One of the rules here at American Theatre is that we don’t cover theatre anniversaries. The thinking is that everyone has them, and in a field as large as ours, to mark each theatre’s milestone years (and which ones—the 20th as well as the 25th?) with a dedicated news piece would be as cumbersome as celebrating every artistic director’s birthday with a news item.
That’s not to say that we don’t give props for longevity, or that calendar milestones are not the way some stories come to our attention (this interview, for instance, came about in part because Roche Schulfer had recently celebrated his 40th year at the Goodman, but we didn’t make a point of timing the piece to celebrate the milestone; Schulfer was eminently worthy of a sit-down Q&A, and if an anniversary pitch is what reminded us, and provided us a pretext for that sit-down, so much the better). It’s also not to say that we don’t occasionally mark epochs in our field: This tart reminiscence by critic Dan Sullivan, from our Dec. ’13 issue, looks back at the explosion of resident theatres in the seminal years 1963 and ’64 (we’re talking not just the Guthrie but Seattle Rep, Trinity Rep, Hartford Stage, Kansas City Rep, South Coast Rep, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the O’Neill, Bread and Puppet).
That’s all preamble to say that American Theatre and TCG, like all the organizations we cover, reserve the right to mark our own anniversaries (as we did, for instance, with this lovely compendium). And we have a small but significant one coming up next week: On Sept. 17, we will have been running this full-time website, AmericanTheatre.org, for a full year (kudos to Diep Tran, Suzy Evans, and Joe Cucchiara, among others, for making it happen). That’s right: American Theatre has (only) been fully online for a year, posting not just our entire monthly issue content (minus the playscripts) but updating the field regularly with news items, previews, and other web-only features. On average we post 3 to 6 items each business day, from lengthy interviews to short season announcements, meaty essays and timely lists.
But we have more to report today than a mere jaunt around the sun: Google Analytics tells us that we’ve hit nearly 1.3 million pageviews and almost 612,000 unique users. We just passed 60,000 Facebook fans and 8,000 Twitter followers. It’s safe to say that American Theatre’s content is reaching more people than ever before.
Those numbers aren’t even the best news about this website, in my opinion, though they are confirmation of our highest hopes for it. What has been game-changing about American Theatre having a full-on web presence isn’t just its outward reach but its incoming receptivity. I’ve noticed that since we went from doing a monthly magazine to a more-than-once-daily website that it’s done more than simply increase our workload (yes, it has done that, as we’re still putting out a beautiful monthly print magazine); it has also made us better at our jobs, if our jobs are defined as keeping up with and reflecting the American theatre field. The lead time for our beloved print publication (as much as two months or more) and its finite monthly page count (anywhere from 80 to 168) has circumscribed our coverage over the years to what we could know and write about well in advance, and fit into our printed pages.
To use a rough analogy, it was as if a window would open for a time once a month, through which we’d peer out and see what we could see, then go back and write about what we saw, and repeat that process each month. Now, with the website, it’s like there are antennae (or a dish, if you must) trained on the theatre field all the time, and updates are beamed constantly to our screen. That always-on screen has become our window, and it doesn’t close. It’s not just that through AmericanTheatre.org more of you can see us; we can see more of you, too.
In the year since we’ve been online, here are our top 20 posts, according to Google Analytics:
1. Who Cares About Censorship on School Stages? Howard Sherman’s post about his ongoing advocacy against censorship on high school and college stages got a big boost on Twitter when it was shared by none other than Neil Gaiman.
2. The Top 10 Most-Produced Plays of the 2014–15 Season Our website launch coincided with our annual listing of most-produced plays for the coming season (stay tuned, another one is coming soon).
3. 5 Theatre Couples Who Work Together to Stay Together This popular feature by Eliza Bent spawned her monthly online column “Theatre Couples.”
4. Write, Erase, Do It Over: On Failure, Risk, and Writing Outside Yourself This empowering piece, a reprint from NEA Arts magazine, most certainly got a boost from its famous author: Toni Morrison.
5. Inside the Exploded Piano of Fiasco Theater’s Into the Woods Diep Tran’s Production Notebook about the unique design of this revival, first reported when it was running at the Old Globe, drew long-tail traffic when the production played to acclaim Off-Broadway.
6. The Ferguson Theatre Syllabus In response to the shooting of Michael Brown, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement that emerged in its wake, Megan Sandberg-Zakian and Claudia Alick compiled this essential list of plays, new and old, that address race, police violence, and structural injustice.
7. How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Die Onstage As part of our blockbuster improv issue (see No. 15 below), none other than Sir Patrick Stewart contributed this first-person piece about his work with the Improvised Shakespeare Company.
8. If You Are What You Do, I Guess I’m Not a Playwright Anymore J. Holtham wrote this harrowingly honest account of his slow but certain “retirement” from writing for the stage.
9. The Top 10 Most-Produced Plays: 1994–2014 Our complete list, as far as back as we’ve been counting.
10. The Performing Arts: Headed for a Perfect Storm? Michael Bloom’s review of Michael Kaiser’s Curtains, an opinionated diagnosis of the field’s ailments, generated a lot of heat on social media.
11. Oregon Shakespeare Festival Launches New Fellowship for Theatre Leaders This news item reported on a major expansion of OSF’s FAIR apprenticeship program, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion.
12. 15 After 20: Actors Who Trained Together in the Mid-’90s, and Where They Are Now In this just-published post from our September issue, Todd London checks in with the Harvard actors he first wrote about for American Theatre in an epic three-part series in 1997 (also online).
13. Yale Repertory Theatre Announces Female-Driven 2015–16 Season For reasons that should be obvious, this sort of news is very welcome these days (see No. 18 below).
14. What Happened to Theatre Under the Stars’ Production of Hands on a Hardbody Isaac Butler reported on the controversy over this Houston theatre’s production of the Broadway musical, which was shut down by its creators for unauthorized revisions.
15. Longform Improv Goes the Distance Matthew Love wrote this excellent overview of an increasingly popular performance genre and its contested roots.
16. 14 Theatrical Plans to Change the World As part of our annual January training issue, in which our focus was on theatre training programs that emphasize social justice and civic engagement, we offered this popular list of theatrical change agents.
17. Re: the “Re” in Theatre My recent column on a profound question facing our field obviously struck a chord.
18. Manhattan Theatre Club Slates 2015–16 Season This item lit up social media because it initially reported an all-white, all-male season (there was an update, though).
19. 4 Ways Theatre Critics Can Be a Little Bit Less Racist Diep Tran’s snappy column got deserved traction for its pithy recommendations about avoiding—or at least acknowledging—bias in arts journalism.
Stay tuned for more! God knows we are.