Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Akron Beacon Journal Ignores Local Theatre

On Day 2 of Buy Nothing Day -- Buy Nothing the Akron Beacon Journal tries to sell you:

In today's ABJ, we have the annual "Black Friday" feel-good-about-shopping story by the retail reporter, Kerry Clawson. Kerry was demoted from the theatre beat to beating the drums for over-consumption in the Akron area. Damn, that has to hurt: removed from writing about one of the most elevating things human beings can do -- creating theatre -- to writing about ant-heap behaviors of the gluttonous. Meanwhile, the theatre beat was compressed into a one-reporter-covers-all-the-arts format.

For a sad visual of what the ABJ's reporting has become, look at this page. Note the empty places in the (Arts &) Entertainment section as opposed to the full box of sports writers. George Thomas is gone and along with him any local perspectives of movies and the film industry. Now we get canned UPI syndicated reviews. "Names in the News" is listed as one of the entertainment columnists! They won't even give us a name for the person assigned to compile snippets of Hollywood gossip from the wire services! (And by the way, Jane Snow's name should no longer be listed under the Living Section columnists. She too has vanished from the ABJ's pages.)

Elaine Guregian was supposed to be elevated to "Culture Beat" reporter, adding theatre to her usual music and dance coverage. Well I defy anyone to find theatre coverage online at the Beacon any more. There is no "theater" added to Guregian's title underneath her phone, and looking at a list of all of her columns, I can see only three related to theatre over the past two months: Spamalot on tour in Cleveland, My Fair Lady at the Cleveland Playhouse and a national tour Man of La Mancha at EJ Thomas of LaMancha. What do all three of these have in common? Yes, they are big splashy musicals, but more importantly -- none of these productions were created in Akron by Akron theatre people. I'm not blaming Guregian -- she has had an enormous amount of work heaped upon her and we will put the blame squarely upon her superiors as to what stories she is allowed to cover. So far, its looking very much like corporate theatre uber alles.

I miss the weekly Theatre Notes column that Kerry Clawson provided for us theatre workers and consumers. The word "theater" or more properly "theatre," is not even granted its own listing on the Entertainment page. And what of the local theatres trying gamely to fill their seats so they can afford to keep producing theatre for our community? How are they managing to succeed with no local coverage? The only way to change things is to keep yammering at them via emails, letters to the editor and so on. Go here to make some noise.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Damn, I just came across this blog and I have to say I couldn't agree with you more. My theater writing used to make a difference in the world, and the abrupt change in my assignment has been an outrageously painful one that I am simply enduring.

One correction: I was technically not `demoted,' although it feels that way and hurts the same way as if I had been. The powers that be actually congratulated me and said they wanted me to remain `visible' in the paper with my current column. Go figure. I have a whole lot to say on the subject but can't here. Please identify yourself and we can really talk, directly.
Kerry Clawson

Neil Thackaberry said...

I sent the following email to the Beacon this morning.

I'm sorry that the Beacon Journal's priorities don't allow for consistent coverage of Actors' Summit, the only fully professional nonprofit theater in Summit County.

The regional premiere of QED was seen this weekend by critics from The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Cleveland Free Times, The West Side Leader, The Record Publishing Papers, The Chagrin Valley Times, and The Cleveland Jewish News. The critic from the Times newspapers is scheduled to attend this coming weekend. It seems that only the Beacon Journal doesn't consider our work worthy of critical review.

In the past, Actors' Summit was considered a priority of the Beacon Journal. I'm sorry to see that is no longer the case.

Neil Thackaberry
Founder & Artistic Director
Artistic Director

Anonymous said...

I can't agree more--with all of you!!! I just came across this blog Jan. 16, '07--
Spread the word! Write to the Beacon. Akron theatres AND their audiences need to unite and put the pressure on the ABJ.
Catherine Paparella

Neil Thackaberry said...

In response to the email I posted above, I received a response from the Beacon Journal. I replied as follows.

Mitch,

Thanks for getting back to me. I wish I could say that I found consolation or reassurance in your letter, but that would be untrue.

I stated that coverage of Actors' Summit no longer seemed to be a priority. That is exactly what was demonstrated by Elaine's choices for last weekend. I gather the three events you referred to were her reviews of two professional productions in Cleveland and one community theater production in Akron.

The Cleveland Play House, as one of the premiere regional Equity theaters in the country certainly deserves the Beacon Journal's attention, as does the Equity professional touring production of Light In the Piazza. But a choice was obviously made to cover two productions in Cleveland. That decision is an example of a priority, one that continues to denigrate the value of professional theater in the Beacon Journal's home market.

The question of priority is clearest in Elaine's decision to see Fat Pig at Bang & Clatter instead of QED at Actors' Summit. I'm glad that Fat Pig was reviewed. As a start up, semi-professional theater I'm delighted that Bang & Clatter is being covered. I'm also happy to see the Beacon continuing to cover Weathervane's community theatre efforts.

Neither of these ventures employ members of Actors' Equity, the international union of professional actors and stage managers. I believe that most of your newsroom staff are members of a union, as I am. Without just union compensation, healthcare and retirement benefits, it is impossible to sustain a community of artists capable of serving the highest aspirations of our community.

Elaine is working very hard to do an impossible task. While all of us involved in the theater are grateful for coverage of our productions, perhaps, given the paucity of resources the Beacon has committed to the arts, more care could be taken in allocating those resources. I would be happy to speak with you or any of the other editors or writers about suggestions you may have on how we can do a better job of keeping Elaine informed. The dates of all of our regular season productions are announced in late summer. We send press releases before each show opens. I have also contacted Elaine by email prior to each opening to remind her.

As for the possibility of Elaine's getting to QED during its final four performances, I'm afraid that any review she would write would have about the same relevance for the readers of the Beacon Journal as her dispatches from Florida -- coverage of performances that none of the readers will ever have a chance to see.

My original letter stated "I'm sorry that the Beacon Journal's priorities don't allow for consistent coverage of Actors' Summit, the only fully professional nonprofit theater in Summit County." My feeling is unchanged, and nothing in your letter leads me to believe that the Beacon Journal intends to establish policies or provide sufficient resources to change the situation.

I'm glad you read my letter and took the time to respond to it. I look forward to a time when we will be able to see more coverage of the professional theaters located within Summit County.

Sincerely,


Neil Thackaberry
Artistic Director

Village Green said...

Neil -- The Akron Beacon Journal seems committed to making our city and county appear a vast cultural wasteland. Do we really need more coverage of major professional Cleveland theatre events at the expense of local endeavors? Absolutely not. I encourage my readers to bombard the ABJ with letters of complaint. The lack of coverage will kill us all -- local newspaper AND local theatres -- in the end.

I have been re-posting Neil's comments as they come in so that new readers also come across this story. Keep spreading the word.!