Monday, July 30, 2007

Theater, Schmeater

Just noticed that Theatreforte has linked to an online Q&A at the Onion's Ask the A.V. Club that discusses why the Onion doesn't publish theater reviews. In the interest of full disclosure, I was in negotiations with the Onion a few years ago about writing some reviews and features, mostly because I had become acquainted with someone I thought was a high-level advertising executive and wasn't, and wasn't, in fact, destined to have his job more than another week. That said, the way they treated me, knowing none of this, left something to be desired. When you read the text of what they said about this, below, you'll notice the soft phrasing, the oh so gentle sorry-but attitude, which is gracious of them. If only it 'twere twoo.

Bottom line: no economy of scale:

We absolutely do not have a "theater is irrelevant" editorial policy. The lack of extensive theater coverage is entirely a practical concern. The problem is that theater is time-and-region-specific. The Onion is currently published in 10 cities; every single one of those cities will have The Transformers playing in it at some point, and every single one of those cities has stores where you can buy the books and albums and video games and DVDs we're covering. (Even if they didn't, for some reason, you could still acquire those things online.) So when we review these things, we can run the reviews in all of our print editions, and online, and be relatively sure that they'll be relevant to all our American readers, at least. There's an economy of scale operating there that lets us keep our staff small and spread out over many cities.

Those reviews will also stay relevant for years to come in the archives, since the films we're reviewing today will mostly be out on DVD eventually, and most of the books and albums will remain continuously available—through the secondary market, if nothing else.

A stage play, on the other hand, is by nature ephemeral; once a given production folds, it ceases to exist, so reviews have no staying power, and they wouldn't mean much long-term. And the plays you're seeing in your city aren't the same plays other people are seeing in theirs; even when a huge show like Wicked is touring while also playing simultaneously in New York and Chicago, it's being put on by different crews and different sets of performers, and a review of one show can't necessarily stand in for a review of the other. So each city would need its own complete set of reviews, which couldn't be used anywhere else, and could only be used for a limited time.

Then add in the fact that we'd need an extensive staff in each city to handle coverage. On average, each city has a single editor managing local coverage; even if they saw a play every night (which would be impossible anyway, given how many shows only go up on the weekends), they wouldn't even make a dent in the larger cities' theater scenes. It'd be like just having one film reviewer for the whole paper, instead of the five we currently have covering the cinema beat.
But, of course, the Onion would still like theater-makers, not to mention theatergoers, not to mention everyone they know, everyone they do business with, and everyone they interact with, to pick up the Onion and patronize its advertisers. What would happen if the industry mobilized so as to attempt to deny the Onion -- and its advertisers -- their patronage?

I know, I know...won't work, won't work. I heard it all at the Community Dish meeting last night. "We're weak, we're woosy!" they cry in their biers (and beers). "We have no power, no muscles to flex. We'd rather get trampled on, ignored, condescended to. We'd rather whine and bitch and moan about the lack of media coverage of theater than to do something about it. Waaaaaaaah!!"

If so, you deserve what you get, kids. Enjoy Transformers.

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1 comment:

Jen said...

I heard a little bird who tweeted that the aforementioned rag may soon "86" their paper publishing, so the point may be moot.