We try never to say “best.”
Not that we don’t have opinions at American Theatre. We even express them at times, here and online (and in podcasts—please do check out our podcasts). But in our position as the sole non-academic journal for theatre in the U.S., we have a lot of ground to cover, and our default posture is fundamentally a journalistic one: We strive to be relatively impartial without being impassive, neutral without being insipid. That’s one reason you won’t read theatre reviews here (though we do publish reviews of books). And while we produce highly influential annual lists of the Top 10 Most-Produced Plays and Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights in the U.S., these are culled from reports of seasons at member theatres of Theatre Communications Group. That’s just math.
But of course all journalism, like all storytelling, has a point of view, and every choice of what to cover (and not cover) makes a value judgment. What’s more, we would be doing a real disservice to an art form and an industry full of colorful, opinionated, fascinatingly diverse human beings if we didn’t reflect some of their thinking, their arguments, and their advice for each other in our pages. That last impulse has fed a regular column we’ve had for around a decade called Strategies, in which we detail a case study of a successful practice in response to a common challenge: creating a sensory-friendly performance, say, or trying a new subscription model.
For this issue, we thought we’d turn the telescope around: We’d look at a series of challenges or goals for the field, then try to get an impression of some of the most nimble or forward-thinking responses to them rather than hone in on any single example. The term “best practices” comes with this territory, and is also an irresistible title. But we don’t take or mean the term as a superlative, exactly, as if we’ve found the silver bullet for every theatrical problem. I’d put the emphasis on the “s” in “practices”—the takeaways we’ve gleaned from experts in the field are as plural as the field is diverse.
So while we hope you’ll find value in 14 stories linked below (as well as 2 longer features on theatre parenting and intimacy direction), please don’t think of this as a guidebook, much less tablets from Sinai. Think of it rather as a compendium, a flipbook of good ideas—some of the “best” we could find and report, sure, but hardly The Absolute Best. As theatre is a living medium, there is never a last word, or any size that fits all for all time, and there is no shortcut for taking ideas and testing them in practice, failing, then failing better, trying again. The wheel sometimes must be reinvented to suit new roads and conditions. But there is no question that we can learn from the inventions and experiments of others who’ve traveled the road before.
Taking advice, but with a few grains of salt—you might even call that a best practice.