Opinion | How bad are bootlegs?

It’s not a secret amongst the theatre community that many people make video and audio recordings of shows on a regular basis and most people have a strong opinion for or against this (think Brexit, but for Broadway). Let’s not forget that the act is illegal and yet a lot of people still continue to do it, I personally know more than a handful of people who record shows on a regular basis, so let’s find out why.

I’ve come to find that most people who record shows, or listen/watch recordings, are doing so for their sheer love of the show and it does not diminish the fact that they would still see the show if they could (and are probably planning on it). There’s thousands of reasons as to why people watch bootlegs. Trust me, most of us would absolutely prefer to be seeing our favourite shows in person, however we don’t all have the luxury of living in London or New York, nor do we have access to a time machine so that we can see the 2008 Broadway revival of Gypsy in person. Listen, I wish I was a millionaire, but I’m not, so if I have to watch Broadway bootlegs of Dear Evan Hansen until I can actually go to the Music Box theatre in New York City then I will do what I need to do to survive god damn it.

To put it pretty simply, watching a bootleg of a musical is never going to replace seeing live theatre. It’s not the same as watching a HD illegal download of a movie, where the quality and content is exactly the same as what you would pay for in a cinema, it’s different. Live theatre is a whole entire experience. Not only are you paying for the production, but you’re paying for the feeling you get when you step into a theatre, that huge wave of emotion you feel at curtain up and curtain call, experiences you can’t feel whilst watching a low quality bootleg on your laptop screen.

Now, don’t think I condone people who record shows, because I don’t. Asides from the fact that it’s just plain rude, recording, and especially video recording, can be bloody annoying to the rest of the audience and to the actors. Imagine paying £200 to see Hamilton only to have the person sat next to you have a camera on their lap with a little red dot flashing for the whole performance. Absolutely not. And on the flip side, imagine being on stage and trying to concentrate on your job and then all you can see when you look out into the audience is a bright annoying tiny red dot. Distracting, right?

HOWEVER, once a recording is out there, what’s the harm in watching it? In my experience, watching a bootleg only enhances my love for a show. I’ve never known anyone to watch a bootleg and go ‘oh, don’t need to see that anymore’, more often than not, seeing a bootleg heightens someone’s need to actually go and pay to see the show. If bootlegs are making theatre more accessible, then isn’t that a good thing?

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 12.06.47Over the past few years live broadcasts of shows have become more popular. Through National Theatre Live and RSC Live, just to name a few, many shows are now being broadcast to cinemas across the country in an effort to make theatre more accessible, and therefore eliminating the need for bootlegs. There’s also been many successful live recordings of shows that have made it to DVD. Billy Elliot (2014) and Rent (2009) scream out to me as being two of the most popular live recording DVDs. With shows becoming more and more accessible both on the big screen, and in HD from the comfort of our own living rooms, has the need for bootlegging somewhat diminished? To find out what’s coming up in the cinema click here.


The lowest price for a Dear Evan Hansen ticket on Broadway is $146 including fees, the most expensive $436. When you include the flights and accommodation that are often required this makes for an extremely expensive trip. They clearly have a problem with video recording with the insertion of this leaflet in every playbill. The show has limited availability until December – despite its price it’s selling well. Would it harm them, or any other in demand Broadway production *cough* Hamilton *cough* to do a broadcast? The price of a cinema ticket for a professionally recorded version of your favourite show, or a low quality, shaky secret one? There’s no contest.


In addition to this, American television networks have been taking it in turns to put on a live TV musical every year for as long as I can remember. Most recently, NBC’s take oJesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert - Season 2018n Jesus Christ Superstar, starring John Legend as Jesus, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and Alice Cooper as King Herald, boasted 9.4 million viewers in the US this Easter Sunday, a rating increase on NBC’s last live musical, Hairspray Live, back in December 2016.


What are your opinions on bootlegging? Have you ever recorded a show? Have you ever watched or listened to a bootleg? Let me know your thoughts!

– Becca & Gemma –

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