Thursday, January 29, 2009

It's not just me.

As long time readers know, one of my issues is the failure of The Sun-Sentinel regional news outlets to continue to provide adequate coverage of the arts in general, and theatre in particular. I've stated that it's not good for the community as a whole, and I've pointed out that it's simply bad business.

The LA Times received a letter from the artistic directors of three major theatre out there. And guess what? They're saying the same thing I've been saying
"This will have a damaging effect on the theater community but it will also be detrimental to the soul and the cultural life of Los Angeles. In the most difficult of times or in the happiest of times, the live arts provide a human connection that is incomparable and irreplaceable. Theater helps sustain a meaningful dialogue that bonds citizens together. To understate the importance of theater in Los Angeles by marginalizing the voices of those who bring these discussions to the public arena is shortsighted and irresponsible.

"...we depend on the voices of critics and arts reporters to help create a conversation with our community. If we let these voices slowly and quietly disappear, the consequences are simple and inevitable: fewer people will know about the productions, fewer people will purchase tickets, and eventually, fewer theaters will exist."
Gilbert Cates;Geffen Playhouse,
Sheldon Epps; Pasadena Playhouse,
Michael Ritchie; Center Theatre Group

The local arts scene is something that people like to hear about - if it's competently covered. That means that the reviewer has to have a background in the events they are covering. You expect a sports writer to understand the rules of the games they write about, and the significance of team line-ups, and so on. It really is the same thing for the arts - ANY of the arts.

Seriously, can you see any honest newspaper editor sending out a fashion editor to cover the Superbowl? "#52 looked smashing as he broke through the lines and made a field goal, or something!" And yet that's exactly who the Sentinel foists on the National Tours of major Broadway shows. It's insulting. It's an affront to the producers, and an insult to theatre patrons.

Another point I keep making is that the local arts scene belongs to the local news media; they are not competing with CNN, MSNBC or USA Today. And even where there is a semblance of competition - when all three papers actually review the same show - this creates an opportunity for their readers to compare and contrast the different views of the show, and even to decide that one paper's critic has views more like their own.

And the three LA directors agree with me:
They should also understand what studies have shown: businesses are drawn to cities with a vibrant cultural life. Arts coverage helps support this cultural life.
In a later story, Sheldon Epps makes a point that I've made several times:
"That's really the important point: Not so much the critics and reviews, but the conversation that goes on about theater. The need for people to talk about theater in this town --to agree to disagree, to write about what is exciting."
Of course, this is exactly why this blog was created; to bring all the stories and reviews together, and to give you, the patrons, performers and producers of South Florida Theatre, a place to participate in that conversation.

It's unfortunate that the stories that have garnered the most activity are the most negative stories I've presented here. I have actually posted much more positive stuff, and rarely does it get a comment. I'd really love to see that change.

The artistic directors did have another suggestion:
Among the other highlights, Cates suggested a sort of peer-review system in which people who run theaters assess the work being done at other theaters. And the reviews, he said, could run alongside those of the newspaper critics.
This is an idea that has been floated around these parts. Some Carbonell nominators were saying they'd love to see designers attending shows and offering up their opinions on the more technical aspects that the average theatre patron may not be able to fully appreciate.

So here's the proposal: I will break the reviews out of the weekly Scene wrap up, and create a seperate article for each show that gets reviewed. As more reviews come in, I will add them to the article and post it with a more current date. Then you, the people who perform, produced and patronize these shows, can append your own comments. You can comment on the show, on the reviews of the show, pitch in things you liked or didn't like or that didn't get mentioned.

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