Editor’s Note September/October 2013: Ch-ch-changes
Friday, August 30, 2013
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
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 theidiolect.com—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 firstname.lastname@example.org.