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The pros and cons of bootlegging Hamilton

If you were burying a time capsule for 2016, there is really only one item you would need to throw in: the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. This hip-hop musical (Or does it count as a “hip-hopera?”) about Alexander Hamilton has not only captured the zeitgeist, it stomped on the zeitgeist until there was no zeitgeist anymore. There really has never been anything like this before: a musical that is almost entirely rapped with a cast made up entirely of actors of color symbolically playing, in the words of Miranda, “old, dead white men.” It has won pretty much every theater-related award that exists, including the Pulitzer, and is such a lock to sweep the Tony Awards that you have to wonder why they bothered nominating anything else at all. It has even affected national politics, with the decision to keep Hamilton on the $10 bill very much credited to the musical itself. It has even helped to bridge the divide between ideological enemies.

“‘Hamilton,’ I’m pretty sure, is the only thing that Dick Cheney and I agree on,” said President Barack Obama.

Aye, but here is the rub! As this is a work of theater, you can only catch it in one space in one city in the world. And, as this is the most important piece of popular American art that has been seen in years and years, more than just a few people want to see it. So, of course, with the supply so limited and the demand so high…well, an economics degree is not required to ascertain that Hamilton tickets are one of the rarest treasures in the world. That’s if you can afford them at all. According to the New York Post, premium tickets start at $549 and may get jacked up even higher to nearly $1,000. And, according to the New York Times the producers are actively taking steps to limit resales of tickets, which is the only hope for many of getting in.

This, of course, is leading to the prevalence of many bootlegs because fans can listen to the OBC album only so many times. Bootlegs of a hot show circulating underground are not a new development and yet Hamilton is in a somewhat unique position. At this point, the video capabilities of phones have become so good that these bootlegs are actually of a higher quality than you would expect. They’re taken from prime locations in the theater, they aren’t smudgy or blurry, the sound is good, and, most importantly, they contain the entire show. The bootlegs certainly do not look like they were taken by a professional videographer, but they aren’t the smudgy, grimy videos you may have seen in the past.

So, therefore, dear Hamilton fan, I put it to you: Should you watch an illegal copy of a hit Broadway show that is making millions of dollars every day and, yet, is not accessible to the throngs of people who want to see it? Should you watch the bootleg if you plan on seeing it someday, either on Broadway or when it comes to your town? Don’t you really want to see it with the original cast?

Lin-Manuel Miranda certainly doesn’t want you to. One of his biggest reasons is that even the best bootleg is not the optimal way to experience the show. In a Tumblr post addressed to a fan, he wrote “I’m thrilled you haven’t heard a shitty, half-iPhone recorded version yet, because I spent 6 years writing this and when you hear it, I want you to hear what I intended. I’m sorry theater only exists in one place at a time but that is also its magic. A bootleg cannot capture it.”

In recent weeks, there have been a few attempts to make the show more accessible to those who otherwise could not afford it. The Rockefeller Foundation has started a program to reduce ticket prices for New York City high school students to the cost of a Hamilton $10. There are also numerous street performances outside of the stage doors of the Richard Rodgers Theater by cast vmembers and guests which are often livestreamed online. Plus, of course, there have been television performances of songs on awards shows. Miranda has even hinted at “something” being recorded this summer, even if he is not revealing what that is. So, there are definitely approved ways to get your Hamilton fix if needed.

There’s only so much one can do, though, and so the bootlegs have become a highly enticing prospect. From those I have spoken with, it seems as if most people watching the bootlegs are simply “whetting their appetites” for the hallowed day when they are able to see the show. Yet what does all that appetite-whetting really accomplish? It could be argued that the show won’t affect you as much if you go into it knowing all the visual aspects. Your first experience of the show may feel like a vicarious experience instead of one that washes over you. Ultimately, though, it’s your call. The internet has handed you an item of great temptation. What are ya gonna do with it?

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