The Show Must Stream On

By Livian Yeh

On March 16, four days after performances of Gloria and Toni Stone were canceled in response to the coronavirus, A.C.T. began offering patrons access to recordings of both shows through a partnership with the streaming platform BroadwayHD. “We didn’t have the time or resources to invest in a five-camera shoot that’s directed and designed,” Executive Director Jennifer Bielstein told the New York Times. “So we recorded with one or two cameras in the house. It’s more about making sure the audience gets to see the work.”

For Ticketing Services, A.C.T.’s most forward-facing department, pivoting from live performances to online streaming required flexibility and adaptability. ”We’re used to selling an experience,” says Director of Ticketing and Sales Operations Jennifer Peterian. “Customer service is usually about the shows that are happening in the theater. For virtual tickets, we had to become technical troubleshooters.”

The cast and creative team of A.C.T.'s Gloria watch the streaming performance of the production.

The city’s shelter-in-place order, issued just a day after Toni Stone’s opening, also impacted the team’s capacity. Staff members could not be physically present in the box office to answer phone calls, so they had to communicate with patrons through email. “We did a lot of cross-emailing to help them figure out how to log in and watch the programs,” says Subscription Manager Mark Peters.

Patrons appreciated having an alternative to experiencing theater live. “It was so nice to get to see shows I thought I would miss out on,” writes one ticket buyer. “Having the opportunity to see them from my house was fantastic.” Streaming also made performances more accessible. In the case of one subscriber, the closed captioning on streaming platforms helped her understand the shows. “She is hearing challenged so she was truly happy to be able to follow along,” says Peters.

Toni Stone, about the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, filled a void among sports fans. “Today would have been opening day for Major League Baseball, and I’m hoping to spend that time watching Toni Stone while wearing my Kansas City Monarchs baseball cap,” writes one patron. Another says that, “Seeing the play on the day our Giants season would have opened made my birthday all the more special.”

From March 16 to April 5, over 1,000 patrons viewed taped performances of Gloria and Toni Stone at home, from locations throughout the world including Canada, the UK, Australia, Finland, India, Japan, and Singapore.

“The arts have always been resilient, but they’ve never survived alone,” writes Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon. “We’re looking forward to when we’re together again. This is just an intermission.”

To help support A.C.T. in our time of need, visit www.act-sf.org.

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