Last things are hard. But having pals around as last things are happening make them a lot easier.
That’s certainly the case with this issue of American Theatre, my last as editor-in-chief. There’s an undeniable sense of finality about it. After all, I’ve been rolling the AT boulder uphill since my personal Zeus, Peter Zeisler, sentenced me to the task in April ’84. But unlike poor Sisyphus, I haven’t been hoisting the load alone—which is my point about pals. That melancholy “last things” feeling has been tempered mightily by comradeship, including that of the magazine’s new boss, Rob Weinert-Kendt, and especially by that of another pal whose name also once nestled next to mine on the masthead.
Todd London, by his own account, at first resisted tackling the topic he dives into in these pages, which could be boiled down to the touchy question of how the American theatre treats its most prized, best-trained offspring over the long haul. But when he decided to go there—to revisit and update his piece “Open Call,” a 1997 trilogy of articles about the American Repertory Theatre graduate acting class of 1995—he and I cooked up a little scheme: We’d schedule the coverage for my final issue, for the sake, we blithely figured, of completing a circle, of tacitly emphasizing the magazine’s longevity (and our own?), of carrying through in a significant way our shared aspiration to account journalistically for the developments in the field we’d observed, not always with approbation, over the years. As this issue goes to print, it feels like we’ve done some of those things, and more.
The more includes reinforcing a decades-long friendship that recently (with the London family’s move this year to Seattle) became a long-distance one—a friendship that began as writer-and-editor and proceeded to become any number of other things: side-by-side collaborators, professional colleagues in the field, editorial partners for books and projects, amateur therapists for each other’s problems, advisers on each other’s life decisions, chronic sharers of whatever insights we’ve managed to accumulate in matters theatrical and otherwise. Todd’s presence in this issue and the next—with a piece that (like his book Outrageous Fortune) will prompt impassioned discussion about how artists and institutions coexist in our time—sends me on to other pursuits not with melancholy but with a sense of validation and accomplishment. Friendship, it turns out, has the welcome power to take the sting of finality out of last things.
And how fortuitous it is that London’s essay appears in such outstanding company: Suzy Evans’s tell-it-to-me-straight cover conversation with Hamilton’s rock-star creator Lin-Manuel Miranda; the complete text of Rajiv Joseph’s affecting drama Guards at the Taj (which is in print only, but you can read an interview with Joseph here); Isaac Butler’s wide-ranging report on theatrical transition in the Twin Cities; Eliza Bent’s quirky portrait of quirky theatremaker Sibyl Kempson; and, among other newsworthy items, my own introduction to a Beijing Opera star who’s about to create a stir at Lincoln Center. If ever an issue of AT was a keeper, this is one.
So hats off to Todd and to Rob—and to the entire roll call of invaluable collaborators who have contributed to the excellence and the impact of American Theatre over the past 31 years. I wish I could name you all. You know who you are.