Now that 2016 has made its entrance, here’s a look back at some of the most-viewed stories on americantheatre.org.
History books may peg this year as the year that Hamilton swept the nation—or at least New York—as detailed in Suzy Evans’s “How ‘Hamilton’ Found Its Groove” (and followed up with three related pieces: Evans’s chats with “The Cabinet Behind Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’,” hip-hop theatre pioneer Danny Hoch’s editorial “Sure, ‘Hamilton’ Is a Game-Changer, But Whose Game?”, and right-leaning pundit Reihan Salam’s “Founding Fathers Who Look Like the Future”). But though historical musical attracted many to the Great White Way, Broadway is only one street (more or less) in a thriving the American theatre landscape, and our attention was also on the many exciting theatrical happenings all over the country this year.
The Top 10 Most-Produced Plays and the Top 10 Most-Produced Playwrights were popular reads, with Ayad Akhtar and his play Disgraced topping the 2015-16 season (we did a popular podcast with him to talk about it). As usual, our October season preview issue listed the entire seasons slated for TCG member theatres in 2015-16, but this year honed in the topic of gender disparity in American theatres’ programming (we found that it was 67 percent male playwrights vs. 21 percent female and 12 percent co-written). On the upbeat side, though, we called out theatres who’d made female-centric programming a priority, and made that a priority throughout the year, including when Yale Repertory Theatre’s announced a female-dominated 2015-’16 season, with works by Paula Vogel, Jiehae Park, and Jen Silverman. Also in our October issue was one of our most viewed and shared stories, Joy Meads’s “What Lies Beneath: The Truth About Unconscious Bias,” which laid out some underlying research on why gender inequity persists—and what can be done to combat it.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Eliza Bent highlighted 10 theatre workers who collaborate together in both the theatre and in life with “5 Theatre Couples Who Work Together Stay Together,“ and the idea became a semi-regular online feature. And American Theatre’s new and exciting monthly Role Call feature, which highlights theatre workers of all disciplines, received a lot of traffic and praise.
AT also gave a lot of love to the theatre workers who strut and fret on the stage. In a story 20 years in the making, Todd London revisited a group of actors from Harvard’s American Repetory Theater graduating class of 1995 in “15 After 20, Part 2: Actors Move Onto New Stages, Some of Them Theatrical” with an update on their careers. (You can read the first part here.) In what is technically our January 2016 issue but was partly posted online before Christmas, we delve deeply into actor training, and in one centerpiece story, Stuart Miller spoke with such stage stalwarts as Carrie Coon, Crystal Dickinson, Maria Dizzia, Daniel Duque-Estrada, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Jon Norman Schneider; the resulting piece, “An Actor Prepares: 6 Performers Detail Their Processes,” has already been one of the year’s most popular.
2015 was also the year that controversies about theatregoing etiquette made headlines, from Patti LuPone confiscating a cellphone to the lunkhead who tried to charge his phone onstage at a Broadway show. On a more sobering note, Dominique Morisseau recently gave an account of a negative theatregoing experience which to her had all the earmarks of a race- and class-based microaggression in her story “Why I Almost Slapped a Fellow Theatre Patron, and What That Says About Our Theatres“; it sparked such contentious responses about audience behavior that we eventually turned off comments.
On the writing front, J. Holtham wrote about his retirement from writing plays in the heartbreakingly honest “If You Are What You Do, I Guess I’m Not a Playwright Anymore.“ As a kind of (unintentional) complement, Toni Morrison offered up a plethora of writing advice in “Write, Erase, Do It Over: On Failure, Risk and Writing Outside Yourself.”
It would be fair to say that this was also a year in which casting and representation was a hot topic of debate. Diep Tran confronted issues of appropriation onstage with “Keep Your Hands Off of My Kimono, White People“; she also later tackled the contentious topic of race-conscious casting in “On the Rights of Playwrights and White Tears,” following the inauthentic casting of college productions of Lloyd Suh’s Jesus in India and Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, neither approved by the playwright. In a similar vein, Howard Sherman discussed the sensitive issue of educational productions altering plays without authors’ consent in “Who Cares About Censorship on School Stages?” The theme of how to bring younger theatre enthusiasts into audience seats and onstage—and how to do it right—has continued to be a hot topic this year, and the answer may hold the key to sustaining a healthy outlook for the theatre field.
Michael Kaiser, an arts consultant and author, provided his prognosis for the American theatre in his book Curtains?, which Michael Bloom oultined in his review, “The Performing Arts: Headed for a Perfect Storm?” Among other things, Kaiser predicts that technological advances, artistic ambition, and the broadcasting of performances might be some of the ways companies across the nation can remain sustainable. Also looking into the future is Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s project of translating Shakespeare’s entire canon into contemporary English—an ambitious feat that reaped a lot of mixed comments, veering toward disapproval. Our editor, Rob Weinert-Kendt, weighed in, mostly positively, as did OSF artistic director Bill Rauch, who defended the company’s Play on! translation project in “Why We’re Translating Shakespeare,” saying that the goal is not to “dumb down” but to “specify up” Shakespeare’s words.
As for 2015, parting is such sweet sorrow. Or, as the kids say, peace out!