The Playgoer: The Regional Sideshow

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Regional Sideshow

I'm glad the NY Times gives some space today to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at Ashland, OR, one of the nation's major professional theatre venues and one particularly respected for its quality of work.

Of course, it's only 100 words, and devoted solely to the logistics of changing scenery from one of their rep shows to the next. In brief: Wow, look at how stagehands move big thingees.

Not to take anything away from Ashland, or from stagehands. But ambitious rep companies with multiple stages featuring the latest state-of-the-art design technology is not just something for the boondocks. Such an institution is a fixture in most European cultural capitals. It's as if the New York cultural elite never dreamed such a place was possible. Ashland is second to none, I'm sure. And should be praised as such, not as some "Backpage" sideshow.

The only other piece I recall NYT doing on Ashland was a love letter to one of its donors. I hope one day they actually go see a play there.


Anonymous said...

Well, now that Bill Marx has been separated from WBUR, I think we can see that this is the general tendency of this new arts "journalism" -- that movement away from criticism and longer thought-pieces to these little newsoid squibs and trivialities.

I can only guess at the editorial rationale for all this, but I suspect that newspapers and traditional media outlets want to retain the glamour and curiosity value of celebrity and art without having to think about it much, and by dressing it in the habit of that "objective" journalism (i.e., we have arts reporters now rather than arts critics), the opinions of columnists and critics can now be more generally diluted into the corporate editorial vision of the outlet in question. (And it would be churlish, not to mention paranoid of me, to make the additional observation that by lessening the frequency of bad or negative reviews, giving that space over instead to so-called objective reportage, fewer advertisers will be miffed. But again, churlish and paranoid.)

So media outlets can continue now to say that they're covering the arts, even expanding arts coverage, as they lessen the amount of genuine discussion of the arts. And because facts is facts, these arts reporters can easily do their jobs without any deeper understanding of the ideas and history that have shaped the art they're covering: a few interviews, get the facts straight, and there's your arts coverage.

Single Lane Media said...

Playgoer's heart is in the right place, but regarding the New York Times as the sine qua non of theatre coverage is itself a bit out of date (unless you intend your blog only for a New York audience -- in which case, how come I enjoy it so much out here on the west coast?). These days, the Times is really just another local paper; those wanting to follow Ashland can do so via the websites of the Ashland, Portland, San Francisco, or Seattle papers. Does it really matter if the Times chimes in?