Beyond the Back Row Live! A Recap of the Virtual Launch Event

View the live streaming book launch party with author Jim McCarthy, hosted by Danny Feldman, Art Director of the Pasadena Playhouse.

This week, Stellar’s CEO and Co-founder, Jim McCarthy, released his first book Beyond the Back Row: The Breakthrough Potential of Digital Live Entertainment and Arts.

To celebrate the occasion, Stellar broadcasted a live streaming book launch party, hosted by Danny Feldman, Producing Artistic Director of the Pasadena Playhouse, where he and Jim discussed the book and the future of digital live entertainment in-depth.

Check out the livestream recording below and read on for some of the highlights from Jim and Danny’s conversation.

For the world of live entertainment, the pandemic had a much greater, long-lasting impact than occasional streaming.

When Danny asked Jim about the inspiration for “Beyond the Back Row,” Jim shared how that critical time in March 2020 – when the pandemic caused a complete standstill, and even regression, in live entertainment – inspired the writing of the book and spurred the rise of a new, digital medium:

“I wrote this book for the people who were in the live entertainment business then. And then the people that follow them – especially for them. It was a question of, what would the response of the people in that situation be? And what did they do to keep the lights on?... And what people did was they invented a new medium, which is live, online live events and streaming live events. And what emerged from it was more than just a way to get through the pandemic, which I think it did serve that purpose, but beyond that – it really opened a door to possibilities and opportunities for live event producers that just weren't there before.”

Cannibalization need not be a fear when considering the adoption of hybrid events.

During the conversation, Danny posed an interesting question to Jim: “What resistance have you heard from folks? What are the barriers that, when you present a book like this or have a conversation about it, have people put up obstacles or told you that you're wrong?”

Jim shared that while he doesn’t hear that he is “wrong” many people “have said reasons why it’s hard for them.” One of the concerns that often comes up is cannibalization – will streaming hurt their live audience? As Jim shared, the reality is quite different: 

“There's an example in the book about the NBA. The question is, is the NBA better off or worse off because you can see the games on TV? You know, you could imagine a world where somebody says: “You know what we ought to do now that the NBA super popular? (You know, after almost going out of business in the 70s, in the 80s). What we ought to do is take the games off TV. Because why? Because we don't want to cannibalize the paid audience in the arena.” Which, you know, anybody can see that that's absurd… I don’t think people so much believe that that’s true as that they worry about that. They worry about the unknowns of the future.”

The art of livestreaming is much more than “point and shoot.”

When Danny and Jim discussed the ‘how’ of producing digital live entertainment, they delved into a very important topic – the importance of production quality. Both agreed that the ‘flat’ style of archival recordings simply doesn’t cut it and the dynamic use of multiple cameras is key. 

Adapting for the new, digital medium can make a real impact on the viewing experience. Jim goes on to share a great example of the iconic “Lucy and the Chocolate Factory” episode from I Love Lucy:

“What you don't want to do is what I call in the book ‘Radio on television,’ right? A lot of the big radio shows, when television was invented in late in the late 40s, just came straight over to TV and they basically did the same show. No innovation, but on TV. Right? But other people did [innovate]. And then the best example that I think of – one of the best things you'll ever watch – is the ‘Lucy in the Chocolate Factory’ [episode]. 

So Lucy and Ethel are trying to package up the chocolate. And it's utterly ridiculous… Lucy and Ethel come up with terrible solutions for how to solve the problem. It's the funniest thing, you know. And this is 1952. So this is at the dawn of television. You could never have done that on radio. I mean, Lucy was on radio – popular on the radio. But you could never have done that on radio. They had to do something new. And they absolutely nailed it. Right? And then it didn't take them long to make that  transition to: “Okay, [now] what do we do?”

The rise of digital live entertainment will have a considerable and positive impact on the accessibility of theatre.

As the discussion neared a close, Danny shared how Covid and the subsequent adjustment of union agreements, opened up streaming for many regional theatres, like the Pasadena Playhouse, as well as local communities’ access to theatre. 

He then posed an important, forward-looking question about access to Jim: "So how do you think that [the new level of access] is going to change the field? It's a critically important thing to all of us right now.”

Jim shared: “I think it's a gut check, or a kind of a reality check. Do you mean it or not? To the people in our field – if you're serious about access, and you're not taking digital on board or you’re negative about digital, you're not serious about access.”

Jim then shared one of the book’s examples of “the hypothetical word’s best small theater”:

“One of the examples I give in the book is the hypothetical world's best small theater. Right? Whoever you think might be the world's greatest small theater, wouldn’t you like to be able to watch their shows? Of course, you would, right? But you probably can't… But there's clearly an audience for that kind of thing. So that's one level of access. 

Another level of access, of course, is income. And we’ve talked about this all the time. It's expensive to go to shows –  it's really expensive…. So if you want people to experience an artistic life presentation, 20 times a year instead of two, there's a way to make that possible. 

And then the third thing is limitations – either health concerns or actual limitations of being able to go somewhere comfortably, or physically. If a person who's in the position to create, market and put into the world a live presentation, if they're serious about access – digital is a gift...I feel as though there’s a wellspring of support for that and it has to be tapped.”

Learn more about "Beyond the Back Row" here, or pick up your very own copy on Amazon.

Photo credit: Jason Kovacs

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