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TBA Online: News & Features: September 2013

Editor’s Note September/October 2013: Ch-ch-changes

Friday, August 30, 2013  
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By Sam Hurwitt



It was a time of great upheaval. It was a time of migration and renewal. It was a time of packing boxes.




"327 of 365: Everyone’s A Critic” by Liz Ferla on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

A whole lot happened during the editorial cycle of the September/October issue of Theatre Bay Area magazine. Lily Janiak joined us as our new listings editor, taking over the post when Caroline Anderson headed off to journalism school at Columbia University. Some of you may know Lily as the theatre critic for SF Weekly, and she’s already proving to be a great addition to our staff. Argo Thompson has also come aboard as Theatre Bay Area’s new director of advancement and communications, starting in August a few days after this issue goes to press. You can read more about Argo’s appointment in Newsfeed.

Most dramatically for us, we moved our offices at the end of July. We can now be found directly over the ACT Costume Shop (and Civic Center BART station) at 1119 Market Street, 2nd Floor. This is actually our second move in the six-plus years since I came aboard. It’s strange to think that I’m one of only four people on staff who were here for the last move four years ago, when we relocated from the Flood Building at Powell and Market (on the same floor where Dashiell Hammett had worked as a Pinkerton detective) to our digs at Mission and South Van Ness. It’s crazy how much changes when you’re busy focusing on the day-to-day, week-to-week, issue-to-issue business of putting out a magazine.

Another big change: Theatre Bay Area is starting an awards program! Brad Erickson spilled the beans in last issue’s Executive Director’s Note, but more details are forthcoming that you can read about in Newsfeed.

In fact, so much is going on that it’s already the fifth paragraph, and I’m just getting around to mentioning that it’s the Fall Preview Issue! Inside the pages of the magazine you’ll find the season listings of member companies all over the Bay Area. Also, Lisa Drostova talks to various companies about season planning—specifically, plays on hot-button topics that they may be planning as much as a few years in advance. The San Francisco Fringe Festival hits the Exit Theatre in September, and associate editor Laura Brueckner looks at several now well-established companies that started at the Fringe lo these many years ago.

In other, less seasonal features, Jean Schiffman asks various artistic directors the delicate question of what plans they’re making for succession when they eventually move on. Lily Janiak takes a look at what managing directors actually do, and San Francisco Bay Guardian critic Nicole Gluckstern explains why the notion that theatre critics are somehow out to get you is just nonsense.

This last topic is one I encounter a lot, because I’m a freelance theatre critic myself—for the Marin Independent Journal, KQED Arts and—and it’s amazing how often I encounter people who really think that reviewers go out to shows for the express purpose of panning them. I can understand why people would want to believe, if a show that either they or a loved one of theirs was involved in received a poor review, that it was motivated by personal bias on the part of the critic rather than anything wrong with the show. That’s just human nature, and whatever way of thinking helps people get through the day and keep doing what they do has my support.

I’ve given my share of bad reviews, but I have never once gone to a play with the intention of panning it. If I don’t think I’m going to enjoy a show, I don’t want to go to it, and I try to choose the plays I attend to minimize any chances of having a miserable time. Like anyone else, I go to every show I see hoping it’ll be good. And if I’m disappointed in that hope, I say so because that’s my job and because fibbing about it doesn’t do anyone any good.

I don’t know any critics who are rooting for failure. We want theatres to do well and to do good work, and our function is to encourage that by celebrating artistic successes and pointing out where we think artists could and should do better. Of course, that assessment is always subjective; others may disagree with it, and I think that conversation is valuable, too. It’s important for art to be challenged to avoid complacency, and by the same token, critics should always be open to criticism. But for goodness’s sake, let it be on the merits of the content, not on armchair psychoanalysis. Even in the most negative reviews, critics don’t attribute artistic missteps to the artists’ perceived personal issues as human beings. The conversation is always going to be more productive when that respect is mutual.

Sam Hurwitt is editor-in-chief for Theatre Bay Area. He is also the author of The Idiolect, a blog about theatre, movies, comics, media and the decline and fall of Western civilization. E-mail