Broadway shows turning to iPads to simplify production & cut down on waste

Posted:
in iPad edited November 2018
Lagging behind some other industries, stage shows on New York City's Broadway and elsewhere are finally beginning to turn to tablets -- specifically the iPad -- to replace giant stacks of paper.

The crew for 'Pretty Woman' on their iPad Pros.
The crew for 'Pretty Woman' on their iPad Pros.


To this day, many directors and stage managers are carrying around production books that can weigh as much as 10 pounds, according to CNN. But some Broadway shows like "Kinky Boots" and "Pretty Woman" are reportedly moving to an iPad app called ProductionPro, which merges scripts and lyrics with videos and other production material. The software is also being used at firms like Disney to shoot film and TV, and at some 400 U.S. high schools for their theater departments.

Users can do things like add margin notes with a stylus, but one of the primary advantages is pushing updates to cast and crew instantly without wasting thousands of pages of paper.

In the case of "Pretty Woman," the show was updating roughly 30 pages per day during 12 weeks of pre-production, and those pages had to be shared with some 50 people. Stage manager Thomas Recktenwald is now using ProductionPro, an iPad Pro, and an Apple Pencil, and the show even has videos with the blocking for each scene.

ProductionPro


One drawback to the app is its cost. While it can technically be used for free, that's limited to a single production, 1 gigabyte of cloud storage, and a 250-megabyte cap on filesizes. Commercial operations must effectively spring for a Premium plan that costs $19.99 per month.

A number of businesses have switched to iPads to reduce paper burdens. One of the earlier adopters was the airline industry, which used iPads to replace heavy pilot bags full of charts.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    My question unfortunately would be, wasting paper is much cheaper than buying iPads for the whole production crew and cast members. While I am 100% for saving paper this just seems like an overly expensive way to waste money rather than paper. 
    edited November 2018
  • Reply 2 of 12
    I thought according to Ben Tompson, productivity apps could not be sustained on the App Store. Is this an outlier  to the norm or is the subscription model working?
    leavingthebigg
  • Reply 3 of 12
    My question unfortunately would be, wasting paper is much cheaper than buying iPads for the whole production crew and cast members. While I am 100% for saving paper this just seems like an overly expensive way to waste money rather than paper. 
    This article was terribly misinformed. Perhaps a Bway show Stage Manager can use an iPad but that’s not where the black hole of paper waste lives. 

    Far and away away the largest waste is incidental sheet music for every part in the orchestra multiples over every musician playing their respective parts and that music is distributed as a work right contracted by the music union AGVA? I can’t recall... Actor’s aren’t allowe in  and no where in the professional music world - no where - is iPad replacing the mass produced orchestral parts in a bway show or a ballet or in opera - it’s apart of the culture and the union will often stipulate that the music come prepared in a certain way and that way is never digital. 

    Also the only reason there would need to be 20 pages of changes to a show in technical preview is if it sucked and was flawed. That’s long past the time where Cast or Crew would be able to do anything with 20 new pages ... notes ? Sure. There almost always dictated by the director at the performance to the stage manager who then may Or may not use an iPad to distribute them but more than likely they get typed and put on a cork board with a highlight next to ur role or job with the note. They’re rarely even discussed it’s just expected to always be the new way the time... Or you get fired. iPad would him that process up. Stage managers are cranky and stress out folk... I cannot see a day where Tablet’s make headway into this works and supplant a digital master cue list... 

    Lastly19$ is nothing for a bway show. A bway show makes zero profit on average each week if it can’t clear a million a week. Period. Some easily do this - pretty woman had a very successful PreSale but now it’s hot garbage and they won’t need to worry about apps or iPads... if it doesn’t close and goes on tour perhaps this iPad story will start a trend. But it’s gonna close and lose a lot of money. 

    KinkyBoots has a gabillion cues and makes a fortune each week so maybe they’ve given iPads to the backstage folk. The Actor’s wouldn’t have free iPads for sure and the musicians would look down on it ...

    there are some professional piano accompanists that won’t freak out if you bring an iPad in to an audition in nyc but most would ask for sheet music or decline to play. Seen it happen. 

    Its cultural. Backstage lends itself to the dork universe - and I’m sure outside a pit musicians use iPads but more than 50% carry both to a gig in case something happens. iPads aren’t paper and paper doesn’t need charging. 
    berndogRayz2016
  • Reply 4 of 12
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,680member
    My question unfortunately would be, wasting paper is much cheaper than buying iPads for the whole production crew and cast members. While I am 100% for saving paper this just seems like an overly expensive way to waste money rather than paper. 
    I don't see how the numbers don't work out in favor for digital distribution over all the printing that needs to be done and slowly distributed. Would you classify email or any text messaging as being more costly than printing out letters to people to send via snail mail, even if excluding the cost of postage from the scenario? And that's just for one person and this would be for, in the given example, 30 rewrites per day, for 12 weeks, for 50 people, which will then lead into another project either using company iPads (which users may be responsible for if lost, stolen, or broken) or using their own iPad.
    watto_cobrapscooter63
  • Reply 5 of 12
    My question unfortunately would be, wasting paper is much cheaper than buying iPads for the whole production crew and cast members. While I am 100% for saving paper this just seems like an overly expensive way to waste money rather than paper. 
    I think this has more to do with convenience rather than just paper-reduction.

    As the article said... the production "Pretty Woman" was updating 30 pages per day... for 12 weeks (84 days)... among 50 people.

    You're right... paper is cheap.  But distributing 126,000 pieces of paper over 3 months is a pain in the ass.  And there could be errors/delays if some people see the new pages and others don't.

    But with this method... all 50 people would see the updates instantly on their iPads.  And they can incorporate music and video in addition to hand-written notes.

    Yes... 50 iPads aren't cheap.  $329 minimum buy-in.  Plus Apple Pencil.  Plus AppleCare.  Plus a case.  You could be spending $550 per person.

    That's $28,000.  But at least the production company can keep using the iPads for future productions.

    It might sound expensive... but so is time lost if everyone isn't on the same page due to errors and/or miscommunications.

    Again... I don't think this is necessarily about saving paper... it's about having a smooth production.

    The $28,000 cost of iPads isn't even that high on the list.  To put it into perspective... the production "Kinky Boots" spent $150,000 on just hair and makeup. (1.1% of their $13.5 million budget)

    And they spent $350,000 on just the costumes (2.5% of their $13.5 million budget)

    Suddenly those iPads don't sound too bad... :)
    JFC_PAwatto_cobraRayz2016pscooter63jony0
  • Reply 6 of 12
    JFC_PAJFC_PA Posts: 295member
    The aim from the original reporter seemed to be time efficiency of distribution along with the multimedia advantage of including video in the data provided for visual production notes. With saving the paper an afterthought at the end. And a single line change on s page would mean a new page. So thirty changes (and that number appears to have been directly from the reporter at a Pretty Woman rehearsal interviewing production stage manager Thomas Recktenwald)  even small adjustments and you’d have thirty new pages getting handed out (not thirty pages OF changes, just changes TO thirty pages)... meaning thirty times individually people would be running around giving out paper and wasting time after copying the new pages etc. Day after day after day. Adds up to a lot of wasted time as opening night loom’s ever closer...

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/09/tech/broadway-pretty-woman-technology/index.html
    edited November 2018 michael scrip
  • Reply 7 of 12
    I appreciate the thoughtful comments about who iPads won’t work for musical productions but nobody has mentioned the often-enormous cost of delivering paper changes. This usually requires courier services to a few dozen artists and production team members. 

    As as for the musicians union, it’s just a matter of time until these technologies become part of control negotiations. It will happen but probably not soon or all at once. 
    michael scrip
  • Reply 8 of 12
    irelandireland Posts: 17,547member
    My question unfortunately would be, wasting paper is much cheaper than buying iPads for the whole production crew and cast members. While I am 100% for saving paper this just seems like an overly expensive way to waste money rather than paper. 
    This article was terribly misinformed. Perhaps a Bway show Stage Manager can use an iPad but that’s not where the black hole of paper waste lives. 

    Far and away away the largest waste is incidental sheet music for every part in the orchestra multiples over every musician playing their respective parts and that music is distributed as a work right contracted by the music union AGVA? I can’t recall... Actor’s aren’t allowe in  and no where in the professional music world - no where - is iPad replacing the mass produced orchestral parts in a bway show or a ballet or in opera - it’s apart of the culture and the union will often stipulate that the music come prepared in a certain way and that way is never digital. 

    Also the only reason there would need to be 20 pages of changes to a show in technical preview is if it sucked and was flawed. That’s long past the time where Cast or Crew would be able to do anything with 20 new pages ... notes ? Sure. There almost always dictated by the director at the performance to the stage manager who then may Or may not use an iPad to distribute them but more than likely they get typed and put on a cork board with a highlight next to ur role or job with the note. They’re rarely even discussed it’s just expected to always be the new way the time... Or you get fired. iPad would him that process up. Stage managers are cranky and stress out folk... I cannot see a day where Tablet’s make headway into this works and supplant a digital master cue list... 

    Lastly19$ is nothing for a bway show. A bway show makes zero profit on average each week if it can’t clear a million a week. Period. Some easily do this - pretty woman had a very successful PreSale but now it’s hot garbage and they won’t need to worry about apps or iPads... if it doesn’t close and goes on tour perhaps this iPad story will start a trend. But it’s gonna close and lose a lot of money. 

    KinkyBoots has a gabillion cues and makes a fortune each week so maybe they’ve given iPads to the backstage folk. The Actor’s wouldn’t have free iPads for sure and the musicians would look down on it ...

    there are some professional piano accompanists that won’t freak out if you bring an iPad in to an audition in nyc but most would ask for sheet music or decline to play. Seen it happen. 

    Its cultural. Backstage lends itself to the dork universe - and I’m sure outside a pit musicians use iPads but more than 50% carry both to a gig in case something happens. iPads aren’t paper and paper doesn’t need charging. 
    Now no one knows what to think reading along. Ha.
  • Reply 9 of 12
    Thanks all for the more in depth information, I guess paper saving is more of an after thought and the price of iPads being affordable for a high budget production. If they have the money then that’s awesome to save paper, time and energy. 
  • Reply 10 of 12
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,399member
    My question unfortunately would be, wasting paper is much cheaper than buying iPads for the whole production crew and cast members. While I am 100% for saving paper this just seems like an overly expensive way to waste money rather than paper. 
    I think this has more to do with convenience rather than just paper-reduction.

    As the article said... the production "Pretty Woman" was updating 30 pages per day... for 12 weeks (84 days)... among 50 people.

    You're right... paper is cheap.  But distributing 126,000 pieces of paper over 3 months is a pain in the ass.  And there could be errors/delays if some people see the new pages and others don't.

    But with this method... all 50 people would see the updates instantly on their iPads.  And they can incorporate music and video in addition to hand-written notes.

    Yes... 50 iPads aren't cheap.  $329 minimum buy-in.  Plus Apple Pencil.  Plus AppleCare.  Plus a case.  You could be spending $550 per person.

    That's $28,000.  But at least the production company can keep using the iPads for future productions.

    It might sound expensive... but so is time lost if everyone isn't on the same page due to errors and/or miscommunications.

    Again... I don't think this is necessarily about saving paper... it's about having a smooth production.

    The $28,000 cost of iPads isn't even that high on the list.  To put it into perspective... the production "Kinky Boots" spent $150,000 on just hair and makeup. (1.1% of their $13.5 million budget)

    And they spent $350,000 on just the costumes (2.5% of their $13.5 million budget)

    Suddenly those iPads don't sound too bad... :)
    You can’t really put something like iPads up against a legitimate production expense. The cost of the iPads would merely cut into the other budgets. Moreover, unless the iPads are part of the stage rental, each production is going to have to budget them as a startup cost. 

    Then there’s how impractical iPads are for rehearsal. You can bet actors and crew will still print their pages out for easy portability. Maybe a mini would do the job, but more likely an iPhone will be the better device, but it would also need Pencil support (though a dumb stylus could work). Perhaps this article is geared toward the digital show production use in general regardless of device used, the iPad just being the example. But Broadway is just a small part of this. TV and film are the biggest wasters of paper with daily page updates for ever scene shot, as well as the use of shooting sides on set. All productions deliver these changes digitally now, but there’s still a large amount of printing going on. Shifting to a digital platform definitely streamlines this process, but convenience in distribution is always going to be tempered by convenience for the workers, and that’s almost always going to involve reams of paper until such systems accomodate all needs.
  • Reply 11 of 12
    stage actor here. i'd stick with paper, no particular bias against ipads. in the early rehearsal period it is much easier to carry paper than a piece of glass and metal, and with blocking- you memorize movement early enough where writing it down doesn't really have much of an impact, and as it changes frequently you more or less let your memory work on that. for me paper is more connected with the 'real' world; going back and forth between LED screen and stage seems stymied, imo. if i was directing i wouldn't be too gung ho about it.
    edited November 2018
  • Reply 12 of 12
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,399member
    My question unfortunately would be, wasting paper is much cheaper than buying iPads for the whole production crew and cast members. While I am 100% for saving paper this just seems like an overly expensive way to waste money rather than paper. 
    This article was terribly misinformed. Perhaps a Bway show Stage Manager can use an iPad but that’s not where the black hole of paper waste lives. 

    Far and away away the largest waste is incidental sheet music for every part in the orchestra multiples over every musician playing their respective parts and that music is distributed as a work right contracted by the music union AGVA? I can’t recall... Actor’s aren’t allowe in  and no where in the professional music world - no where - is iPad replacing the mass produced orchestral parts in a bway show or a ballet or in opera - it’s apart of the culture and the union will often stipulate that the music come prepared in a certain way and that way is never digital. 

    Also the only reason there would need to be 20 pages of changes to a show in technical preview is if it sucked and was flawed. That’s long past the time where Cast or Crew would be able to do anything with 20 new pages ... notes ? Sure. There almost always dictated by the director at the performance to the stage manager who then may Or may not use an iPad to distribute them but more than likely they get typed and put on a cork board with a highlight next to ur role or job with the note. They’re rarely even discussed it’s just expected to always be the new way the time... Or you get fired. iPad would him that process up. Stage managers are cranky and stress out folk... I cannot see a day where Tablet’s make headway into this works and supplant a digital master cue list... 

    Lastly19$ is nothing for a bway show. A bway show makes zero profit on average each week if it can’t clear a million a week. Period. Some easily do this - pretty woman had a very successful PreSale but now it’s hot garbage and they won’t need to worry about apps or iPads... if it doesn’t close and goes on tour perhaps this iPad story will start a trend. But it’s gonna close and lose a lot of money. 

    KinkyBoots has a gabillion cues and makes a fortune each week so maybe they’ve given iPads to the backstage folk. The Actor’s wouldn’t have free iPads for sure and the musicians would look down on it ...

    there are some professional piano accompanists that won’t freak out if you bring an iPad in to an audition in nyc but most would ask for sheet music or decline to play. Seen it happen. 

    Its cultural. Backstage lends itself to the dork universe - and I’m sure outside a pit musicians use iPads but more than 50% carry both to a gig in case something happens. iPads aren’t paper and paper doesn’t need charging. 
    You make a lot of good points. Musicians are still covered by the AFM. They have provisions for digital distribution of music. So copyists still get paid regardless of how the music is distributed, and there's something to be said for making instantaneous changes that immediately show up in the musicians parts, especially in an orchestra pit. This ensures that no musician misunderstands what's changed, or doesn't remember what, or can't read the hastily changed notation. I'd say the biggest failure here would be the musicians tablets running out of power or otherwise crashing during a performance. AEA, AGVA, AGMA may well require sheet music printed on paper for musical productions, I don't know. But that wouldn't preclude anyone from using an iPad. Again, the bigger issue there is the cost and availability of the tablets, and the service being used. 

    As for updates, I'd agree there's probably not a need for a play to have that many changes daily once it's being staged on Broadway. But during the workshop phase, and even off-broadway, there are a lot of changes as they tweak the content, and not just dialogue. In general this is all a very good idea, applied not just to Broadway, but the entire entertainment industry, including film, TV & Radio. Of course the biggest obstacle to all of this is not just the device on which it will be viewed, but the security of distributing the content electronically, especially when it's being developed. Bad Robot for instance keeps a tight rein on it's scripts, distributing some projects only on watermarked red paper to even prevent photocopying. But the industry already has secure distribution systems like DAX which provides cuts of programs in progress, which studios would never want to leak to the public. Distribution of finished stage plays would be easier, and allow for something I never had in high school -- using rented books, the ability to make notes in my scripts. Then again, everybody in the High School theater group would need access to a compatible digital device, including the musicians in the pit, each capable of allowing annotations. We can't even get iPads into the hands of every student yet, so that's probably a dream anyway.
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