Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Future Just Happened

The Weekly Dig’s Performing Arts pages have had tumbleweeds blowing through the archives for a while, and we just found out that Carolyn Clay has been let go by the Boston Phoenix.

We had a Stagesource Conference last year in which we, as a theatre community, discussed Boston’s prospects of being known as a "theatre town."

Now we are at a point where not even the alt weeklies seem to be interested in covering the scene here. Jenna Scherer, a young critic with a very sharp style, who was willing to engage with the fringe theatre community, decamped from the Weekly Dig to Boston Herald. Terry Byrne left the Herald and ended up at the Globe. I wonder where Clay will end up?

It is not as if we are suddenly braking from 60 to zero at the Phoenix though. Clay’s column space was condensed considerably a while ago, and she would try to cover up to three productions in the same space one show would formerly be critiqued. Stringers such as Liza Weizztuch, another young voice, appeared less often on the Phoenix’s pages.

The Edge does a very admirable job hustling around to cover theatre and Bay Windows remains fairly consistent, but obviously limited in scope.

When we turn our eyes online, the situation is hopeful, but not completely reassuring. Thomas Garvey’s The Hub Review is a consistent provider of critical coverage of the theatre scene in Boston. Larry Stark’s Theater Mirror keeps on chugging, but Larry has written much about his health and how he has found it very hard to write reviews. So, with Larry’s output slowed and with the sad passing of Will Stackman, the Mirror has lost its two lead work horses. There are still reviews being submitted, but many shows fall through the cracks.

Bill Marx started his ArtsFuse after WBUR pulled the plug on Bill and perhaps on the most forward-looking Arts Pages out of any of the city’s mainstream outlets. (And I say that with ALL seriousness.) However, The Arts Fuse is not, primarily, a theatre page - the last stage review was of the Huntington's Miracle at Naples.

Sandy MacDonald, sometimes freelancer for the Boston Globe, holds court intermittently at Theatermania. (Again her last review there was of <Miracle at Naples. She isn't really broad based though - I think six of her last eight reviews on TM were for Huntington shows.

There are other sites out there that do occasional reviews. For instance, Boston Theatre Reviews is a blog by Monica Pendergast and PT at Large cover theatre as well.

ArtsBoston has officially launched their new website, and it is impressive. More important to this discussion, it has a relatively active “Citizen’s Reviews” section appended to each show. Is this the future? Hard to say.

The landscape of theatre discussion, criticism and journalism HAS CHANGED here in Boston. It isn't speculation anymore; we are definitely on new terrain. And we probably have been for a while now.

I am interested in what people think will happen or is happening.


Thomas Garvey said...

We'll see about the ArtsBoston site. I attended a meeting at their offices which seemed to be organized to explore the integration of online critical writing into their new site. I was a little perplexed by this effort, because they're essentially a promotional, not journalistic, organization (and there's nothing wrong that). Sure enough, it turned out that full reviews could only be posted by "members," i.e. the theatres and producers who support, and are served by, ArtsBoston. Nothing inconsistent about that, but when I pointed out that members would very likely only post positive reviews, I was assured that no, today producers and consumers were far more sophisticated about such things, and negative reviews were sure to be included. Well, call me a Luddite, but also call me skeptical. I was told I could still post links to my reviews on their "Citizen Reviews" tab - which I did. But now I've been told those have been taken down, and they're considering a separate tab for them. Whether I'll be able to post to that tab myself remains in question (but I rather doubt I will). Of course ArtsBoston is only acting in a manner consistent with the interests of its members - but I'm not sure whether those interests will support a critical online community, which would be a positive next step after the meltdown of the print media.

Bill Marx said...

I was at a meeting about the ArtsBoston site and have some of the same reservations about its interest in featuring independent and honest opinions -- at least judgments that are critical.

If the site is about publicity -- only posting positive, acceptable verdicts -- ArtsBoston should say so. That would be fine -- let the reader beware.

The problem for ArtsBoston is that, with the mainstream theater reviewing world melting down, the old places that featured credible and dependable "run, don't walk" criticism are disappearing. And the "citizens" are unruly.

I was told via email not to send in links to any new reviews because the "Citizen Reviews" tab was being taken out of service. I asked about what new tabs were being considered and never received an answer ...

Art said...

Bill and Thom both bring up interesting information.

I had already posted a few times about how the ArtsBoston Citizen Reviews tabs seemed to be pretty active, with both good and bad comments.

I know the Globe's theatre reviews are starting to percolate on the comments section lately as well. Although, I have detected in the past that comments may have been removed for reasons other than vulgarity or taste, etc.

I know the folks at ArtsBoston sometimes read this site. So maybe they can respond.

Maybe the Globe should push beyond just an active comments section and move into an active theatre weblog. (Take a look at the Chicago Trib for an example.) Ty Burr and Wesley Morris have their Movie Nation blog.