Musicians, filmmakers and performing artists all invest a lot of time and money into writing, rehearsal, design, and sometimes character development and technology innovation. This investment can include hard costs and the time of dozens, or even hundreds, of people. For musicians and filmmakers, the fruits of their investment live on. The films and music can be copied and distributed, allowing their work to spread and even earn them a living. If the work is innovative or challenging, the places an audience can find it grow even narrower.
For performing artists, whose investments in time and money are similar, the art only lasts until the end of the show. You have to physically be there with the artists to experience it, and it’s not easily copied. This severely limits who can see the art – usually to sizable cities with performance venues. It also limits the artists ability to earn a living, or even recoup the investment they’ve made in creating the work.
On the Boards in Seattle has presented contemporary performance artists from around the world for over 30 years. Last week, it launched OnTheBoards.tv to present contemporary performances to wherever the audience might be. This is the first site of it’s kind to present complete, sometimes challenging, contemporary performances.
A trailer for Transition by Reggie Watts and Tommy Smith
Several years ago, On the Boards began documenting work in HD using five cameras. The final edit is performed with the cooperation of the artists. These HD videos are available for $5 rental (for 48 hours), or $15 to buy. There are also several subscription packages for the site, starting at $50 for a year of unlimited streaming, up to the educational subscription, allowing an entire institution unlimited streaming for $250. The earnings are split 50/50 with the artists. This is not as generous as other online splits (Apple’s is 30/70 in favor of artists), but On the Boards has been footing the $10,000 bill required to film and edit each performance. Having their shows professionally documented is also a huge benefit to artists. They can provide the online video as worksamples to other venues and funders, without the expense of filming, editing and producing DVDs.
So far there are eight artists represented at OnTheBoards.tv. Seven artists have full performances available, and one artist, Michelle Ellsworth, is delivering video directly online during a one year residency. On the Boards hopes to add 7-8 artists per year, and also hopes to partner with other organizations. PS-122 in New York is already a partner.
Alaska by Diana Szeinblums, shot at PS-122 in New York.
Documentation of many contemporary performances exists only in arts org archives and libraries with very restricted access. Even professional researchers and scholars have trouble accessing these videos and recordings. Especially for well-known and historically significant artists (e.g., Meridith Monk, John Cage, Laurie Anderson), opening this material up to a much wider audience is another goal of OnTheBoards.tv.
The site is new, so currently has a small sampling of work. Hopefully On the Boards will attract funding and partners to add more than 8 artists a year. Music rights remain a tricky obstacle to adding more work, as they are for many online video projects. Artists may clear rights for performances, but don’t have rights for online distribution. On the Boards has to clear music for each production, or the work can’t be included on the site. The bios, performance credits and other artist information is provided in PDF, which is helpful but would be better as a fully integrated part of the site.
Hi There by Melissa Ellsworth, a piece made available directly through the site, part of an OnTheBoards.tv artist in residence.
The basics behind this idea aren’t new. Similar projects have been tried, using DVD and VHS as distribution, and for other types of performance. The cheaper costs of internet delivery and it’s easier access for audiences now makes the idea much more feasible.
Many performing artists believe their art should only exist in the moment, that it’s somehow cheapened or made worse by capturing it, and creating the definitive performance of record. But audiences of the world will get more and more of their art on demand. TV, film and music all move this direction, and audiences will likely not go back. Expanding their audiences, and being able to earn a living so they can continue making work, is a new, amazing opportunity for artists. It doesn’t diminish the power of seeing the artist and the work in person. It just exponentially expands the possibility that someone will be able to see an artist’s work at all. Cumulatively, efforts like this will also give us a historical memory of contemporary performances, that all to often fade away completely.
The site was created with funding from the Wallace Foundation and Dance USA, to test new successful models for sustainably expanding audiences.
Artists on the Site
- Troubleyn | Jan Fabre
- Tanja Liedtke
- Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company
- Temporary Distortion
- Diana Szeinblum
- Reggie Watts | Tommy Smith
- Allen Johnson
- Michelle Ellsworth
- Recording Staged Works for All the World to See – The New York Times
- Digital Theatre
- Metropolitan Opera, Live in HD
posted by Trout Monfalco