Goodbye Hello, A Memo to the L.A. Theater Community
“I say high, you say low
“You say why, and I say I don't know
“You say goodbye and I say hello . . .”
In the program of the off-Broadway production of my play Beachwood Drive last year, I wrote in my bio, somewhat facetiously, that among my proudest accomplishments was surviving six rounds of layoffs at the L.A. Weekly. The joke is now on me. That survival streak ended yesterday, when the newspaper's corporate uberseers in Phoenix eliminated the position of Theater Editor at the paper. Over six years, the “transitions” at this and other papers in the chain have become the alt-weekly's answer to the French Revolution.
In 2002, the New Times alt-weekly chain “merged” with its rival Village Voice chain, of which the L.A. Weekly is a part, renaming the hybrid, “Village Voice Media.” The merger was leveraged on insurmountable debt on the cusp of a global economic meltdown. The L.A. Weekly's excellent Editor-in-Chief Laurie Ochoa and Publisher Beth Sestanovich have always said they believed in promoting good writers, and good writing. And they always put their money where their mouth is. But now the money has run out.
After almost 30 years, the Theater Editor position in a city with 2,000 professional plays opening every year was determined by Phoenix to be a fiscal extravagance. My understanding is that Ochoa and Sestanovich vehemently protested this decision to eliminate my position and worked to negotiate some alternative with Phoenix, but were overruled. Much earlier, Phoenix eliminated the Theater Editor position at their flagship New York paper, The Village Voice, in a city that's the theater capital of the world. So their latest, local beheading is hardly surprising.
For me, it was a good 20-year run that has, in addition to supporting a deserving and dedicated theater community through organizing and advocating for prodigious coverage of the theater scene, and the annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards, included, in my case, writing feature articles on diverse topics, from arts and politics in Russia and Poland, to stories on local redevelopment and about riding L.A.'s buses and trains, to barnyard poultry in my own back yard. Can't exactly complain about those eccentric opportunities.
Ochoa and Sestanovich, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, have both expressed their concern that the paper continue to support L.A.'s theater community, and they've asked me to continue to play a role in that support. I'll be helping organize the paper's Theater Awards, and will continue writing about local theater, in the paper and on this blog. I'll also be consulting with Arts Editor Tom Christie on coverage of the theater scene. As of today, my new title is “Critic-at-Large.” Goodbye. Hello.
Check back here Monday after noon for next week's New Theater reviews
The Comprehensive Theater Listings feature of this blog returns on Monday.