussing last week, for the sake of a safe theatrical performance as we begin reopening Phase Four, they should play a role. While an ideal production during these times would have modified blocking to socially distance all actors on stage, that may not always be possible. This may be due to size of the cast, or more likely, stage.

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.

Stay healthy and keep streaming!

Theatrical Licensing Raises Curtain on Live Streaming

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
  • video recording

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.

…and scene

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

Photo by Tuur Tisseghem on Pexels.com

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:

  • audience size
  • ticket prices
  • 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:

  • box office
  • theaters, including lobbies
  • programs

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!

Stay healthy and keep streaming!

Exposure Notification 🔔Moving 💃us 👫 #NYForward

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.

Stay healthy and keep streaming!

New Video Assist Records to USB -C media

BlackMagic Design announced Video Assist 12G, a feature packed update to its professional level family of combination video camera monitor and recorders, at IBC 2019

There are two models, with each model including an innovative touch screen user interface with deck controls, as well as a large screen to view recordings. 

Blackmagic Design Announces New Blackmagic Video Assist 12G

In addition to state of the art 12G-SDI inputs and a brighter, high dynamic range (HDR) screen, some key features to allowing for uninterrupted, long form recording include:

  • Dual, hot-swap capable Sony L- series battery slots
  • Dual, hot-swap capable SD card slots
  • USB‑C external disk recording

While it’s not on our gear list (yet), if you are considering shooting in RAW or archiving a live event and need help setting up monitors, video, or audio recorders, contact us about getting one up and running on your production.

Below is a studio produced IBC lead-in video. It’s queued up to jump ahead and begins at the 9:50 mark, right as they dive into to listen to all the new Video Assist highlight. Stream On

Ask yourself these 9 Questions Before Creating Live Streams < Guide | Streaming Media

Streaming Media has put together a nice checklist for you to review before your next live stream.

Creating a live stream for an event has gotten easier, but doing it right still requires advanced planning. Here’s a roadmap for the first-timers.

Source: The 9 Starter Questions to Answer Before Creating a Live Stream – Streaming Media Magazine

Stumped by any of these steps or the process entirely? Contact us for help with streaming your next event live!