Friday, June 27, 2008

Kudos to Dennis Baker

Great letter to American Theatre, Dennis! My contribution below:
While Teresa Eyring's editorial "How Theatre Save America, Part 1" highlights the wonderful artists of the Network of Ensemble Theatres, and pays particular attention to the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, whose long-time member Elizabeth Down I had the pleasure of sharing a post-show panel discussion with following Mike Diasey's June 15th performance of How Theatre Failed America, the fact is that American Theatre Magazine devotes all too little of its space to such regional ensembles. A tally of your recent issues reveals a fixation on theatres in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and even when you do feature a theatre not from those areas the article is usually written by a writer from New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Perhaps the real title of Daisey's piece ought to be How American Theatre Failed American Theatre. Your magazine needs to walk your talk, Ms, Eyring. You and your magazine could be leading a long-delayed renaissance in the regional theatre through a rediscovery of the original impulse as expressed by Margo Jones and Zelda Fichlander, among other; instead, you are trying to sandbag it. Everything is NOT all right.

Scott E. Walters
Asheville, NC
Theatre Ideas blog (
Blogged with the Flock Browser


Director said...

Pwnt! I'd write a letter, too, but I think both of you guys said it so well. I guess another voice couldn't hurt, right?

Scott Walters said...

The more the merrier!

silent nic@knight said...

American Theatre magazine is published by Theatre Communications Group. So one argument is that the magazine should represent and promote what TCG’s membership’s view of American theatre is, not some other editorial position. Of course American Theatre editors could and have justified an argument against this narrow view of American theatre. I had a few conversations on this topic with Ben Cameron when he was TCG head. From my understanding of the relationship between TCG and its publication, I would think your letter needs to be be addressed to the magazine’s Editor in Chief Jim O’Quinn rather than Teresa Eyring.

Also theatre journalists tend to move to cities where they can practice and get paid for doing so. Most likely candidate cities would be the ones you name. And assumption would be that Jim O’Quinn makes his judgments on quality and appropriateness of articles submitted to American Theatre according his editorial vision, rather than the address of the writer.

Scott Walters said...

Nick -- I sent the letter to the letters editor, whoever that is. The editorial was by Executive Director Teresa Eyring, so it seemed best to address her and not go around her. Apparently, she has decided to step out in front on this issue.

There are people who know and write about theatre around this country, whether for newspapers or as academics. While an editor may make selection from articles that are pitched to him, the decision to do theme issues and to assign topics is under his purview -- an editor is not quite as passive as you'd like to make out.

I am puzzled why you would defend the mainstream on this. There is something wrong, and someone must speak up about it. One way to do so is to hold the mainstream press' feet to the fire, especially when the media is a nonprofit whose mission should be to represent the entire field of American Theatre. Otherwise, just call the magazine "Nylachi Theatre" and be done with it.

silent nic@knight said...

Scott, you should know me better than that. Unlikely I would be defending the mainstream press beyond saying they have a right to exist in their dumb down of thought. In this case, I am merely characterizing American Theatre magazine and its relationship to its TCG parent.

“From The Executive Director” is an established one-page comment at the front of every issue American Theatre magazine, so nothing special with this “editorial”, as you call it. I believe Ben Cameron wrote this TCG comment every issue during his tenure. Usually he spoke generally to the “state of the nation” of not-for-profit theatre. This “TCG page” is probably the only page not under the editorial control of Jim O’Quinn.

Scott says “Hold the mainstream press' feet to the fire, especially when the media is a nonprofit whose mission should be to represent the entire field of American Theatre.”

But I read TCG’s mission as attempting to represent its constituency of theatre, not the entire field of American theatre.
Are you suggesting that TCG's “media” should represent a broader and more diverse community than the “436 not-for-profit theatres in 47 states and the District of Columbia” than they already do?

Scott Walters said...

No, I am suggesting they should represent those theatres more evenhandedly, instead of focusing on a few large theatres and a few large metropolises.

silent nic@knight said...

Well, then, I think you (and TCG) have a very narrow notion of what represents "the entire field of American theatre."

Scott Walters said...

I think you are parsing words now. Of course the TCG membership is not the "entire field of American theatre" -- there are over 1000 community theatres alone that stand outside their membership, not to mention all the independent and experimental groups that have no desire to be included under the TCG umbrella. Yes, I realize there were 1700 productions Off-Off-Broadway alone, most done by groups that do not fall under the TCG banner. It would be a bit unfair to expect TCG and American Theatre to represent those theatres, who fall outside their constituency. However, there is a much wider field within their membership than is represented in each issue of American Theatre, and I don't think it is out of bounds to ask that they more fully represent them. Also, Daisey's piece brings up important issues that also need to be addressed and not swept under the rug.

silent nic@knight said...

Daisey’s piece is not being swept under the rug. It became a breakout session at a TCG conference! And now the executive director of TCG in her column in American Theatre is also addressing it.

The monologue is first and foremost an artistic product that exploits the failing system it critiques. More than likely the piece will go into rep performance with Mike’s other monologues into tour of regional theatres around the country. Or as Mike characterizes his work within the system: the carrion bird. So he has created one more vulture to feed on the dying and dead remains of regional theatre. I think many theatre artists are doing something similar in managing their art and careers. This as much as the work of any administrator helps keep the system in place.