GUEST BLOG: Why Saving Original Theater Journalism Matters to Broadway by Matt Britten

When I launched the theater industry newsletter Broadway Briefing about 3 years ago, I sent the first edition out to about 20 friends. I never could have imagined how quickly it would grow — or that I would never get any sleep again! The Briefing now reaches thousands of theater professionals in New York and around the world, including top influencers, award voters, and decision makers.

At Broadway Briefing, we celebrate the Broadway coverage from the theater sites, the New York news outlets, and sources all around the globe. However, after nearly three years of closely following theater news, the problem became clear: theater journalism is dying.

Critic and arts journalist/associate editor of The Stage Mark Shenton wrote a year ago of theater journalism, “As a supposedly niche interest … it is an area that is being subjected to death by a thousand cuts.” In the year since he wrote that, even more cuts have followed, affecting local, national, and global outlets and their theater journalists. You likely have heard about the recent spate of theater journalists leaving — or being forced out of — their posts.

The Briefing did not set out to start a theater news organization, but after a couple of years of reps, reporters, and readers sending us their tips, it seemed that we had one. So, as other organizations cut theater coverage, we moved quickly to launch Broadway News (www.broadway.news), a new home for quality original theater coverage.

Here are some of the principles that guide Broadway News, and why original theater journalism should matter to Broadway:

PUT THE NEWS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

“17 Craziest Patti LuPone Moments” listicles are fun. Millions of fans around the globe are dying to read them and share them. And that’s good for Broadway because it keeps us relevant even to those who aren’t in New York watching our shows.
At the same time, hard news is important too. When tax law changes are made that affect Broadway or legal battles related to new shows are being waged in court, it is important for those things to be reported. The outcomes of these stories affect what shows are produced on Broadway, who produces them, how much they cost, and more.

To many, such reports on the already narrow topic of theater could be considered boring. But to a particular audience, the Broadway industry and those interested in it, they are just the opposite, the most valuable information that is otherwise shrouded in secrecy and not reported on at all.

HIRE TRAINED JOURNALISTS

In order for theater news to be reported fairly and accurately, it is important for it to be reported by trained journalists.

This past fall, we hired Caitlin Huston as editor in chief of Broadway News. Caitlin joined Broadway News after covering startups and initial public offerings at MarketWatch, part of Dow Jones, and working as an editor at The Wall Street Journal. In addition to her business reporting at Dow Jones, Caitlin contributed to the WSJ’s Broadway coverage and helped to launch Broadway coverage at MarketWatch. She began her professional journalism career as a crime reporter.

We were looking for someone with a passion for Broadway, but also someone who would bring an outside eye to the industry, as well as superb reporting chops. Caitlin has proven an excellent leader for Broadway News.

PROTECT INSIGHTFUL CRITICISM

Theater criticism, in particular, has experienced a great number of cuts over the past year. So, it became important to us to provide a platform for critics’ voices to be heard.

We were thrilled to hire Charles Isherwood, a brand name in New York theater criticism. Previously of The New York Times, Charles has continued to critique Broadway in his unique and experienced voice.

It was also important to us to bring new voices to Broadway reviews, and so we were delighted to hire Elizabeth Bradley. Liz has a distinguished background as a theater professor and practitioner, having helmed both the NYU and Carnegie Mellon drama departments.
With Charles and Liz, the tradition of first-class theater criticism lives on with a new home at Broadway News.

ENCOURAGE DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES

One of our more recent efforts has been the launch of the “Views” section of Broadway News. This new section will be home to opinion columns from some of the most important voices in theater journalism, as well as a platform for new talent. The first two columnists are Jeremy Gerard and Janice Simpson.

Jeremy has been a critic, columnist and reporter since 1977, and has held prominent posts at The New York Times, Variety, The Dallas Morning News, New York Magazine, Bloomberg News and Deadline.

Janice directs the Arts & Culture Reporting program at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, spent three decades at TIME magazine, and has also served as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

They are extremely well-sourced theater journalists and their columns will reflect that, weaving their personal perspectives with new insights gleaned from interactions with key players on Broadway.

INSPIRE INDUSTRY INNOVATION

Theater is perpetually considered an industry that is lagging behind the innovation and disruption of others. And while there is reason for hope — new and exciting theater-adjacent businesses are now popping up nearly every day — there will always be a need to hold ourselves and our industry accountable. Real journalism is the best tool to challenge ourselves to look in the mirror and say, “Hey, how can we do better?”

If you’d like to support our effort and help us in the fight to reverse the decline in theater coverage, you can become a Broadway News subscriber today.

This coming Broadway season is going to be as dynamic and fascinating as ever, and Broadway News will be there to go beyond the press releases, providing context and conversation about the questions and challenges that face our industry every day.

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Matt Britten is a theatrical entrepreneur, writer, and producer. He created Broadway Briefing, a daily theatrical industry publication. Always seeking to innovate, Matt produced the groundbreaking first-ever app-enabled theatrical experience, BLANK! THE MUSICAL. Among other theatrical projects, he created ODYSSEY, an epic musical retelling of the classic myth. Matt previously served as Creative Director for the theatrical non-profit New York Musical Festival, where he conceived and oversaw the acclaimed “Musicals Live Here” campaign featuring Broadway talent in iconic roles. He also served on the Board of Directors for The Uprising, a New York City non-profit empowering underserved teens. Matt has worked for The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, The Weinstein Company, and was educated at Syracuse University, Shakespeare’s Globe, and programs with screenwriting legend Aaron Sorkin and powerhouse producer Arielle Tepper, both fellow Syracuse University alums. Matt has lived and worked in Detroit, Los Angeles, and London, and currently resides in New York City.

Broadway Grosses w/e 5/20/2018: No Mayday Here.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending May 20, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

Episode 156 – Pulitzer Prize-Winner, David Lindsay-Abaire

David Lindsay-Abaire wrote about a half-dozen plays before he ever considered himself a playwright.

Now, he’s got a big ol’ Pulitzer Prize to remind him of what he is and always will be, in case he ever forgets.

David told me the story of how he went from a guy in high school whose friends made him write a play, to a playwrighting student at Julliard, to the author of that Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole, Shrek, and more on this week’s podcast, and it’s a page-turner.

We also chatted about:

  • How his first play was a rip-off . . . and why.
  • What he looks for when he reads plays from prospective Julliard students, and how he usually knows in 3 minutes whether a writer has got “it” or not.
  • Why early readers of his work didn’t respond to Rabbit Hole and why.
  • How he uses “office hours” to meet his many deadlines.
  • His writing group that has existed for over a decade, and how it has helped him succeed.

It won’t take you very long into this podcast to realize why The Julliard School, which graduated him a few years ago, asked him to run the program.  David isn’t only a skilled writer . . . he is one of the few artists out there who can teach the craft, as well as the business of the craft . . . and he does a lot of that on this very podcast.

So tune in!

Click here for the link to my podcast with David!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

 

GUEST BLOG: Raising Your Artistic Babies: Sometimes it Takes a Village to Learn to Let it Go by Eric C. Webb

I’ve been thinking about collaboration a lot recently.

As a dramaturg who works with writers and composers of all stripes, and as a writer myself, collaboration is 99% of what I do every day. Every word of feedback I provide, every talkback or Writer’s Group I run, every note of encouragement… it’s all part of trying to help someone create the best possible work that they can.

Sometimes that collaboration can be hard work, however. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear that something isn’t being received the way you hope it will, or you’re afraid that you’re losing your own artistic voice in the development process.

A client of mine wrote me the other day with concerns regarding whether they should fight for what is “theirs” or go with the flow of collaboration and see where it all takes them. The analogy of children and nannies was bandied about, an idea that seems all the more relevant to me as I balance work with raising a 14-month old: both you and your caretakers theoretically have the best interests of your child in mind (just as you and your collaborators do with your project), yet new perspectives, ideologies and methods can seem foreign or unwelcome until common ground is found.

But that first time you put your baby out there in the world, allowing yourself to trust in the abilities of someone else… it’s absolutely terrifying.

The first day that my wife and I left our precious baby alone with a babysitter we were nearly as petrified with fear as we were the first day the hospital said “yeah, you’re all set… take him home (I’m sorry, what? Who said that we’re capable of this responsibility? Where’s the training manual?!).” We clung to our phones like life preservers, fighting the urge to text or call to check in, sighing with relief at each thumbs up or happy baby pic she sent.

In the end, my wife and I had to agree (as did my client) that our friends at Frozen have the right idea… sometimes you just have to… Let it go… (cue collective artistic groan) and trust those that we have chosen to share our life/project/baby with.

There are many of us, however, who tend to work in a bit more of a vacuum. We live and write, uncertain whether we are going down the right path or unclear whose opinion we should seek out. Friends and family are no longer quite helpful enough when they simply smile and encouragingly state “it’s great!” Their support is meaningful, but the actionable value of their feedback is limited.

As I come to the end of our first experiment with year-long Writer’s Groups, I’ve been struck by how a group of strangers, many of whom have been operating in just such a vacuum, have grown both in their ability to receive and act on feedback both positive and constructive, but have also learned how to communicate their own emotional and academic responses to other people’s work. Conversations become tailored to the person who is receiving feedback, and, in the end… we’ve all become collaborators. We all have the best interests of each other’s babies at heart, and our own experience and tales come to bear in helping to raise them to be clear, vital and valuable to our community. We may not have an active hand in constructing the work, but our feedback, support and care have aided our fellow artists. To cop from another Broadway giant… we are not alone.

This is all to say: my Writer’s Groups are one of the best things about my job, and something that I honestly look forward to with joy each session. I am loathe to use this space to sell myself, however I encourage anyone looking to become a better artist, a better collaborator, a better member of your artistic community… to consider joining us.

In art, as in child care, it sometimes takes a village.


ERIC C. WEBB is the Director of Creative Development for Davenport Theatrical Enterprises and Artistic Director for March Forth Productions as well as a writer and freelance dramaturg.

For Davenport Theatrical, Eric scouts and aids in developing new stage and film properties as well as providing script consultation and educational programming for the playwriting community.

Writing projects in development include Taking Step Three13 (a rock/rap adaptation of “Crime and Punishment” with composer Matt Doers, developed at the 2015 Johnny Mercer Colony at Goodspeed Musicals and the 2015 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat), Breakup – The Musical (an irreverent new musical with composer Stephanie Bianchi), Thompson/Gifford (a Gothic chamber musical) and Bonus Day (also with composer Stephanie Bianchi). Previous writing credits include Krampusnacht (segments commissioned by March Forth Productions), Tania (commissioned by White Rabbit Productions, published by Indie Theater Now), “Orion” (short film, produced by Second Star NYC), The Angels of Mons (March Forth Productions/Horsetrade at Theater Under St. Marks), Ubu – a twisted puppet show co-adapted from Jarry’s Ubu Roi, Playwriting is Easy and Strange Currencies.

Previous Literary Management/Dramaturgy credits include Literary Management for La Vie Productions (2009-2013), Associate Literary Manager for the 2008 John Gassner New Play Festival, Dramaturg for Stephen Sondheim’s Young Playwrights Inc. (2008 – present), Un-American Activities (new musical by William Norman), Escape From Happiness and Lynn Nottage’s Las Meninas (directed by Talvin Wilks).

Eric received his MFA in Dramaturgy & Literary Management from Stony Brook University (2008).

Broadway Grosses w/e 5/13/2018: Let’s Hear it for the Plays!

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending May 13, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

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