Meet the Woman Who Fought to Record and Preserve Broadway Shows
November 28, 2017 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Betty Corwin, 97, the woman responsible for NYPL’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, explains how she founded the comprehensive database to create live theatre’s legacy.
posted by colorblock sock (8 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I had no idea this was a thing! I'm so glad to hear that this is a thing.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:32 PM on November 28 [1 favorite]

It's truly a fabulous thing.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:55 PM on November 28

My people. Archivists are heroes.
posted by in278s at 6:12 PM on November 28 [3 favorites]

One of the main things I miss about living close to New York City.
posted by tzikeh at 7:04 PM on November 28

I love this so much. And yet - I really, really wish it were even more widely done, and available to everyone - over the internet, even! - and not just for researchers.

Because the thought of those productions being gone forever for everyone who can't get to New York and get permission for a one-time viewing at the archive bothers me a lot - almost as much as the notion of them being gone for everyone bothered her. I once saw an awesome Sweeney Todd with Judy Davis and David Hess, and I'm pretty sure only those of us who got to see the San Francisco run got to see that particular set of fantastic performers. I so wish I could share that with other people, but I'll never be able to.

And I know, I know - I know taped versions of live theater are never as good as being there in person, and I know life is full of evanescent moments that we can never return to or share with others ... but I still think the world would be a richer and better place if it were as easy to load up a recording of a theatrical performance as it is to load up audio of any given Grateful Dead show.

I'm so dismayed that we have so little access to recorded versions of theatre works. I feel like we used to have much more - more productions broadcast on Great Performances (and more of them ending up on videotape at libraries), more productions on network TV, even (going back to Television Playhouse and Playhouse 90), and even more great televised theatre in the UK - heck, there are still audio versions of plays on .

I am truly, deeply, joyfully glad the archive exists, and I honor Ms. Corwin's tenacity and drive and dedication - to herself as well as to the theatre. But I really wish those riches were available to everyone.
posted by
kristi at 10:19 PM on November 28 [5 favorites]

I'm so dismayed that we have so little access to recorded versions of theatre works.

Well, that's kind of how theater works.

Ultimately the injunction against taping meant to protect the production - if you want to pay the cast and crew a living wage, you need to get the people coming to the theater and paying for tickets. And if there is a tape of the show they can stay home and watch instead, then a lot of people will just do that. If you wanted to have a filmed thing that people could watch at home, then you need to make a movie and pay your cast and crew the movie rates. If you're not going to do that, and you want to have it be a theater piece, well, that's one of the rules of theater.

I think the London theater union rules are a little different; that's why there's more televised theater in the UK. Actors and theater in general are also given national support there. As for Television Playhouse and Playhouse 90, those were more of a hybrid, with theatrical events made expressly for television as opposed to "we filmed a play". I don't think they were things people could have paid to watch live in a theater someplace.

That said, I do sympathize, because there are plenty of productions i wish I could have seen myself and never will get to live. There are some other filmed options here and there, though - Spike Lee actually filmed the Broadway Production of Passing Strange. Instead of it being an "adaptation", like it's on location somewhere or something, Spike actually filmed the closing night show and had a couple of extra shots he did on set without the audience, so it's very much a "film of the play" experience.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:20 AM on November 29

Well in approximately 5 billion years the sun will boil the oceans and engulf the earth, so Disney will stop getting extensions passed and all the relevant copyrights will finally expire. After that the recordings can be shared freely!
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:25 PM on November 29

It just seems to me that the cast and crew would get a bit MORE money - maybe even a lot more money - as a result of royalties from the recorded version.

After all, the same argument has been made for music - if anyone could buy an album, why would anyone go see the band? But they do. Lots of musicians make much more from the sales of their recorded works than they do from performing. It seems likely to me that it would mean MORE income for those involved in the production, as well as more eyeballs on these works that so many people never get to see.

I mean, even with loads of free tape trading, people kept going to see the Grateful Dead.

I am absolutely all in favor of paying plenty of money to everyone involved in the production. I think making recordings available would mean more money for the creators, as often happens with music, and I think that would be a good thing.

(And yeah, I loved the televised Passing Strange production, which I believe was indeed a Great Performances thing - I remember bits from the DVD bonus features with Stew talking about how thrilled he was to be on PBS.)
posted by kristi at 9:29 PM on November 29

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