Even the most vivid dreams come to an end. The Dream Catcher company awoke Monday night from their 2-month reverie and enjoyed their final performance followed by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe. Another magical evening at the Fountain.
Dream Catcher enjoyed an extended two-month run that earned rave reviews. Actors Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell gave a thrilling performance Monday night. They were joined at a fabulous party in our upstairs cafe by director Cameron Watson, playwright Stephen Sachs, stage manager Emily Lehrer, Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor and producer Simon Levy, associate producer James Bennett and props designer Terri Roberts. Others attending were Jennifer Finch (“I and You”), Sabina Zuniga Varela (“El Nogalar”), Barbara Beckley (Colony Theatre), Michael Seel (Theatre@Boston Court), Dany Margolies, Sandy Baldonado, Kevork & Cecile Keshishian, and videographer Paolo Durazzo.
When Backstage “let go” Los Angeles theater writer Dany Margolies last January for “restructuring” reasons we knew it was a bad omen of darker times to come for the 53-year-old theater industry trade publication. Now, more bad news arrives: As of the April 11th print edition, Backstage will stop printing theater reviews, online or in print. Any of them. All of them. Gone. Done. Period.
Last week, The Executive Editor Daniel Holloway of Backstage sent the following memo:
An analysis of metric data by our executive team led to the conclusion that too few readers are engaging our reviews for Backstage to continue to invest resources in producing them. We will be shifting those resources primarily to the creation of additional advice, news, and features content.
Got that? No more critical analysis of the art itself. No more artistic assessment or creative survey of what is actually happening on stage. Who wants to read that? Apparently, no one. Instead, we want “advice, news and features”. The dumbing-down of American culture continues.
To Halloway and Backstage, “metric data” and investment resources appear to be more important than remembering that the name of their publication includes the word “stage”.
Ironically, the announcement from Backstage on Friday came after HowlRound — committed to modeling a commons-based approach to advancing the health and impact of the not-for-profit theater — devoted the week on a discussion of theater criticism.
In the ether of our online reality, are “User Comments” and Yelp reviews written by “people like us” holding more sway than a studied critique by an arts journalist? Do we now trust home-written blogs more than art experts? In the lightning-fast instantaneous tech-world of Tweeting and texting and Instant Messaging, are critical reviews being left behind and lost in the dust like relics from another era?
Or is the evil of Corporate Thinking overtaking and poisoning our art form? Are CEO’s of Arts Organizations — and Arts Publications — focused only on the bottom-line and not enhancing the art form they are meant to serve?
Or does the problem lie at the feet of the quality of dramatic criticism itself? Without question, the time has come to take a fresh look at and, perhaps, reinvent a new form of dramatic criticism that can respond in new ways to what happens on stage. What is that fresh approach? What will it look like? Which journalists have the skill, intelligence and artistic sensibility to lead the way?
The arts community has been complaining about the quality of dramatic criticism almost as long as it’s moaned about the dying of theater as an art form itself. As both art form and journalist run the risk of becoming more and more marginalized in today’s Info-Age, the more vital and essential both are revealed to be.
Intelligent and insightful arts journalism and dramatic criticism is essential for a healthy dialogue between the journalist, the audience and the art form we all love. The sad announcement last week from Backstage is another stab in the heart of the theatre community and a further silencing of the critical voice. Let’s not forget that the word critical not only means “to judge, find fault or criticize”. It also means “crucial, indispensable, and urgently needed”.
On Friday, February 10, 2012, the convicted killer of Ben Bradley was officially sentenced to life in prison. He will be eligible for a parole hearing in sixteen years.
The judge denied the motion for retrial submitted last month by the defense. In addition to sentencing, the judge ruled that the murderer must also pay $15,000 in restitution to the Bradley family.
The hearing took place in the Criminal Court Building in downtown Los Angeles. Present in the courtroom were Ben’s brother, Micheal Hill; the Fountain’s Deborah Lawlor, Simon Levy, and Stephen Sachs; actress Lisa Pelikan; and theater journalist (and Fountain friend) Dany Margolies.
When asked by the judge if he wished to make a statement or had anything to say, the murderer said “No”. He was then led away in handcuffs. To spend the rest of his life in prison.
As invoked in the final line of The Ballad of Emmett Till, the play Ben was directing two years ago when he was brutally murdered:
News about print newspapers is now seldom good. And news about newspapers in Los Angeles reducing or cutting theater coverage has now gotten worse. Here it is — the good, the bad, and the ugly:
Last month, Back Stage laid off Dany Margolies, the Los Angeles executive editor and theater editor. Without warning or notice. After eleven years championing the LA theater community, she was told by a young staffer that Back Stage was “restructuring”. Her services were no longer needed. It took her two days to remove more than a decade’s worth of work from her office using the post office tubs they gave her in lieu of storage boxes.
In an open letter to Back Stage readers in October, the new CEO and Chairman, John Amato, had expressed his excitement about taking over the company, adding “I would like to thank the dedicated, talented, and loyal Back Stage team, whose incredible work has gotten us to where we are today. ”
Three months later he fired Los Angeles theater editor Dany Margolies, national editor Jaime Painter Young, and other staff members including one in charge of casting notices.
John Amato states the publication is entering a “transformative period” as it moves exclusively to an online digital platform. Print media is fading fast and will soon be gone, going the way of vinyl LP’s.
Of course, if you’ve followed the magazine at all in recent years, the “transformation” at Back Stage is more than about going digital. Back Stage has become another Hollywood Reporter, with more focus and coverage of films, TV shows and movie stars than on the art form it was created to cover in the first place: theater and plays. Back Stage has sold its soul to Hollywood. Someone needs to remind Amato: It’s called Back Stage. Not Back Lot.
Which is why losing Dany Margolies at Back Stage is so painful. LA Theater has lost one of its strongest advocates in that office.
Los Angeles Times
The same week in January that Dany was laid off at Back Stage, it was announced that Lisa Fung, the longtime Online Arts Editor at the Los Angeles Times, had jumped ship to The Wrap, the entertainment website “covering Hollywood”. Word has it that the new editor making Arts assignments at The Times has meager knowledge of theatre and little familiarity with the many theatre companies in Los Angeles. Not good.
And now the Los Angeles Times has just announced that it will no longer provide online listings for plays, events or venues. It will list only critic’s picks online throughout the week, adding “select listings” and critic’s picks on Sunday. To make it even harder on folks in the LA theater community, the Times now requires that play listings be submitted directly to individual Times reporters and editors, to their personal email addresses. No more “@latimes.com”. So, if you don’t know Charles McNulty’s personal email address, you’re out of luck. And left out.
Meanwhile, over at the LA Weekly, editors decided two weeks ago to reduce the Weekly’s theater coverage even more than it already has in recent years. The Weekly had already eliminated its theater listings. And its former service of running all play reviews for the length of a play’s run. Now Weekly editors wanted the number of new theater reviews assigned each week to be cut down to six. Six! In a city that averages 20-30 new productions opening each week! It took passionate negotiating by theater writer/editor Steven Leigh Morris to convince the Weekly higher-ups that assigning only six reviews per week was absurd. A higher number was reached: eight.
Times are tough for print newspapers everywhere. Arts coverage in newspapers is slowly evaporating like an old faded photograph. The LA Weekly has reduced the size of its print edition and the scope of its theater coverage. Back Stage is going digital. The Tribune Company, owners of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
We need to understand the impact of technology on the live performing arts. Technology has emerged as our biggest competitor for leisure time: the average American spends 25.7 hours of leisure watching television or online each week. Internet consumption per person has grown to 14.2 hours per week. By the time Net-Gen-ers reach their twenties, they will have spent more than 20,000 hours on the Internet and an additional 10,000 hours playing video games.
We are in the middle of a transformation of cultural expression and communication—a realignment that is shaking the newspaper and publishing industries.
So, where’s the good news?
Here: As arts coverage in newspapers declines, theater-related blogs and websites are flourishing like never before. Folks are blogging, posting, tweeting and chatting online about theater — and sending their friends to see plays they “like”. With audiences wielding iPhones, the experience of going to the theater involves more than just seeing a play. Its about sharing the experience with friends.
And Here: More theater is being created and produced in Los Angeles than ever before. Against all odds, the number of theater artists developing new work in Los Angeles grows. The hopeful urgency of the artists’ need to create and share work with other human beings lives on and still flourishes.
No doubt, these are dark times to be an artist of any kind. In this city, in this country, in this culture.
As theater artists, we can curse the darkness — or light a candle. And in Los Angeles, thousands of theater candles are being lit everywhere, every night, all over this landscape.
Let’s keep our candles burning! Together, we illuminate the world!
In the Criminal Court Building in downtown Los Angeles on January 3, 2012, almost two years to the day that the brutal murder was committed, the judge announced that the killer of Ben Bradley can expect a sentence of life in prison with eligibility for parole in 16 years.
Several members of the Fountain Family were present in the courtroom to give Victim Impact Statements. Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs represented the Fountain with a passionate eloquent plea, repeating the phrase “Everybody loved Ben”; Producing Director Simon Levy read a beautiful letter from theatre critic Dany Margolies of Back Stage; Adolphus Ward, one of our beloved actors, spoke movingly about the larger impact of Ben’s murder, intoning “one man killed, many died” ; Rebecca Lackner, a friend of Ben’s brother, read a letter from sound designer David Marling; Barbara Ramsey, subscriber and friend, spoke lovingly of Ben’s impact on her son; and Ben’s brother, Micheal Hill, spoke of the heartache to his family and the uniqueness that was Ben’s spirit. Others from the Fountain Community — actors, designers, friends — were there to show their support and solidarity on Ben’s behalf.
The defense filed a perfunctory retrial motion (standard procedure). There will be a procedural hearing on Feb 10 for the judge to officially rule on the retrial motion but he already said in court that, barring some extraordinary circumstance, he will deny it. And the legal process will be over. And prison time will begin.
The judge remarked in court that it was clear that Ben was widely loved and admired, and that the proceeding that morning was “a sad day”. He also commented that he had deliberated many murder cases in his long career as a judge. This crime was particularly brutal. Referring to the sentence and the obligatory retrial motion by the defense, the judge looked to the killer sitting opposite at the defense table and said “don’t get your hopes up” about any option other than life in prison.
Our deep thanks to those who were able to be there in court with us on Ben’s behalf, and to all of you who sent emails of support. We love you all.