July 30, 2008

The Hometown Paper for Theater Lovers

We New Yorkers can be a provincial lot. Particularly when it comes to theater. Although, in our defense, that’s somewhat understandable. For to paraphrase what was once said of Rome, all stage roads seem to lead to Broadway. But, of course, many of those journeys—be it that of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s August: Osage County from Chicago or the Intiman Theatre’s original production of The Light in the Piazza in Seattle—began, and were nurtured, elsewhere. And there’s no better survey of the lay of that land than the Theatre Communications Group’s magazine, “American Theatre.”

One of the hottest topics in media circles is whether newspapers and magazines are becoming obsolete now that people can find all kinds of information on the web. I’m clearly an Internet fan (you are, after all, reading my blog) but I was weaned on paper and ink and I first started writing about theater for print publications, including the late and still-lamented (at least by me) “TheatreWeek.” So although reading theater blogs is now as much a part of my daily routine as my morning shower, it's a special pleasure for me to be able to kick back with an edifying magazine. And I had a great time this week when I sat on our terrace going through the summer issue of “American Theatre.”

The Theatre Communications Group is the trade organization that promotes some 460 non-profit theaters across the country. Its activities range from hosting conferences where theater administrators can trade ideas to organizing programs like Free Night of Theater, which offers free tickets to first time theatergoers; this year’s event is scheduled to take place on Oct. 16 in over 100 cities (click here for more info).

TCG also produces several publications including “American Theatre,” which is kind of a hometown paper for the community of theater lovers across the country. Each issue includes interviews with showmakers, discussions of issues facing the industry, reviews, a calendar of the shows scheduled at theaters in just about every state in the nation, plus the complete text of a new play. Even the ads (from publishers peddling books on theater, schools touting their theater curricula, and companies announcing their new seasons) are worthwhile reading.

Yes, you can find most of this information by trolling various websites. But how handy to have it all brought together in one place by folks who not only love theater but really know it. (Those of you who can’t stand to tear yourself away from the screen can find excerpts by clicking here). The current issue features an intimate interview with Nicholas Martin, the new head of the venerable Williamstown Theatre Festival; excerpts from a discussion with three successful playwrights about the pluses and minuses of writing for the stage versus the screen; a comprehensive review of this spring’s Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky., a look at an innovative program that gets college kids into theaters and a first-person assessment of whether it’s a conflict of interest for theater critics to be friendly with the folks whose shows they critique.

But what I like best is how comparatively little of the magazine focuses on New York. It’s a reminder for those of us in the city of how much good theater there is in the rest of the country (I'm already itching to get to Kentucky next spring) and for those of you who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away from Broadway of how easily—and fulfillingly—you can satisfy your theater jones until you get here.


Anonymous said...

Wow, don't let Scott see this post.

Having said that, I really enjoy "American Theatre" magazine. I especially like the excerpts and interviews. Great stuff.

Esther said...

I'll have to look for this. Whenever I go to Borders or Barnes & Noble, I always wish there were a theatre magazine amid all the movie magazines and other pop culture fare. While obviously there's a tremendous amount available online, I definitely agree that it's nice to have a magazine to hold in your hands.