Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When Will Boston Know It's A World Class Theater City?

Porter Square T is awash in theatre ads!

That was one of the questions headlining a Stagesource Boston Theatre Conference a few years ago.

The comparisons to Chicago, Seattle and Washington D.C. were made frequently in the breakout sessions and in the chatter in the lobby.

With ArtsEmserson exploding onto the scene this year, and smaller companies doing, quite frankly, some amazing theater (i.e., Whistler in the Dark's Tales from Ovid last fall, it seems like maybe we have arrived.

I didn't attend last month's Boston Theater Conference, but I was able to follow on Twitter. A bit of the conversation involved creating a Boston Fringe Festival, which might be a great step.

However, there is something a little weird about the recent Independent Reviewers of New England dustup in which Tom Garvey resigned from the IRNE committee under alleged pressure from a small number of companies.

Although, I feel strange writing "alleged" since somebody claiming to be Kati Mitchell from the American Repertory Theater pretty much outright confirms a lot of Garvey's story in a comment to his blog.

If you aren't caught up to speed on this, I think Ian Thal has a great post, with the relevant links, over on his blog today.

I agree one hundred percent with his closing paragraph:

But the bigger story is: pro-Garvey or anti-Garvey, this is being discussed on the telephone, by email, and in face to face conversations amongst theatre people, but no one in the local theatre press is covering this story either in print or online. Would the press be so quiet if something similar had occurred on the theatre scene in New York? Chicago? Washington, D.C.? Seattle? Minneapolis?

The behind-closed-doors nature of this is what makes it a little depressing.

If this were to have happened in Chicago or Seattle, wouldn't Brendan Kiley or Kris Vire at least have something to report on it?

If Don Hall or Tony Adams were to have a problem with a reviewer, I would most likely imagine them to publicly state their objections and openly pursue an agenda like this - perhaps with an open letter to the theatre community.

(By the way, I by no means want to put actions into the character of, words into the mouth of, or thoughts into the heads of these people I mention. I am just going off my years of following all of them.)

Of course, it is must be pointed out that the rival theater awards committee in Boston, the Elliot Norton Awards, has included writers for the Globe, Herald, Phoenix and other mainstream and alternative outlets. So it wouldn't be entirely surprising if they didn't care.

On a tangent to this debate, there is a unique question that comes with the rise of the independent online reviewer that I may explore in a future post. What is the appeals process? There is no editor at the Hub Review to whom a company can reach out. They must address Tom directly. One recourse a company may have is to deny the writer comps, which even Tom has expressed is entirely within their rights and in some ways understandable.

In other words, press comps are an instrument of the marketing and public relations department. If you consistently get unsatisfactory reviews, terminating the relationship with the writer makes a certain amount of economic sense, right? "Hey," one might imagine the P.R. rep saying to the reviewer, "what are we paying you for?"

Another step would be to deny the writer admission at all - which takes it up a notch.


Ian Thal said...

Let's just say that our conversation of the other day inspired me to ask the questions in public, instead of letting it wind around the grapevine.

Thomas Garvey said...

Just btw, looks like Geoff Edgers has posted something about all this on the Exhibitionist blog at the Globe. It's rather dismissive, but I guess at least it's SOMETHING.

Ian Thal said...

Edgers' blog post on the story went up earlier today. I made a few comments.

By the way, Tom, this is purely anecdotal and may say more about my choice in friends and collaborators, but the theatre folk I've spoken to in the last 24 hours are definitely more sympathetic to your position.

Thomas Garvey said...

Thanks Ian, that's nice to know. At the very least, I've gotten a great tag line out of all this - The Hub Review is now "the blog Harvard DOESN'T want you to read!!!"

Ian Thal said...

I saw that earlier today! It's a great tag line and a funny graphic!