Executive Director's Note: Pivot Point
Monday, April 20, 2015
By Brad Erickson
In talking about the history of Theatre Bay Area, we like to point to an artifact that has gained almost legendary status—a six-page mimeographed newsletter, framed in plexiglass and enshrined in the TBA offices. That mimeograph, our first publication, contains all the elements that have continued to distinguish our communications over almost 40 years. There are audition notices and job postings, news items covering the Bay Area’s theatre community, advocacy alerts, calendar items with upcoming shows and resource listings.
The fledgling service organization that published that newsletter was created by a group of Bay Area theatre-makers, a mix of leading companies (the Magic, ACT, Berkeley Rep) and individual artists. They dubbed the entity Bay Area Theatre Communication Center, renamed Theatre Communications Center of the Bay Area a few months later. The new group’s mission was to unite and support the theatre community of this region, and the founders saw acting as a communications hub as its core service. (It’s endearing to read minutes from early board meetings where TCCBA’s leaders offer heartfelt thanks to ACT for providing use of its mimeograph machine to get out the crucial monthly letter.)
In time, that mimeograph evolved into a tablet-sized printed monthly. This is how I first encountered the publication, Callboard, when I moved from Chicago to the Bay Area in the mid-1980s. I would surreptitiously pull a copy from bookstore shelves, scribble audition notices into a notepad and slip the publication back onto the shelf. Not much later I relented and ponied up to become an individual member of what was now called Theatre Bay Area, to get those audition notices, and the rest of the news and resources crowding those pages, mailed to my door. The publication would change again in look and format over the years. The monthly tablet Callboard evolved into a glossy magazine, gracing theatre green rooms and theatre-maker living rooms around the region. In 2004 the magazine changed again, and relaunched with color and a new name, Theatre Bay Area.
Even as the redesigned magazine was unveiled, new opportunities and new demands proliferated. Increasingly, our members, like so many living here in the planet’s technology capital, expected ultra-current, interactive information delivered electronically. For a decade, we have attempted to work simultaneously in both media, digital and print. Given finite resources, we reduced publication of the magazine from twelve issues annually to six, and we redeployed writers and editing staff to electronic content—content that evolved in style and format (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), all the while maintaining the high standards of the now bimonthly magazine (which continued to evolve and innovate) and developing the TBA website as a maturing platform for journalism and community conversation, and building its capacity as an online theatre resource.
Today, we’ve reached a pivotal point in the nearly 40-year history of this publication and this organization. This month’s edition of the printed magazine will be its last. We are planting both of our feet in digital space. Over four decades, this magazine, in its various guises, has been admirably served by a series of writers and editors who have made it into one of the premiere theatre publications in the country, among them Misha Berson, Jean Schiffman, Belinda Taylor, Karen McKevitt and Sam Hurwitt. We will look to their journalistic legacy to guide us as we move forward in a digital age.
In the years ahead, changes in our media will come hard and fast. Because our constituents, the Bay Area’s theatre-makers, will expect and demand it. Yet certain things will remain constant, unmoved by changes in technology. As they once turned to the mimeograph newsletter, Bay Area theatre-makers will continue to look to us for the latest on auditions and jobs, news and advocacy, show and resource listings. Whether in smeary blue ink or in tomorrow’s not-yet-invented digital outlet, we will continue to be the hub, the theatre communications group of the Bay Area, that our founders envisioned decades ago.
Brad Erickson is executive director of Theatre Bay Area.