(Above: Chita Rivera on the set of ‘Studio Sessions.’ © STAGE Network/Michael Kushner)
Stage, a subscription streaming service devoted to theater, launched October 1.
The Savvy Screener spoke with Stage Chairman/CEO/Co-Founder Rich Affannato (left), a veteran Broadway and Off-Broadway theater producer who also has many TV production credits. Affannato received Tony nominations as a producer of The Visit (2015) and Peter and the Starcatcher (2012).
(The following has been edited for length and clarity.)
TSS: Congratulations on your launch! How are things going so far?
Affannato: Our original series, Studio Sessions, and talk show, Crossovers, are getting a lot of traction. In these programs you can find superstars from the theatre and beyond, such as composer John Kander, legend Leslie Uggams, theatre and film star Taye Diggs, Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz, and more.
TSS: Theater-related streaming seems to be a crowded space these days, what with BroadwayHD, Marquee, Cennarium and Streaming Musicals, not even to mention offerings on Netflix and the like. What makes Stage different?
Affannato: For Stage, it’s all about variety. Audiences are hungry to see new, fresh content. We are different because we create original shows that can’t be seen anywhere else but here. In addition, you will find existing shows that are hard to find or have never been seen before. We have even been known to search people’s piano benches for shows that have been sitting for years and haven’t been seen. In addition, the variety includes feature films, documentaries, live performance, reality shows, and more.
TSS: Can you give us a hint of new content we’ll be seeing on Stage over the next year?
Affannato: New episodes of some of the existing content you currently see are on their way. We are filming live, theatrical performances exclusively for Stage. You will see the release of a large catalogue of feature films and documentaries from a major studio that will have their streaming debut here.
TSS: Are there plans to present Broadway shows?
Affannato: Absolutely, although STAGE is not a Broadway-focused network only. It’s important to us that audiences see all varieties of theatre. From everywhere, including Broadway and Off-Broadway. Audiences are hungry to feel connected to theatre that is accessible to them. There is great theatre to film in downtown New York, Dallas, LA, and small communities across the country – and definitely Broadway.
TSS: As a veteran of the theater world, what would be your dream play or musical for Stage to present?
Affannato: At the risk of sounding opportunistic, there is one in particular. I just happen to have been a producer on it. A few years ago, we presented a really magical piece of theatre on Broadway. It was called The Visit and starred the legendary Chita Rivera in the performance of her lifetime. This was the very last musical that John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago, Cabaret) wrote together. Terrence McNally wrote a superb book. I have dreams of mounting it again and filming it, mainly because I think it needs to be seen. There’s always been a sadness in me that it hasn’t reached the millions of people that it deserves.
TSS: Who do you see as Stage’s audience?
Affannato: Stage is for all geographic locations. Our hope is that by presenting theatre from all areas of the country, urban and rural, we will encourage communities to rally around the theatre and find the connection that it facilitates. We want to help bridge that gap between theatre-lovers and those who’ve never experienced what it has to offer. Our demographics are broken down by the variety of content. Certainly, our traditional programming will appeal to a more mature demographic, and we have edgy content that our younger viewers will enjoy. We keep all this in mind when searching for and creating new shows.
TSS: What do you envision the streaming industry looking like in five years?
Affannato: I hope the streaming industry will embrace its ability to help create a new dialogue within communities, beyond just being a platform to attract viewers. I’d like for us to become more interactive in real-time so that we can find a way to go beyond “presenting” content, and instead, create it together.
TSS: What do you envision as Stage’s role at that time?
Affannato: I see Stage pushing the boundaries of the way consumers view the theatre, with the result of creating new theatre fans who understand its inclusiveness, and driving them to actually see live shows. And maybe we will play a part in inspiring those who will go on to become creators in the theatre. I definitely see Stage making a difference in people’s lives.
TSS: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
Affannato: I’d like to encourage you to approach the theatre as another outlet of expression. Stage exists to give you the opportunity to get to know who these people are and what happens behind the scenes. If you don’t even think you like theatre, check us out, because you can start with the feature films and work your way to the live theatre.
For non-theatre people, think of us as your independent film network for the theatre (with more than just films). For theatre fans, I promise you’ll find things that will surprise and excite you. I hope you might join us. It’s inexpensive [$4.99 monthly, 49.99 annually].
It’s like buying one latte per month. But with more singing and dancing. And maybe a few jazz hands.
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