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August 30, 2007

Partying with Artists

Bridgette Redman

I'm going to depart from both of the two planned entries that I have in partial draft for today's post.

Instead of talking about weightier issues, I'm going to tell you about a party I went to last night. And if you'll bear with me, you'll see that it's not totally off subject for Flyover as the party had to do with both art and journalism.

The soiree took place at the historic Gem Theatre in downtown Detroit, in a beautiful section of the city near the new field for the Lions. More than 200 people packed into the cabaret-seating style theater enjoying a cocktail reception, a show, and then a dessert reception.

The show was the Oscar Wilde Award Night, sponsored and produced by a Detroit weekly, Between the Lines, to recognize excellence in local professional theater. The newspaper puts on an excellent party and representatives from the theater community from Detroit, Ann Arbor, Jackson, and Lansing turn out to celebrate.

The three reviewers from the newspaper reviewed 96 productions from 31 different professional companies. When announcing the nominations, Don Calamia, staff arts critic wrote:

For despite the second worst economy in the nation that seemingly kept a noticeable number of paying customers out of the seats and a governor who reneged on several million dollars of previously promised grant money, not one theater that Curtain Calls reviewed over the past few seasons shut its doors for financial reasons - despite numerous rumors to the contrary.

Instead, the Williamston Theatre set up shop in a sleepy little town near Lansing, and Who Wants Cake? snuck into Fabulous Ferndale with The Ringwald, a renovated home all its own. And StarBright Presents Dinner Theatre doubled its venues, one in southern Oakland County and another in northern Macomb County.

Call them crazy - and you wouldn't be the first - but these brave souls reflect the attitude of ALL Michigan thespians who believe the mitten state is a great place to live, work and raise a family - despite some major obstacles. So they stay and struggle - oftentimes for little money and even less recognition.

The staff at this newspaper understand their community and the environment it works in. More than one person expressed genuine surprise at receiving an award because, as they said, they didn't know anyone knew them. There was an amazement and gratitude that someone saw them and recognized their work.

For any in the journalism world who might wonder whether the arts community has noticed the cutback in arts coverage, let me share a moment with you. The master of ceremonies asked the newspaper's publishers to come to the stage to give out the publisher's award of excellence. Before the two women arrived at the lectern, the audience was on its feet, giving them a standing ovation. They recognized the commitment this newspaper has made to its art coverage and were eager to express their appreciation for it.

Earlier in the evening when I was talking to those same publishers about how thorough their arts coverage is, one of them said, "We're gay, we have to cover theater." A nearby actor came back with, "No, you don't have to, that's why it's great that you do."

Between the Lines is a newspaper that recognizes how vibrant the theater community is and how much coverage matters. Earlier this year, Calamia went to the publishers and said, "We need to do more." This from the critic who reviewed more than 70 shows, outstripping the two Detroit dailies and every other newspaper in that town. The publishers agreed with him. So they're soon launching Encore Michigan, a Website that will contain daily updates with new reviews every Monday morning.

Between the Lines is a shining beacon lighting the way to what is possible for newspapers to do. They demonstrate how to be part of the community while providing outstanding arts coverage. They understand their role in the ecosystem. While the artists may not always like what they say, they're grateful that someone is out there talking about their art, letting them know that they were heard, and telling others what is happening.

Posted by Bridgette Redman at August 30, 2007 10:04 AM

COMMENTS

I like very much the idea that a news gathering organization is part of the ecosystem of a local arts scene.

I've been reading the new edition of "The Arts in the Small Community," and I've been wondering: How does all of this apply to a local newsgathering organization?

If I were to start an online newspaper from scratch, I think I would use many of the exercise questions in this book, which are actually designed for the creation of an arts agency.

That's because all of these questions have to do with building and cultivating a sense of community, a sense of place. Strange to say, newspapers are becoming weak in this department. Have you ever noticed that in terms of design and presentation how identical newspapers look no matter where they're located?

Posted by: gary panetta at August 31, 2007 11:11 AM

Great article! It actually made me a little teary. Could I repost it (or part of it) on my arts marketing blog - The Creative Spin"? With credit of course! thecreativespin.blogspot.com

Posted by: Steve Duncan at September 2, 2007 6:03 PM

Gary,
That's another book I need to get on my bedside table and start reading.

One of the things I always notice in theater shows is the newspapers they use for props. To me, that immediately sets a show in particular period because you're right--the newspapers all start to look alike, they change over the years, but only a few have unique looks.

Steve--Yes, please feel free to quote it. It's always good to have other people talking about what we're doing here. And now I'm off to check off your blog.

Bridgette

Posted by: Bridgette Redman at September 4, 2007 5:50 AM