In my latest “Sightings” column, published in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, I discuss a question that’s been on my mind for some time now: why are America’s best regional theater companies not as well known as our museums, symphony orchestras, and opera companies?
Time for a pop quiz: name three important fine-arts institutions that are not located in (A) New York City or (B) the place where you live.
I recently asked this question of 20 art-conscious friends all across the U.S. Between them, they listed 42 different institutions, seven of which received more than one vote. Most frequently cited was the Art Institute of Chicago, with four votes.
Only five of them mentioned a theater company.
I took this informal poll in the same week that Seattle’s Intiman Theatre won the Tony Award for excellence in regional theater. It’s been presented annually since 1976 to such distinguished ensembles as Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, all of which I covered enthusiastically for the Journal in the past year. Not one of them was mentioned. The only person to vote for the Intiman was a former resident of Seattle….
Each year it grows more difficult to persuade the arts editors of major newspapers and magazines–even those that pay fairly close attention to theater in New York–to send their drama critics to other cities, save for an occasional trip to London. As for TV, forget about it. I can’t remember the last time PBS aired an out-of-town production. Regional theater, it seems, just isn’t glamorous enough to make the journalistic cut.
Yet most of the best live drama in America is to be found in what Variety still insists on calling “the stix.” The vast majority of large and medium-sized American cities can boast of at least one high-quality repertory company, and many have more than that. On any given night you can see about as many plays in Chicago or Washington, D.C., as you can in New York, and Minneapolis-St. Paul isn’t far behind….
The Journal has posted a free link to this column, so to read the whole thing–of which there is much more–go here.