Artists Move Online: The Pandemic Creates a Generation of Internet Artrepreneurs
Auditions by day and hospitality industry jobs at night. Bruce Willis, Sandara Bullock, Mila Kunis,… the list of actors who worked as bartenders and waiters is endless. It was the default for generations of artists but when we are looking for the silver lining to the pandemic, it may mean the end of the hospitality industry as the fallback and the move to online entrepreneurship.
For several years, actors, musicians, choreographers, and other artists have had to maintain websites and social media accounts for promotion and publicity. These efforts become full-time jobs the more successful the artist becomes and then are assigned as the responsibility of a manager, social media expert, or publicist. The balancing act of practicing a craft with effectively hash tagging and engaging with fans and would-be employers is daunting, especially when the internet side of these efforts is not revenue-producing but a resource and time suck. But then we were hit with lockdowns and the live entertainment world moved online.
Necessity is the stage mother of invention.
Theater worldwide tried to live stream their productions, some attempting fully staged performances, some with staged readings, and some with solo monologues and living room zoom concerts. At first, everyone felt the need to allow these performances to be shared for free. It seemed inappropriate to ask for money in a time of global despair, many people just wanted to feel a sense of community, and singing into your computer or mobile phone was a creative expression and cathartic.
When the weeks of isolation turned to months, tip jars appeared online, links to make suggested donations to organizations like The Actors Fund, BCEFA, or The Drama League, and then there was the move to commercial entities and making money. Experimentation with pricing ranged from pay what you can to thousands of dollars for exclusive online events with breakout VIP chat experiences. The quality of the production values and the level of experience of the talent ranges from wtfwt? to “wow, I had a conversation with Patti LuPone” but as with any industry, innovation makes way for consolidation, efficiencies, and new rules.
Companies that pre-pandemic sold millions of dollars of live entertainment tickets are now selling virtual tickets to virtual shows.
Live streams of reunion concerts of casts from various shows assembled to keep the spirit of the show alive, relevant, and forefront in the future ticket buyers’ minds. Licensing companies MTI, TRW, and Concord Theatricals made special arrangements with intellectual property rights holders and unions to live stream high school, community, and regional theater companies’ productions during the pandemic.
Broadwayworld created Stage Door as a forum for actors with impressive Broadway credits to record personalized shoutout videos, teach group masterclasses, and give online one-on-one lessons. Broadway Plus, Broadway Wine Club, and other companies are being created or pivoting to feature virtual VIP interaction with Broadway talent which in turn pays the talent. TheatreArtLife a platform for industry professionals was already an online venture with professional forums and education but pivoted to serve the needs of the global community in a pandemic. TAL provided information supporting artists in lockdown, from how to conserve resources to the possibilities for improvement in a worldwide reset of live entertainment.
BroadwayHD, the streaming service with a 300+ content library of full-length stage plays and musicals, acquired several musicals created in isolation and covid compliant bubbles like Who’s Your Baghdaddy? A Killer Party: A New Digital Musical, and First Date with Samantha Barks. As the world looks to get back to in-person and live on-stage entertainment, not all of these online businesses and experiences will survive but the line between the stage and the internet has been further blurred. A light has been shed on the opportunities for actors, musicians, and artists to make money online and the hospitality industry may need to look elsewhere for their bartenders. A revolution of internet artists/entrepreneurs has been unleashed. Break a virtual leg!