American Theatre is having a senior moment of sorts. This issue leads off with Eliza Bent’s cover story, a wide-net survey of theatrical goings-on for and by senior citizens in America and beyond, aptly titled “The Age Advantage”, which will be accompanied online by intrepid intern Nick Reichert’s listing of senior resource organizations. In her Strategies column, managing editor Suzy Evans follows up on Bent’s essay with fresh ideas about the challenges of memorization for older actors. Theatre has no age limits, these articles remind us, and that distinguishing characteristic makes the art form increasingly relevant in a culture all too fixated on youth and its transitory attractions.
Let me divert your attention, though, to a different pair of articles that explore another singularly profound attribute of live theatre—its existential relationship to geography. A film or a tweet needs no address, but live performance can only happen in a place—and its relationship to the place it occupies can mean the difference between deep insight and meaninglessness, between triumph and disaster. Arts reporter Matthew Irwin wastes no time confirming how important a sense of place is to the companies he’s writing about in New Mexico. As he talks to theatre artists living and working in that state, as renowned for its topography as for its rich cultural history, he writes, “You’ll notice the word ‘land’ keeps coming up. After all, the landscape determines all.”
Longtime American Theatre contributor Misha Berson mines a different but equally significant relationship between art and place as she approvingly critiques a recent tack taken by Seattle’s adventurous Book-It Repertory Theatre. “The company,” she writes, “is providing a kind of theatrical panorama of local history and concerns via the prose of some of the area’s most popular, most eloquent chroniclers”—by which she means novelists who live in and write about the nation’s Northwest coast. Book-It’s hook-up with fiction writers of its own region has engendered a special theatrical frisson for Seattle-area audiences, who are privileged to consider themselves part of what Berson calls “an evolving literary and theatrical culture, which both mirrors and departs from the rest of the nation.”
Theatre and place has been a consistent theme in the pages of American Theatre from its inception—which occurred, I would be remiss not to point out, precisely 30 years ago this month, in April 1984. So the issue you hold in your hands marks AT’s 30th anniversary. We’re celebrating modestly. There’ll be an online podcast interview with yours truly, who took part in the magazine’s planning and creation and has served as its editor from the beginning, joined by my longtime friend and cohort, TCG publisher Terence Nemeth; and TCG Books will offer a special deal on our landmark book The American Theatre Reader: Essays and Conversations from American Theatre Magazine (go to www.tcg.org for details), published at the magazine’s quarter-century mark.
So perhaps a senior moment is appropriate. No, better to concentrate on the busy future, as Robert Frost implied in verse: “It would take forever to recite / All that’s not new in where we find ourselves.” New places, the poet understood, are where we go from here.