Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Theater Needs Critics

I was zipping around town yesterday and happened to tune in to my local membership funded NPR station. I was listening to Larry Mantle on Fresh Air. Larry is a sometimes embattled talk show host on KCPP, who is often criticized for bringing up 'soft topics'. However, Larry is a great reporter on the issues facing artists from an industry perspective. And while he does cover a lot of local and state political issues, he does a fantastic job keeping the public informed about the status of Arts and Culture in California.

Yesterday he chose to cover the topics of the cut backs in the news paper business and how the specifically hurt the Los Angeles Theater community. You're reading this here on line, so chances are you do not buy the local paper as much as you used to... or you never started. Well, guess what... a lot of people do not read the paper anymore, and that means that news papers are a dying breed in the traditional sense. It's sad to think that some of our most prolific news institutions will die off in the next 10 years, because they failed to create an online presence soon enough to move from the in hand product to the electronic product. Thus they newspapers are slowly but surely cutting jobs, and that means some of the most important critics in Los Angeles, got the axe this past week.

Most of us, who have produced theater, know that a great review means more butts in the seats and a higher box office review. Word of mouth is powerful, and that age old grape vine chain usually begins because a number of people read about a show in the paper, and then they go out and see it. Now, that the papers are cutting back their theater critics, less and less shows will be reviewed and exposed to the right demographic. So, the producers have a symbiotic relationship with critics. Producers need them in the right ways and at the right time. Now that the critics are out of work, Theater Producers will have one less reliable resource to spread the word about productions in town. This also means that some really good or even great shows will fail to be recognized in a manner that the 'general audience' can see. Sure, the truly 'In' theater buffs will know the game and what is out there, but that margin of dedicated audience members is so very small.

These cut backs mean that in L.A. the big Houses will continue to get press (Geffen, Pasadena Playhouse, Centre Theater Group Houses). While the mid level to high AEA99 theaters with a good rep will suffer terribly for the lack of coverage. While the low end producing done for small one time rental shows in NoHo and Hollywood will receive absolutely zero coverage from the papers. Word of mouth, blog reviews and Gold Star will now be the best marketing tool for the small time producer trying to get some steam on a good project.

The end result is a less informed audience, who already is penny pinching in this economy. With Oscar season up as well, the big time nominated movies with an artsy feel, will be a welcome and more cost effective alternative for patrons who would usually rather go see theater. Lean times all the way around.

No comments: