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‘Hamilton’ producer Jeffrey Seller: Live theater is the antidote to digital overload

“Can I be crass? Do you want to have sex or do you want to have a virtual reality experience of sex?”

Amelia Krales for Recode

When it comes to technology, Jeffrey Seller calls himself a "traditionalist." He doesn’t binge-watch any TV shows. He relishes picking up the hard copy of the newspaper every morning. And the 51-year-old lead producer of Broadway megahit "Hamilton" could not care less about virtual reality.

"A lot of different VR types have been approaching us," Seller said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. "I got that little Cardboard box in the New York Times one Sunday and I was like, ‘How do you use this?’ I just threw it in the garbage."

"Can I be crass?" he added. "Do you want to have sex or do you want to have a virtual reality experience of sex?"

The success of "Hamilton," which is sold out in New York through May 2017 and will soon spread to Chicago, San Francisco and London, has convinced Seller that demand for a real, non-digital experience is stronger than ever. He said 13 million people went to see Broadway shows in the past season, and only 500,000 of those were "Hamilton" attendees.

By contrast, when Seller first made a splash as the co-producer of "Rent" in 1996, he estimated total Broadway attendance was around eight million to nine million people.

"Experiencing art live with friends, with family, with people we love, is so rewarding that people are searching it out amidst the digital age, in which our faces are in our phones seemingly every other hour of the day," he said.

Although he’s been free to ignore most modern technology onstage, behind the scenes Seller has had to fight against it tooth and nail. On the new podcast, he excoriated online ticket-buying bots as "nefarious digital tool[s]" that must be combatted with both new laws and better software.

Those bots exist because there’s a lucrative online scalping market on sites like StubHub, Vivid Seats and SeatGeek. Seller said Ticketmaster is getting better at identifying bot-bought tickets, but he expects the fight will continue as "Hamilton" expands into new cities.

"All those Silicon Valley guys who love bots and virtual reality, they’re going to be jumping over each other at Vivid Seats paying $500, $600, $1000 to get tickets to our show," Seller said of "Hamilton’s" upcoming San Francisco opening. "Guess what they want to do? They want to come to that theater and they want to have that communal fireside experience."

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