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Performing arts online: Bringing theater to socially-distancing audiences

In lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic? Broadway and West End theatre, concert performances, opera and improv comedy are as close as your TV remote or laptop. Here is a selection of what is available to those staying close to home.


James Corden's Tony Award-winning performance in "One Man, Two Guvnors" will be presented online for free by the National Theatre. National Theatre

Beginning Thursday, April 2, London's National Theatre (which has never before offered their shows digitally) launches "National Theatre at Home," which will make available for free on its Youtube channel recordings of its productions, including "One Man, Two Guvnors" starring James Corden; "Jane Eyre"; "Treasure Island"; and "Twelfth Night," starring Tamsin Greig.

(And consider donating to the National Theatre at Home's tip jar, or that of any arts organization that is providing its content to you for free.)

The Great White Way has gone dark, but Broadway and West End aficionados can watch musicals and dramas from the comfort of home via Broadway HD.  The streaming service is offering a free weeklong trial program (regular subscriptions are $8.99/month, or $99.99/year). Along with many classic shows like "Miss Saigon," "Carousel" and "Sweeney Todd," their offerings also include recent productions like "Kinky Boots," "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," and "A Night with Janis Joplin."

Actress Mary Bridget Davies earned a Tony nomination for her performance as Janis Joplin in the Broadway musical, "A Night With Janis Joplin." Courtesy "A Night With Janis Joplin" is also offering a week's free trial subscription. Their catalog of drama and dance includes "The Pirates of Penzance" starring Kevin Klein and Linda Ronstadt; "Awake and Sing" with Walter Matthau; Carlos Saura's "Fados"; and Alet Taylor's one-woman play, "Punk Ass Bitch."

PBS' "Great Performances" offers numerous Broadway shows online for free, including Noel Coward's "Present Laughter," "An American in Paris," "Indecent," Irving Berlin's "Holiday Inn," "The King and I," "John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway," and "Red."

The British site Digital Theatre offers access to recordings of productions from Shakespeare to the West End. Among the featured titles: "All My Sons" starring Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet; the Donmar Warehouse's all-female "Julius Caesar"; and an open-air production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods."  Viewers can subscribe to the service, or rent shows individually.

Jack Farthing and Caoilfhionn Dunne in the Hampstead Theatre production of "Wild," a psychological thriller inspired by the story of Edward Snowden, who leaked classified U.S. government secrets before escaping to Russia. Hampstead Theatre

London's Hampstead Theatre is introducing its "Hampstead Theatre at Home" series, offering free streaming of recordings of past shows, including "Wild" by Mike Bartlett (through April 5); "Wonderland" by Beth Steel (April 6-12); and "Drawing the Line" by Howard Brenton (April 13-19).

Open Stage in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, will be producing an evening of song dubbed "Cabin Fever Cabaret," and also post a regular feature for kids, Storytime Theatre (featuring Benny the Surly Dragon) on its Facebook page.

Do the kids want to "get out" to Bikini Bottom? "The SpongeBob Musical" is available via Amazon Prime.

In the mood for some Molière? The 17th century playwright's "The School for Wives" is available, with English subtitles, in a 2018 production by l'Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe on Vimeo.


Concerts have been cancelled across the arts world, but on March 16 the Melbourne Symphony held its planned concert, featuring Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," playing to an empty room, and to a live-streaming audience many times the capacity of Melbourne's Hamer Hall. 

MSO Live | Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on YouTube

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is offering "BSO at Home," a collection of musical performances and behind-the-scenes podcasts featuring such artists as pianist Van Cliburn and violinist Isaac Stern. New lineups of music will be released each week.

The New York Philharmonic hosts free digital content on its website under the heading "NY Phil Plays On," including Jaap van Zweden conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

The Metropolitan Opera has launched "Nightly Met Opera Streams," with free encore presentations on its website. Productions include "Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," John Adams' "Nixon in China," Verdi's "Macbeth," and Bellini's "Norma."

The Met's production of John Adams' "Nixon in China."  Metropolitan Opera

The European site has a wide selection of classic and modern operas, for free, including Mozart's "Don Giovanni," Britten's "The Turn of the Screw," Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," Handel's "Xerxes," and Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason 's "Brothers."  

The Vienna State Opera's streaming service offers a different opera every day.  (Click here for their calendar.)

The London Philharmonic Orchestra's "LPOnline" offers "playlist concerts," including educational videos about classic pieces and audio recordings, as well as music videos, including Anne-Sophie Mutter, Pieter Schoeman, Richard Waters and Kristina Blaumane performing (separately, joined by technology) a Beethoven string quartet — a work they were scheduled to have performed last week while in the same room, at the Southbank Centre.

Beethoven – String Quartet No. 10 (Harp) – Anne-Sophie Mutter & Friends by London Philharmonic Orchestra on YouTube

The Seattle Symphony is streaming concerts and kids' music programs on its YouTube and Facebook channels.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is replaying performances on its website.

Videos featuring the Academy of Ancient Music are available on its YouTube channel.

The Royal Ballet/Royal Opera House is initiating a program of free online content on their Facebook and YouTube channels. The lineup includes "Così fan tutte," "The Metamorphosis," "Gloriana," and "The Winter's Tale." 

"Lincoln Center at Home" features online videos of educators and artists, concerts for children, "pop up" classrooms on Facebook, and rebroadcast archive performances from the series "Live at Lincoln Center," including Joshua Bell (April 3). Check their calendar for schedule.

Improv Comedy

New York's Magnet Theater is streaming a "Virtual Tiny Spectacular," via Twitch.

The Baltimore Improv Group is also making shows available online.  (Click here for schedule.)

Portland's Curious Comedy Theatre and New York's Upright Citizens' Brigade are both streaming comedy shows on YouTube.

Want to join in? Second City is bringing its improv classes online, led by its comedy vets in Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto. No experience necessary!

See also: 

Broadway performers plan livestreaming shows 01:38
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