Let’s just say it: 2017 was not an easy year for so many of us. Politically, culturally, economically—obviously some folks are faring better than others, but for many of us the Trump era is shaping up to be a kind of waking nightmare. This year at American Theatre, we reflected this sense of crisis with a package of stories on how U.S. theatres are responding to the age of Trump (and yes, we left room for the caveat that crediting or blaming one person for all our troubles may be part of our problem).
But we also found time to consider a number of other challenges, trends, and milestones in the field, from recurring controversies over representation and intellectual property to the state of the art and its artists. Without further ado, here are the Top 10 most-read stories of 2017, followed hard upon by a list of the Top 10 stories our editors think you might have missed and deserve another look.
I Am Miss Saigon, and I Hate It Senior editor Diep Tran drew on both her family history and her previous reporting about Broadway’s Asian fixation to deliver a blistering body blow to this deeply flawed megahit’s return run (with a nod to the show’s welcome antidote, Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone).
Musical Theatre Students Are Becoming Quadruple Threats Maggie Gilroy’s lead story from our January special issue on musical theatre training looked at the present and future of an art form that is finding fresh vitality in all disciplines, from playwriting to hip-hop.
The Review That Shook Chicago Hedy Weiss’s mixed review of Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over in for the Chicago Sun-Times spawned an Internet firestorm and a campaign to revoke her complimentary reviewers’ tickets. The offense? According to many in the theatre community, her pattern of racially insensitive comments. But Weiss had her defenders, as well, and Diep Tran captured the debate and its stakes for arts journalism in this incisive report.
Not Only in New York: 13 Musical Theatre Programs Outside of Manhattan Yes, that special training issue was popular! And many obviously found this far-ranging list useful.
When a Writer’s Rights Aren’t Right: The ‘Virginia Woolf’ Casting Fight When a small theatre company in Oregon tried to cast Nick, the young stud in the contemporary classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, as an African-American, Edward Albee’s estate put the kibosh on the idea, and all hell broke loose around issues of playwrights’ autonomy, color-conscious casting, and more. Diep Tran again caught the spirit and the significance of the dispute, roping in other examples of an estate more open to experimentation (Tennessee Williams’).
The Great Comet of Internet Outrage Yet another casting kerfuffle caused Diep Tran to go a bit meta and reflect on the nuance-crushing velocity and intensity of social media-fueled controversies. When producers of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 announced that Mandy Patinkin would take over a title role from Okieriete Onaodowan, did the stinging backlash to the move’s poor racial optics effectively doom a show that was otherwise a model of multicultural casting? (A Comet-related Honorable Mention, our 12th most popular, was Hailey Bachrach’s essay on how a song Dave Malloy added for Josh Groban to sing on Broadway changed the arc and meaning of the show.)
The Top 10 Most-Produced Plays of the 2017-18 Season In a first for us, this year’s list, topped with a surprise (Shakespeare in Love), was announced live at Drama Book Shop and via Facebook Live.
American Players Theatre Announces 2017 Season Our commitment to announcing all TCG member seasons keeps us busy year-round. This fall announcement of the next year’s offerings at this Wisconsin classical mainstay got especially heavy traffic.
Critic Charles Isherwood Leaves NY Times It was a busy year of critical turnover in New York City, beginning with this surprising news from February and continuing with the laying off of David Cote and Linda Winer and the hiring of Sara Holdren and Jesse Green.
The Top 10* Most-Produced Plays of the 2016-17 Season These lists are a popular reference, obviously, so in that spirit, here’s where to look to find all the lists for the past few decades.
Great Posts You May Have Missed
Improvise, Imitate, Formalize, Reject, Repeat: How the Wheel of Innovation Turns This piece by Joshua Dachs isn’t just a fascinating look at where and how theatre buildings and performance spaces have been constructed throughout history; it’s a meditation on how the form and the function of the art form are in dialogue, and how the pendulum between innovation and institutionalization perpetually swings.
The Brain on the Bard: How Shakespeare Impacts Children With Autism Staff writer Allison Considine filed this report about a program at Ohio State University that is studying the positive social and cognitive effects of studying theatre, and specifically Shakespeare, on young people on the autism spectrum.
The Ladies Who Lead: Rachel Chavkin, Diane Paulus, and Susan Stroman Talk Shop Three directors who’ve conquered Broadway met with senior editor Suzy Evans for this inspiriting discussion of mentorship, musicals, and making room for women at the top.
The Line in the Sand: How ‘Sneetches’ Spoke to a Divisive Moment Theresa Beckhusen’s in-depth look at the Children’s Theatre Company’s world premiere Seuss adaptation covered the show’s many challenges, including making a beloved children’s book into a musical—and fine-tuning its antiracist message to a time that needs it more than ever.
A Critics Bestiary Helen Shaw’s probing look at the different ways criticism can manifest itself shows that theatre criticism—including writing about theatre criticism—is an art form unto itself.
Staging a Water Crisis: ‘An Enemy of the People’ in Flint It’s rare for theatre and news headlines to meet. But in the case of Flint, Mich., where the town’s water crises stretch back to 2014, a staging of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People felt more timely and urgent than ever, and Diep Tran was on the case.
He Said, He Said, She Said: A Tale of 3 Hamlets This summer seemed to be full of headline-generating Hamlets, from Oscar Isaac at the Public to Lenne Klingaman as a female Hamlet in Denver. Critic Nicole Serratore flew around the country and to the U.K. to report on three notable Hamlets (including Isaac’s and Klingaman’s, as well as Andrew Scott’s in London), and made all of us wish we could have done the same.
Plays on the Peninsula: South Florida’s Best-Kept Secret Did you know there’s great theatre in the vicinity of the Everglades? Well, consider yourself educated by Bill Hirschman’s spirited and exhaustive account of a scene he has spent more than a decade covering. We don’t often pick a region and cover it this extensively, but this is a model of how to do it.
The Play Makers: How American Writers Make It to Broadway As a sort of follow-up to Helen Shaw’s definitive diagnosis of new playwriting in the U.S., Garrett Eisler’s impressive article/essay combined trade reporting, criticism, and advocacy to make the case that new plays are holding steady on Broadway, largely thanks to a handful of visionary producers whose ranks include U.S. resident nonprofit theatres.
Guides for Survival in the Trump Simulacrum Finally, a recommendation for further reading, via playwright Stephen Karam (The Humans, Sons of the Prophet), who threads his own reflections through a list of thinkers—including Baldwin, Ionesco, and Freud—that might feed us all in this age of unequal feast-and-famine.
What’s on your reading list?