Drama Queen: April 2009 Archives
Quite a bit of talk at yesterday's installment of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) annual meeting about the state of both our profession and our organization's website. As I mentioned yesterday, this year's attendees are mostly freelancers, though they didn't all start out that way. Even ATCA's chair, Chris Rawson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, took a buyout recently and now writes for his paper as a freelancer. Rawson said he took the buyout when his union's rules regarding former staffers became more freelancer-friendly. Before, if you took the buyout, it was goodbye forever; now, well, if they did that, it would be goodbye forever to the paper as well. Used to be that freelancers were viewed as industry scabs; now we are the industry. So it goes.
Meanwhile, though theater criticism is experiencing a sea change, ATCA's website is still a distressingly static affair that's used mostly as an online bulletin board--and by that, I don't mean one of those interactive boards with message threads. I mean literally, an online bulletin board missing only the thumb tacks, where notices are posted and left there until someone takes them down and replaces them with other notices. It's kind of a sad metaphor for the state of affairs of a bunch of fusty old outdated opinion peddlers like us.
Happily, at least that facet of the profession is about to change. Gwen Orel, a freelance writer who, in her prolific reporting/reviewing, covers New York theater for the Wall Street Journal and Village Voice among other publications, was appointed ATCA's webmistress. The implications for ATCA's website are grand indeed (Links to member work? A searchable database of reviews? Bring. It. On.), though its specifics are yet to be determined. Got any ideas? Send them my way and I'll relay them at Friday's meeting on the subject.
Oh, and yeah, there's also some actual theater going on. Last night the group saw Asolo Rep's production of The Devil's Disciple, and today we're headed back to Asolo for The Winter's Tale and Jeff Hatcher's Murderers. So did the Shaw evoke a narrowing or widening of all those critical eyes? My extremely informal survey says the eyes generally narrowed, but not to slits, though some actually closed all the way and enjoyed a little snooze. Nice enough performance by an underutilized Dan Donohue, though the production itself is shackled by some significantly less nice performances and Tony Walton's deflated direction. Hey, you invite 50 critics into your home, however lovely it may be (and Asolo, a jewel box on the grounds of the gorgeously lush Ringling Museum is truly lovely) you gotta expect some critique.
If you're wondering what goes on at a theater critics' conference these days, it's probably exactly what you'd expect: lots of shows and lots of fretting. The American Theatre Critics' Association's (ATCA) annual meeting here in Sarasota skews way, way older than, say, the median age at the NEA or O'Neill institutes, but the worries are the same, and tellingly, there are almost no full-time staffers here, but plenty of print freelancers and online contributors.
Yesterday saw a posh dinner at the Gulfside of home of Asolo rep's board president and a command performance from Florida Studio Theatre's improv and musical cabaret performers, who, to my surprise, bested the talents I saw at my recent visit to Chicago's Second City. Who knew.
Today's events (thus far) have included a "Perspectives in Theater Criticism" lecture with New York Post theater columnist Michael Reidel. The Perspectives series began in 1992 with Clive Barnes as its inaugural speaker. So what did we learn this year? Well, for one thing, if you're a journalist, it helps to have your paper owned by Rupert Murdoch; Riedel's travel to the hinterlands to peek in on pre-Broadway tryouts is still subsidized by the Post, while everywhere else you practically have to run down the accounting staff in order to get reimbursed for tolls. Also, during filming for Riedel's The Norman Conquests opening night webcast, the show's producer, Kevin Spacey, was Twittering about it, a fact that's unsettling for both its satirical implications and cut-out-the-middleman directness
But we also learned that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette theater critic Chris Rawson pulled out a press release from that initial year, whose copy read in part,
"These are difficult times for theater critics, with space for theater coverage shrinking, papers relying more and more on part-time or freelance critics, and, in many cities, papers folding. Reminders of the importance and event he high honor of our calling are more necessary than ever."
Ah, the good old days.
Hopefully Riedel's full lecture will be on YouTube shortly, and when it is, I'll add the link in an update here.
Remaining today is another lecture about the state of theater criticism, and a visit to Asolo Rep to see G.B. Shaw's The Devil's Disciple.