Theater Blog Roundup: Assessing 2022. Rebuilding. Reminiscing. Retiring?

Many of the dozen or so theater bloggers below offered end of year assessments for 2022, a less evidently emotional year than the previous two — but that’s just on the surface. “This year dismantled any naïve pipe dreams about a return to normal and replaced them with the realities of rebuilding,” Laura Halvorsen writes.
Several of the most prolific bloggers have disappeared – at least one, Terry Teachout, because he died. Others simply have drifted away from the form, which reflects the larger trend in the theater community about seeking…something else.  But, although several of those below make some mention of retiring, their claim is belied by their persistence, resilience, and reminiscences – about the many shows they saw by Richard Foreman (see George Hunka below), or the time they  facilitated  Samuel L. Jackson’s interview with his wife  LaTanya Richardson Jackson, who themselves reminisced about their own time in the theater.(The Wicked Stage.) Several writers (in OnStage Blog and HowlRound) offer strategies for rebuilding the theater.

Samuel L. Jackson and Latanya Richardson opening night of The Piano Lesson, and in college; Richard Foreman; Phantom of the Opera

Adam Szymkowicz offers a look back at his 2022 “I did only 10 interviews this year.  I’m kind of semi-retired now at the interview thing.  I used to do 100 a year” – his “interview thing” being his interviews with playwrights. He’s interviewed 1,116 since June, 2009.

For the latest, last month,Julia B. Rosenblatt,  he asked one of his standard questions: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be? 

A:  Purpose and access. Theater is essential to the human condition. It should not be something that is elite or reserved for specific times and places. Theater should be made and enjoyed by whomever chooses to do so. 

Adam doesn’t really sound even semi-retired. For one thing, he tells us he had six plays published in 2022, with four more scheduled for 2023. But even as an interviewer, one might be skeptical. After 1,000 interviews he wrote:  “I thought I would stop after 50.  I thought I would stop after 100.  And now I’m at 1000 and I think I’m done for real.  I’m just tired.  It’s inspirational but also sometimes it’s a lot of work.” That was two years ago.

The Bad Boy of Musical Theater, Scott Miller, assessed his 2022 in verse:

Twas a year full of New Line: Pandemic Year Three;
And the Bad Boy was back, to our fervent fans’ glee.
Their gratitude grew, with each gutfelt remark,
For letting them gather again in the dark
To be told a story, like we had once done,
Of human adventure and journeys begun.
But we never quite managed to run a whole run!

In her blog Broadway and Me, Jan Simpson catalogues her favorite theatrical things in 2022, and confesses she had never seen “The Phantom of the Opera” – until 2023!

It was such a hot ticket in its early days that I couldn’t get one and over the years—maybe the result of sour grapes—I convinced myself that it was a badge of honor that I hadn’t seen the most popular and successful show in Broadway history. But then came the news that Phantom was going to close.  

So I went. I saw. And although I can’t say I got conquered, I will concede that I now understand why people so love this show. It’s got insider jokes about opera for highbrow folks, Grand Guignol melodrama for the hoi polloi and lush hummable melodies that everyone can enjoy. Plus there’s the dangling chandelier

Richard Foreman on the set of King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe (2004). Photo: T. Ryder Smith.

George Hunka offers “a collection of my notes, reviews, and short essays about the work of Richard Foreman,” which is impressively thorough. It opens with this introduction:

“I stopped writing about theatre a decade ago, around the same time that Richard Foreman retired from the stage. I’ve been back to the theatre a few times since then, but I haven’t yet come across theatrical experiences quite as liberating as Foreman’s plays. His work was something of an acquired taste, perhaps, but I had no problem acquiring it. I can’t remember walking out of one of Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric productions at St. Mark’s Church without having a newfound awareness of the world and my place in it.”

HowlRound is so much larger than a blog that it doesn’t really fit this roundup, but it’s hard to resist. One of its latest articles is about Moonshot, a project that researches how theaters pick their shows for the season. In Every Production Is a Moonshot: Research on Improving Repertoire Selection, Kristin Patton and Nick Rabkin introduce their project bluntly acknowledging theater’s state of affairs

“After decades of audience erosion, the future of theatre clearly depends on more people choosing to attend. But that will require far more than continuing to invest in improving marketing and fundraising functions. It will require holistic new strategies to produce work compelling enough to artists and audiences to overcome the significant underlying social, cultural, and economic changes that have driven the erosion.” 

JK’s Theatre Scene, which now has two authors, Jeff and Mike, picks their favorites on Broadway in 2022 in three categories: productions; writing, design and direction; performances

The 2022 review by Lauren Halvorsen in her substack Nothing for the Group is for paid subscribers. It’s worth reposting her intro:

“For two years, the theatre industry has been trapped in a perpetual ping-pong match between hope and despair. Sometimes I feel relieved that I got laid off in June 2020, sparing me from the worst of the field-wide exhaustion and uncertainty. (Then again, I was so stressed about money that my hair fell out, so maybe not.) 

“The shift from shutdown devastation to reopening fragility, coupled with the ongoing racial and labor reckonings, was always going to be a complicated transition. This year dismantled any naïve pipe dreams about a return to normal and replaced them with the realities of rebuilding. The American theatre is in a flux state, but there was promise and progress amid the usual chaos and clownery.”

In OnStage Blog, founder Chris Petersen looks ahead, way ahead, to The 3 Ways Broadway Survives the Next 50 Years. They are in short:
Fully commit to a streaming option
Everything is a limited run until extended
Multi-theater packages

In “The Show Doesn’t Have To Go On, And That’s Okay,” Greg Ehrhardt uses the example of football player Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the field, and the emotional reaction to it, to argue agains the long-time view that “paying customers must be served at all times, no matter the cost to the performers. Admittedly, for a long time, this was an admirable trait. “The show must go on” represented determination, fortitude, resilience, and ambition. All of these are admirable traits in every profession. Other admirable traits in every profession, however, are compassion, empathy, kindness, and spirituality. If we focus on those traits, we come to no other conclusion than that it’s ok for the show to not go on.In fact, the show MUST not go on when its performers emotional well-beings are at risk.”

Rev Stan’s top ten plays of 2022 (in England)

 I haven’t been able to do a best-of theatre list since 2019 because of ‘you know what’. It’s been huge fun revisiting the plays I’ve seen – nearly 50. And while that total is down on pre-pandemic levels, it was still tricky to narrow down my choices, 

(Worth noting, Stacey Meadwell’s number one pick is “The Collaboration,” which is now on Broadway.)

Kevin Daly now posts just once a year on his blog Theatre Aficionado At Large, which is too bad because he is a true musical theater aficionado. The Year of Living Cinematically lists the movies he watched to the end in 2022, and 
My Year in Show Music, the cast albums, with links to detail about them from other websites.

Brian Eugenio Herrera’s Theatre Clique is an extremely helpful but intensely dense substack that links to articles of interest, rarely offering his personal take on things. But his latest edition does link to one of his latest podcasts, in which “I reflect on my halting return to theatregoing in 2022 with a brisk overview of ‘only’ 87 plays in 365 days.”

In The Wicked Stage, Rob Weinert-Kendt  reprints an Actor’s Dialogue between Samuel L. Jackson and La Tanya Richardson …from 1994, in an L.A. magazine Weiner-Kendt founded that’s no longer around. Things have changed. Samuel L. Jackson is now a well-known movie actor who is starring on Broadway in “The Piano Lesson,” which La Tanya Richardson Jackson is director – and Rob Weinert-Kendt is now the editor in chief of American Theatre Magazine, who was on his way to the TCG gala honoring this couple, who married 42 years ago.

An excerpt:

Sam: I found New York to be a lot more nurturing in terms of actors, egos, careers, and opportunities to work with different kinds of people. Way back when we first got to New York we had the opportunity to work with Morgan Freeman and Gloria Foster, and being in the same arenas with those people and watching them grow, it sort of gave me a standard for learning how to work I used to kind of academically go through the stuff I was doing. I guess I did it for a long time, having an intellectual understanding of the material and not an emotional understanding.

La Tanya: I think you had an emotional understanding, but I didn’t know what your investment was. Your dissection of the material was always so technically complete that it never bled into how you felt about it. It was always, “This is how it is, because this is how it should go.” It’s almost like you could read the writer’s mind and technically break down exactly the way he said it, exactly the way he meant it, exactly the way the director was going to take it And generally you were right.

Sam: For a long time, that’s what I thought acting was. I mean, it was acting, so it was about pretending to have those emotions and pretending to look a certain way or have the right expression at the right time or having the right vocal inflection. I didn’t realize for a very long time that I was supposed to feel that way on stage.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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