The TikTok Revolution | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Known as the “Ratatousical,” Ratatouille was a musical theater retelling of the popular Pixar movie of the same name. This cultural phenomenon began with Emily Jacobsen’s song about Remy, the main character from the film. The song took off, and soon other users began adding on, creating full orchestras, harmonies, dances, and eventually more songs. Users even designed a poster for the musical as well as set and lighting design. The musical was officially recognized on TikTok by Playbill, and on 1 January 2021 Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical premiered as an online concert benefitting The Actor’s Fund. With a star-studded cast that included Andre de Shields, Kevin Chamberlain, Ashley Park, and other Broadway performers as well as the original TikTok creators, the concert raised over $2 million for The Actor’s Fund.

Just ten days later, twenty-two-year-old composer Abigail Barlow posted a TikTok saying, “What if Bridgerton was a musical?” She soon teamed up with piano prodigy Emily Bear, and the two began composing The Unofficial TikTok Musical. Their songs, beginning with a duet between the characters Daphne and Simon, soon gained millions of views on TikTok,. As with Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, other creators jumped in, adding choreography, harmonies and staging. Barlow and Bear encouraged community-building around the show, composing many of the songs on live on TikTok and inviting audience feedback. They self-produced the album of twelve songs and, in April 2022, became the youngest composers in history to win a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, beating out industry giants Stephen Shwartz and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Both of these examples celebrate a new generation of theater, showing young creators that they don’t need Broadway connections, a prestigious education, or tons of money to break into the often-impenetrable industry.

There are several aspects of TikTok that make it ideal for the creation of art. First of all, it is accessible. The app is free to download, and theoretically anyone with internet access can create and upload content. TikTok users have also normalized putting closed captioning on videos, prompting the app to include a caption feature.

The app also allows for easy collaboration with other creators. It is easy to find other people who share similar interests to you through TikTok’s algorithm. I found two of the theater creators that have guest starred on my podcast, Emma Sue Harris and Grace Walker, through TikTok. Emma, ​​(@ohemmasue) likes to think of their platform as a “radical rehearsal room” and believes that TikTok is the ultimate form of experimental theater. Emma often shares book hauls, radical theater history, and dramaturgical insights about pretty much everything. Grace Walker (@notkristenbell) is another dramaturg who uses her platform to promote plays and playwrights that often go unnoticed in the theater canon.

Both creators promote open discourse about theater and current events, share their insight and education freely with their followers, and cultivate a supportive network of young theater artists through TikTok’s platform.

This monetization of art makes virality the new measure of success for art—assuming, of course, that the level of virality directly correlates to compensation.

The app’s “duet” feature, in which one user can create a video in conjunction with one that is already posted, even enables creators to add to existing art. For example, if a creator were to post a video of an original composition on piano, another creator can duet it with their own lyrics to the song, or add themselves playing the trumpet, or even some choreography. Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical was created this way, allowing people all over the world to contribute to a work of art.

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