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!