Results tagged “american theatre critics association” from Drama Queen

Inside the 2010 American Theatre Critics Association conference there was a lot of what's going on outside the conference: hand-wringing about the future of theater criticism. Back in 1999, when I attended my first ATCA confab--conveniently located in Philadelphia--the room was filled with full-time staffers who visibly bristled at the dirty, dirty f-word: freelancer. Just 11 conferences later, I can count the staffers who make their living as full-time theater critics on one hand, and even if I include this year's keynote speaker Michael Phillips, who's technically a film critic these days anyway (no offense, Michael), I'm still not certain that covers every finger. 

(Below: from left, Jay Handelman, Lauren Yarger, Andy Propst, Leonard Jacobs)

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I sat on a panel titled "Critics in the New Age," moderated by Sarasota Herald-Tribune critic Jay Handelman, with AmericanTheaterWeb.com founder Andy Propst, ClydeFitchReport.com founder Leonard Jacobs (you may recall him from this Drama Queen-related debacle), Gail Burns, founder of GailSez.org, and Lauren Yarger, whose theater blog Reflections in the Light tackles Broadway reviews from a Christian perspective. Of all the panelists, only Yarger finds herself in the enviable position of having to turn away potential advertisers. The lesson: You gotta have a gimmick. I'm not saying Yarger is cynical or that she doesn't believe wholeheartedly in her mission. It just helps that her mission occupies a clearly-defined niche that appeals to a very specific (and populous) segment of the American theatergoing public. Amen to that, sister!

Andy Propst also suggested a useful idea: ATCA ought to start offering badges to approved theater blogs. Sounds snooty, I know, but here's the thing, in a filthy, crowded internet, it's nice to find a safe bedbug-free haven where you can try out critics' opinions and know they've been vetted for quality control. As Propst said, "it could be like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval." Any idiot can tell readers what they thought of a play or musical, but it's the job of a qualified critic to provide context, do research and send you back to the review afterward to uncover additional insights. In theory, anyway. 

There's some disagreement about the specificity of those qualifications (blogger Jonathan Mandell discusses them in terms of ATCA membership, but I imagine the criteria would be pretty similar), but I think it's a great idea, and one that could possibly help generate some ad revenue too, since blogs with an imprimatur are--again, in theory--worth more than those without. 

So, are you more willing to read or lend credence to an officially sanctioned critic? And before you respond with a rant about democracy, please remember that official sanction used to come in the form of a paid position. These days, there are critics with 20 and 30 years of professional experience who have been laid off from their newspaper jobs and are now forced to jostle alongside the Yelpers, Tumblrs and Wordpressers. I say it's time to fumigate.  

July 21, 2010 2:05 PM | | Comments (9)
Maybe you thought the muted furor surrounding the Tony Awards' decision to eject critics from its voters' ranks died away. After all, it's not like it was such an important decision anyway, right? And it's not like it affected that many people, right? Well wrong. It affects all of you, and by you, I don't just mean those of you who clicked through to this blog. I mean you as consumers of American culture. 

Today, American Theatre Critics Association Chairman Christopher Rawson sent a letter to the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing alerting them that we will not go quietly (though we're pretty polite, considering). Our ranks might be thinner, but if there's one thing critics know how to do well, it's bitch loudly about something we don't like. I'm a member of ATCA, and if you're a critic, you ought to be too. There's strength in numbers, and--being a bookish lot, who've spat out an awful lot of bully sand lately--we could really use those numbers to help the cause.

If you're not a critic, you know you read our reviews, and there might even be a critic or two whose opinion you respect. Send your own damn letter here and here and tell these chumps that a bunch of directors (or producers, or whatever you're not) voting for their friends does not a credible award make. After all, when your mommy told you you were the best one onstage, it was nice, but you didn't really believe her, did you? Did you?

As goes Broadway, so goes the nation, at least within a few years, when national tours begin hitting the road. Without critics slipping through the Tonys' highly entrenched voter ranks, plenty of editorials on the subject assert that the plays and musicals you'd get out here in the hinterlands would be an endless parade of Wickeds, and Legally Blondes--which they are anyway, and p.s., I liked Legally Blonde--but with no hope of a Rent or Spring Awakening surging forward to help electrify regional audiences and expand our dramatic expectations. 

Listen, don't do it for me, I only get to New York once or twice a year anyway. Do it for the benefit of our theater. Because that's what's really hurt by this decision.
August 7, 2009 4:35 PM | | Comments (3)
Just got this comment from Arden Theatre Artistic Director Terry Nolen:

"Thanks for the entries about the ATCA conference. Good to hear what is
going on nationally. Surprised to read that Chris Rawson is now a
freelancer. Has that changed the amount of coverage in the
Post-Gazette? Perhaps the ATCA website should include links to
critics' blogs. I read Chris Jones and John Moore's blogs--useful to
stay connected to the work in their communities and their perspective
on the national scene. Curious to know what other critics have blogs."

And though I hope Nolen doesn't mind that I'm using it as the basis for this post American Theatre Critics Association wrap-up post, I'm glad he asked. 

First things first, yes, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic Chris Rawson is indeed a freelancer now, having taken a buyout from the paper, which really should come as no surprise to anyone watching the decline of... everything. During a panel on the changing face of theater criticism, he said the Post-Gazette now uses four theater critics, all freelance. It doesn't seem to have changed the paper's coverage, but he would know more about the intricacies of that issue than I do.

As for ATCA's website including links to member blogs, well, funny thing. I was drafted onto a committee headed by ATCA's webmistress Gwen Orel, whose sole purpose is to improve that site. The big plan is to provide both public and private content, but yes, links to member work online, including blogs, Twitter feeds, whatever, will be available to the public, and we realize, the sooner the better. Ideas are welcome, and as soon as the pixels of progress start moving, you'll be among the first to hear.

But posting blog links is really only the portal to a much wider conversation. If most theater critics are bloggers, well, does that make most theater bloggers eligible to be critics? Way back when I first joined the organization and attended my first conference--as a freelancer (albeit the only theater critic) for Philadelphia Weekly--so lowly a thing was I, I barely made conversation with most of the daily news staffers who populated ATCA's member rolls.

Now? Of roughly 50 member critics attending the Sarasota conference, when Rawson asked, "Who in this room is a full-time staff reviewer?" one lonely hand went up. And mind you, that hand, belonging to the Miami Herald's Christine Dolen (the other Drama Queen) wasn't raised very far above her head. After all, who knows what will be happening at her newspaper this time next year? (That count doesn't include the conference's unflappable organizer, Sarasota Herald-Tribune's Jay Handelman, who was no doubt busy organizing at the time.)

So how to evaluate applicants without qualifying ATCA into extinction? One of the reasons New York Post theater columnist Michael Riedel was chosen to address the group (aside, of course, from his mad skills) was that his voice--insiderish, gossipy, brash--is now the rule rather than the exception in online theater coverage. But is he a critic? Well, no. And yet he writes about theater full-time, at a moment when most critics are unable to do so. 

What gives a theater writer credibility these days? Money? Insight? We theater writers would love to know.
May 5, 2009 8:19 AM |

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.

April 30, 2009 10:59 AM |
Okay, so I took a little "break" from blogging. In the interim, I watched newspapers slide even deeper into the abyss, got scared, wrote a bunch of reviews and features (one that required me to interview children's novelist Jerry Spinelli, which makes me an awfully cool mom), and applied--and was accepted to--graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. Isn't that what you do with your time off? And hey, maybe you didn't even notice I was gone, so it's all good. 

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In any case, I'm planning a blogging blitz this week, starting exactly tomorrow, Tuesday, April 28, when the 2009 American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) holds its 36th annual conference this year in Sarasota, Florida. The organization is going with the circus metaphor, Sarasota being the home of John and Mable Ringling, but I think it's also a pretty appropriate location for a profession that's being forced into early retirement. I mean, Sarasota may be culturally ascendant--and certainly, it is one of the state's theater centers--but Florida didn't earn the nickname "death's waiting room" among my mishpucha for nothing. 

I'll be down there taking notes and passing them on to you. (Shhhh, don't tell anyone, I don't wanna get detention--detention for theater critics being some form of Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, though not Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, because we'll be seeing that one voluntarily, and because I kind of like it.) I'll also be Twittering about the conference every chance I get, using the hashtag #ATCA (unless someone prefers that I just stick with #theatre), and hopefully with some input from you and from my esteemed colleagues. If you have any issues you'd like me to raise, by all means send them my way. And if you haven't signed up for Twitter yet but are online reading this blog entry, well, at this point you're just being perverse.

Alongside the theatrical smorgasbord and festive wine and dines or meet and greets, there will be much discussion about the state of theater criticism in this country. I fully expect this year's conference to be perhaps the most, um, critical in ATCA's entire history. Hope you'll join me.
April 27, 2009 11:32 AM |
I was unable to attend this year's American Theatre Critics' Conference in Washington, D.C. last week (had to review five shows in five nights), and would really like to hear from those who attended. Was there much formal discussion about the state of employment for critics? Discussion of unions? What were the pressing issues and highlights of the event? Lowlights? 

Please report here about what went on and what was missing. I'm eagerly awaiting the news. 
Thanks, and I'll definitely be there next year in Sarasota.
June 24, 2008 9:39 PM | | Comments (2)
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