Illicit Bootlegs on YouTube are Giving Musicals a Second Life

Some of Broadway’s hottest musicals have been given a jolt of life by bootleg traders using YouTube and other sites

Chris Stokel-Walker
FFWD
Published in
7 min readDec 9, 2019

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Image: Unsplash/Manos Gkikas

When Jeremy O. Harris, the playwright behind the recently-opened Broadway show Slave Play, was growing up in Martinsville, Virginia, he yearned to see productions in New York’s biggest theaters. But more than 500 miles separated him from the Great White Way, and so he settled for the next best thing: copyright-infringing bootlegs illicitly shot from the stalls of those theaters and uploaded to video sharing websites like YouTube, or blogging platforms popular with teenagers such as LiveJournal or Tumblr.

“I grew up in a town where I had no access to any of the types of theater I wanted to see outside of YouTube and Tumblr,” the 30-year-old playwright explains. “I honestly feel like if those things hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have had as rich a theatrical database to pull from when I got to my undergraduate degree.”

Harris is the rare person in the theatrical world happy to speak out publicly in favour of such bootlegs. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the playwright behind Hamilton, one of the world’s hottest musicals, has repeatedly castigated those who seek out illegal versions of his production, including…

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Chris Stokel-Walker
FFWD
Editor for

UK-based freelancer for The Guardian, The Economist, BuzzFeed News, the BBC and more. Tell me your story, or get me to write for you: stokel@gmail.com