Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Arts Reporting: TCG's David Cote Profiles 12 Theatre Critics -- including Robert Faires

Found on-line, thanks to @travisbedard:

Theatre Communications Group 50

Critical Juncture

As theatres and audiences face a brave new digital world, 12 of the nation's most influential theatre critics talk about their towns and their changing roles

By David Cote, Time Out New York

Whenever I told friends that I was writing about 12 of the most influential theatre critics in America, I made sure to pause for the laugh. Are there a dozen out there? In this atomized age of Twitter and Facebook, with media outlets shedding arts staffers and shredding budgets, what constitutes influence? How was this list compiled?

Not scientifically, to be sure. But these 12 journalists made the cut for specific reasons: years on the beat, quality of writing, reach of their voice through syndication, and, lastly, understanding of the field. Another criterion is quite blunt: Many of them are "last man or woman standing" in their communities; after they retire or take a buyout, it's unclear if some blogger or junior critic will step up to fill the void. As such, they form a vital phalanx of critical opinion that chronicles and weighs work that national media outlets are content to ignore. These dozen writers may not be flashy prose stylists or even revolutionary thinkers about their art form. But they have dedicated years to the field—and certainly not to get rich.

[Profiled: Don AuCoin, Boston Globe; Misha Berson, Seattle Times; Christine Dolen, Miami Herald; Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle; Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle; Charles Isherwood, New York Times; Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune; Peter Marks, Washington Post; Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times; John Moore, Denver Post; Graydon Royce, Minneapolis Star-Tribune; Toby Zinman, Philadelphia Inquirer]

Austin: Robert Faires
Position: Arts Editor, The Austin Chronicle
Age: 53 Years on the beat: 18

Texas is too rangy for a single critic to dominate, and Robert Faires doesn't pretend to have a say about what plays in Houston or Dallas. As arts editor of the Austin Chronicle, he's responsible for overseeing not just theatre (which he's been reviewing since 1984) but also dance, visual arts, comedy and classical music—and that keeps him busy. He partly attributes the vibrancy of the Austin theatre scene to the constant influx of young talent from the University of Texas at Austin, but also to the creative tension that his city generates, being an oasis of liberal energy in a mostly conservative state.

Among his favorite companies, there's the ZACH Theatre, which produces local versions of contemporary musicals such as Spring Awakening and Next to Normal. And of course you can't discuss Austin theatre without including the Rude Mechs or Salvage Vanguard Theater. "In many ways, I think that Rude Mechs and Salvage convinced people in Austin that theatre could be made a different way here," Faires notes. "They showed that you could not only make compelling theatre but also survive for 15 years. And they're showing no sign of stopping; they're doing crazier, more original stuff every year." Faires, who grew up near Houston but has lived in Austin since 1976, is toying with writing a history of Austin theatre, which today boasts dozens of small, lively troupes that he likens to garage bands.

Quote: "Austin has been a refuge for young people all across the state for decades. Recently, I had the chance to interview Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt for the golden anniversary of The Fantasticks, and they were saying the same was true in the 1940s. They grew up in these small outposts around the state where no one was interested in theatre or the arts; they'd come to University of Texas, and suddenly they'd find all these people who shared their creative drive."

Click to read full text at the Theatre Communications Group website. . . .

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