NEW YORK CITY: At last some good news to counter the hemorrhaging of theatre critics’ jobs: Five NYC critics, all former writers for New York publications who are members of the NY Drama Critics Circle, have banded together to review Broadway and Off-Broadway shows on a new site called New York Stage Review.
Founded by Steven Suskin (late of Variety) and Jess Oxfeld (formerly The New York Observer), the new site, which began reviewing shows about a month ago, also includes on its roster Elysa Gardner (formerly of USA Today), David Finkle (The Village Voice), and Michael Sommers (The Star-Ledger). The site will add one new wrinkle to business as usual: two side-by-side reviews of the same show, for contrast (or not).
“In some cases we agree, in some cases we don’t,” said Suskin. “The New York Times long ago used to have two reviews, and at the time I found that a good model.” (Some 20 years ago and earlier, the Times would run a timely daily review of each show, as well as a later a Sunday column in which another critic would write about whatever shows thought deserved another look.) The double-vision is good for diversity of opinion, Suskin reasoned: “If you don’t like what the first one said, you might like what the second one says.”
Speaking of diversity, it’s hard to ignore that the initial cohort of critics is a bit lacking on that front. Suskin explained that “part of our criteria is that we’re all New York-based critics with newspaper experience. I was insistent that it was not going to be all-male. So it’s four men and one woman.” And while the newspaper-experience criterion may be limiting of new voices, Suskin left open the possibility of recruitment down the road if the site grows.
But one key to its launching at all is that the founders didn’t want to wait for growth, or indeed for funding at all, to get off the ground.
“At this point, we’ve decided to set it up and just get it going,” Suskin said. “We could have gone after funding, but it can take years to set that up. We’ve had people talk about advertising, but we thought we’d show them what it is before we start asking people to back us.”
The barrier to entry for creating a website is still fairly low; Variety reported that the five critics are chipping in their own money for the site’s development costs (“in the low four figures,” Variety writes). “This sort of idea has come up in the past,” Suskin said, “but it always broke down because of the question, who was going to pay for it? What we realized is that if we do it ourselves, we don’t have to ask who’s going to pay for it.”