Monday, March 24, 2008

The Nylachification of American Theatre Magazine

For a few months now, I have had a sense that American Theatre Magazine, the flagship magazine of the American regional theatre, seemed to be focusing primarily on Nylachi. But I told myself no, you're probably cherry-picking. But yesterday, I decided to take a look at the February 08 articles and count the articles written by Nylachi authors or written about Nylachi theatres. Here is what I found:

Feature articles:
  • Nylachi:10
  • Non-Nylachi: 1
News in brief
  • Nylachi: 3 (plus probably two more labeled "cyberspace" about Tommy Tune and Willie Nelson / Anthony Herrera, who obviously aren't really regional artists)
  • Non-Nylachi: 4
Well, maybe that's an aberration. So I dug out the Januray 08 edition:

Features
  • Nylachi: 9
  • Non=Nylachi: 2 [although I didn't really know where to put an essay by Naomi Wallace and an articel about Penn (of Penn and Teller) doing Macbeth in NJ -- add them here if you'd like]
News in Brief
  • Nylachi: 9
  • Non-Nylachi: 3
So what gives? Theatre Communications Group was created by the Ford Foundation back in the 1960s to serve as a service organization for regional theatre, and on the masthead for the magazine it says "Theatre Communications Group is the national organization for the American theatre." So have they decided that the American theatre is a Nylachi -- and primarily a New York -- phenomenon? Have they decided it really isn't worth the effort to venture outside of Manhattan? Is it just that money is tight and they can't afford to travel, or does this represent a real blindness?

It's not that the articles aren't interesting -- they are. It's just that nearly everything is being filtered through a particular lens. When articles on "Master Acting Teachers," for instance, include two teachers from Yale, two from NYU, Columbia, and Rutgers -- oh, and then U of Washington and U of South Carolina, one senses a certain geographical bias. How might one create such a list? What sort of research does one do to arrive at that grouping. It wouldn't be by asking your NYC actor friends, would it? Or just assuming that the "name" programs must have the "best" acting teachers? This is a self-perpetuating system, and I find it annoying that it is being aided by a magazine whose reason for being is the advancement of regional theatre.

Perhaps the magazine is just reflecting the current realities of the regional theatre movement, and if that is true, then it is simply more evidence that the regional theatre movement has sold its soul to the NY-centered commercial theatre. If it doesn't reflect the current realities, then what the heck are the editors thinking? Surely there are writers who don't live in Nylachi who might be qualified to write about the theatres in their own region, for crying out loud; surely there are regional theatres west of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon Line who deserve some attention. I'm not proposing that we ignore Nylachi -- heaven forbid, there is too much good stuff going on -- but an attempt at balance might be nice. American Theatre now includes a section in each issue about theatre around the globe, so maybe they could start looking at the South and the West as foreign countries and put them in this section...

10 comments:

Devilvet said...

What alternate press/media is there if AT doesn't do enough for nonNYLACHIs? Can we expect AT to change? Or is there another venue?

There are multiplying sites about theatre tribes and what not...where is the site that speaks about the content with neat pictures and what not? It may be out there...sort of the nonNYLACHI digital equivilant to what the village voice used to be back in the day? We fret alot here (and that is a good thing) but do we (or you...if you can;t include me since I'm CHI) have a place where we can see the fun, sexy, side of nonNYLACHI theatre?

Devilvet said...

Ian, I think is doing something like this in Canada with his ten questions? is that a viable opinion to get the word out?

Devilvet said...

viable option I mean...ugh these lobster claws!!!!

Anonymous said...

Have you asked the AT editorial staff your editorial questions? Or is it more fun to jump to your conclusions?

Apart from that -- it's interesting to consider whether localized theatre tribes of the kind you envision would want or need national press. If the artists, audience and means of production are all to be locally held, wouldn't the local media be the only area of concern?

Scott Walters said...

What conclusions am I jumping to? I printed some facts: the majority of the articles are by Nylachi authors or about Nylachi theatres. My conclusions are: they're not paying attention to the regions. Is this a conscious editorial choice? I doubt it. Nonetheless, it is a pattern.

In answer to your question, though: no, national press wouldn't be a primary concern for a tribe. Of course, the regional theatres aren't tribes, so it would be a different situation.

dv -- Yes, a network of people reporting on what is going on would be a great idea. And possible with blogs.

Devilvet said...

Well, where are the people? It would be great if local critics and freaks took that prime real estate. It is a vacuum that could be filled. Even a NYLACHIan like myself...I used to be satisfied checking the villagevoice and nytimes online, but that is starting to sound like the same song over and over again. SXSW seems to have done a good job promoting nonNYLACHI music and film...

I know there are a ton of creative people in Atlanta and Orlando and Miami and Tallahassee and Wherever that Chapell Hill is... It would almost be like another country...and that is what could be thrilling about it, a vaster array of performative folks. I cant do anything about it from CHI accept to ask pretty please for someone down there to either step up or point me to where they already have stepped up.

The next time I drive through pigeon forge it would nice to catch something other than the Mandrell sisters

Anonymous said...

I recognize these questions as thinly veiled conclusions-jumped-to:

"So have they decided that the American theatre is a Nylachi -- and primarily a New York -- phenomenon? Have they decided it really isn't worth the effort to venture outside of Manhattan?"

and

"one senses a certain geographical bias. How might one create such a list? What sort of research does one do to arrive at that grouping. It wouldn't be by asking your NYC actor friends, would it?"

and

"the regional theatre movement has sold its soul to the NY-centered commercial theatre."

But perhaps even more to the point, this entry represents serious backsliding into the We/They thinking you waste so much time and energy on.

When you have a good idea, you pursue it with great energy. That's admirable. But when you waste that same energy taking potshots at your theatrical fellows, one must question why.

It is, in the end, your time and your energy. You're going to do what you want with it.

Scott Walters said...

See my post on accountability: people who are given money to do a certain job ought to do that job. Don't you think?

Jacob said...

I'm going to do a little self-promotion here -- Stage Directions magazine, which I recently became editor of, is committed to promoting/examining/reporting on theatre of all levels, everywhere. In the April 2008 issue we have 15 mentions of theatre companies/schools/organizations. These aren't just off-handed remarks but either major elements of a story (e.g., talking to three different artistic directors about how they choose a season, none of whom were based in NYC). Of those 15, only 3 were based in NYC. One was from L.A. Every other source was based across the country, including Kansas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Iowa, etc. As a magazine we focus on the practicalities of creating better theatre, no matter what your skillsets are, and on educating the next generation of theatre artists -- which means letting them know what's going on everywhere. There is an alternative. Check out our March issue online: stage-directions.com/current-issue. Alright, I'm done stumping, thanks for your patience.

Sarah Hart, managing editor, American Theatre said...

Mr. Walters,

Your concerns about expansive coverage for theatres across the country, regardless of urban proximity, are valid and something we struggle with in every issue. We work to balance a range of diversity over all our issues, including geographic, stylistic, racial, age and size of theatre, while still telling compelling and timely stories. Does it come out evenly in every single issue? Of course not. Does the ongoing reporting in American Theatre show an honest breadth of the work that exists? We hope so.

Still, breaking our national theatre community into reductive statistics is complicated. I doubt an accurate tape measure exists. So many stories reflect national issues and transcend so-called regions. Should we be ghettoizing our writers or training programs because they have a specific address, when their plays or students fan out across America and often internationally? In our April issue is an essay by Wallace Shawn on his writing process; he’s obviously a New York writer, but he reports that his favorite production of his work was done by Rubber Rep in Austin, Tex., whose productions are prominently featured in the issue. Is that a New York story? What about profiles of Julie Marie Myatt and Craig Wright, both playwrights based in Los Angeles, but who have had important productions in Ashland, Ore.; Louisville, Ky.; Houston, Tex.; Washington, D.C.; and Minneapolis, in addition to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Our March issue features the text of a play by Tarell McCraney, who lives in New York, but whose play premiered at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and takes Louisiana as its setting. He’s interviewed by a Miami-based journalist. Our December cover features a community-oriented production in Arkansas.

That said, I do wonder which features you were counting and which you weren’t; my tabulations come out differently for the January and February issues.

We are eager to receive pitches and press releases from writers and theatres all over the country--from you or from anyone who might read your blog. The more theatres are in communication with us, the more we can look for the right ways and times to cover them.

Sarah Hart, Managing Editor, American Theatre
with the American Theatre staff