Results tagged “chris rawson” from Drama Queen

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)

So here's the thing about Theatre Communications Group's Press Summit: how do you present the entire press/theater dynamic, framed by the implosion of the newspaper industry and giftwrapped in our current economic crisis, open it up at a conference table, and assemble a new paradigm (batteries not included) in just two hours? You don't.

TCG09.jpgIf you're wondering how many minds it took to reach that particular conclusion, well, TCG sat down with Peter Marks, Lou Bellamy, Mark Cosson, Neil Pepe, Olga Sanchez, Chris Rawson, Judy Rousuck, Phil Stephenson, Raelle Myrick Hodges, Jim O'Quinn, Susan Booth, Steve Cosson, Emily Mann, John O'Neal, Elizabeth Blair, Neil Pressley, Jason Zinoman, Richard Zoglin and me. (I know I said Bartlett Sher would attend, but he was a no-show. I'm sure he had a good excuse.) The earth didn't rumble and subscribers didn't fall from the heavens, but we did start an exchange that felt kind of like a first date. Not one of those hot, crazy first dates where you start out at dinner and end up pressing the emergency stop button in the nearest elevator (No I haven't, but it sounds fun, right?), but more like one of those first dates where the conversation moves along nicely, you get a chance to really check your companion out across the table, and you think, "You know what? I could maybe do this again."

[Above: Pepe, Hodges and Stephenson get to know each other a little better.]

"This" was the act of feeling out the dead zone between critics and artistic directors. However, as it turns out, we're all pretty much on the same side. Time Magazine's Zoglin explained his goal these days is just to maintain a place for theater in the national press--no easy feat. Meanwhile, Civilians' artistic director Cosson worries that as goes newspaper criticism, so goes public discourse about theater. Without that discourse, he believes, the work is incomplete.

How do two professions that are often at odds, but somehow have the exact same goal, find a way to cooperate? Miracle Theatre Group's Sanchez hosts cultural celebrations in conjunction with her productions; thus, even if the show is ignored due to tight space in the A&E section of the paper, a Day of the Dead celebration with local children might--and did--receive coverage in the Local or Family section. When Hodges took the reins at Brava after its founder and 22-year artistic director's departure, she thawed the icy heart of a San Francisco journalist with persistent personal invitations to get to know her via special events at the theater. Now? Hodges understands and appreciates that the journalist/a.d. relationship will never result in a new BFF, but she does feel he now gets her mission and is willing to allow her some room to settle in. Atlantic Theater Company's Pepe, on the other hand, hasn't circumvented the media entirely, but says getting the word out on social media sites such as Facebook increased his audiences at a time when he expected the butts-in-seats count to take a major hit.

The journalists were less optimistic, with plenty of expected hand-wringing over lost space, readers, jobs and dollars. Sure, when you're reminiscing about the power of words on a printed page, things are grim. And yet. Maybe I'm just relentlessly, blindly upbeat, but I can't help thinking we're headed into a robber baron era for entrepreneurial-minded writers. I'm also of the firm belief that readers' ability to comment on or question reviews and get a response from critics is a superb development for theaters, criticism, and incidentally, individual critics, often freelancers, who can use that personal interaction to help build a loyal audience. Its absence is one of print's biggest drawbacks, yet when it's available online, it's almost always under- or never-used by critics. When Ms. Rousuck asked what we'd like to see happening in five years, my vision included getting critics to dig in with both hands and help craft criticism into the kind of ever-evolving organism that is a true reflection of theater's living art.

But hey, what do I know? TCG may reconvene this group again, and if they do, I hope we return triumphant, with every house still producing and every critic still employed, because for right now, that's enough to ask. But wouldn't it also be great if next time we let loose a little and ended up in that elevator, groping together to uncover some new and previously unexplored synergy?

Yeah, me too. Hey TCG, thanks for a good time. ;-)

June 5, 2009 2:06 PM | | Comments (2)
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 |

This being Sarasota, home of several Ringling Brothers and their circus' winter quarters, yesterday was steeped in the town's unique legacy. (At left, ATCA's esteemed leader, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Chris Rawson and several other highly credentialed colleagues get their clown on during a panel discussion about circus arts.) We toured Ca D'Zan (John and Mable Ringling's estate), visited the Ringling Museum of Art and settled in for a discussion at the Historic Asolo Theatre--not to be confused with Asolo Repertory Theatre (Long, confusing story)--before being wowed by Howard Tibbals' insanely detailed and extensive miniature circus. Blah, blah, blah, a swell time was had by all. 

But let's get back to that panel discussion, because its label, "John Ringling's Circus Legacy in Sarasota," is deceptive. We certainly learned about Ringling's philanthropic largesse and the circus' roots here. Mr. Ringling, it seems, is the font from which every Sarasota cultural institution springs. As Golden Apple Dinner Theater artistic director Robert Turoff noted during another panel discussion, "He is in everything we do, in our hearts and in our minds." Amen.  

However, we also heard about the schism between respect for the arts on Florida's "Cultural Coast" and circus somehow taking a backseat to that culture. There's irony for you.

Occasionally, as theater critics we're called on to review the circus. In Philadelphia, it's generally either for Ringling/Barnum/Bailey, Cirque de Soleil, or some circus-themed Fringe Festival event. Panelist Jim Ragona, managing director of Circus Sarasota, noted that circus arts seem to garner more respect in Europe than in the U.S., with 700 different circuses thriving in Italy alone (though I'd argue the form is maybe less prolific, but equally respected in Canada, Cirque's birthplace). Steven Smith, former dean of Ringling Brothers' Clown College and current guest director of the Big Apple Circus, who happens to have attended Chicago's Goodman School of Drama, also argues for Circus' parity with its stagebound cousin, and certainly Bill Irwin has crafted a solo career on the notion.

And yet despite all this on-site agitating for circus as an accepted, respected art form, the first Ringling International Arts Festival, a co-production of the Ringling Museum of Art and Florida State University, to be held October 7-11 2009, doesn't have a single circus-related act on its (nonetheless pretty compelling) roster. As a critic, I can't help but be critical of Ringling's decision (the institution, not the man). A circus legacy is the one thing Sarasota has to offer the national arts landscape that distinguishes it from every other metro area putting on a fringe-ish festival. Maybe this year the Ringling felt it had something to prove. Hopefully, next year they won't be too embarassed to put on the red nose and wear it with pride.

May 2, 2009 3:47 PM |

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 |

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.

April 29, 2009 12:48 PM |
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