The mandate for general circulation publications these days is that editorial content must be shorter, faster, flashier, easier to digest. Polarities, in this age of proliferating media, play better than complexities. Pictures speak louder than words. Keep things simple, shiny, sexy, reader-friendly, unencumbered by unnecessary intellectual heft or nuance. Write lite.
American Theatre isn’t immune to the dictates of a gyrating journalistic marketplace, but this magazine’s impulse over the years has been to resist those trends that shortchange readers on substance, depth or reportorial insight. True, our Front & Center coverage of exciting upcoming productions and our News in Brief reports come in tasty, info-packed short takes. But nearly every issue provides concurrent opportunities to sink one’s teeth into some piece of writing that’s expansive, detailed, replete—one that indulges in a beginning, middle and end, and uses plenty of words to illuminate the sights along the way.
There’s no better specimen of this latter kind of article than “Appointment with Despair: Pages from a Writer’s Notebook,” master playwright Athol Fugard’s eloquent and rending account of the genesis of his recent play The Train Driver. On the heels of the drama’s U.S. premiere at Los Angeles’s Fountain Theatre and its recent well-received run at New York City’s Signature Theatre Company, this substantial text from the author’s journals turns the clock back a dozen years to reveal intimate details of Fugard’s writing process—a journey that can’t be capsulated in sound bites or condensed into an image or two. Forget lite. Relax, sit back and enjoy the privilege of access to the mind and heart of a great writer, engaged in the struggle of finding his art.
Likewise, over-simplification and trendy brevity are not signal virtues of
“Get Smart, Hold Tight,” Sarah Hart’s sharp-eyed distillation of Theatre Facts 2011, TCG’s annual survey of the field’s finances and productivity. Our report on this one-of-a-kind statistical analysis—all 6,400 words of it—appears in the pages of AT’s November issue for the delectation of managers, funders, the press and anyone who follows the twisty economic track of America’s not-for-profit theatre. And this year’s report comes in tandem with arts reporter Jonathan Mandell’s even-handed reconsideration of the subscription model as a mainstay of institutional stability.
Conversation lite? Hardly. It is, in fact, a conversation you won’t encounter elsewhere in such rigorous detail. That’s another reason to put your feet up and spend some serious time with American Theatre. Forget the style-makers’ dictates; complexity and heft and nuance can be fun.