Theatre is inherently local and intrinsically ephemeral. And the theatre field, battered by COVID-19 and myriad steep and long-standing challenges, is at this very moment in a precarious state, with many companies cancelling or contracting their programming and others putting their hands out for emergency help.
So why choose this moment to bring back a national print magazine about the American theatre, after a three-year pause?
I’d argue that the field needs a magazine—and I apologize in advance for using a much-abused phrase—more than ever. I don’t even mean that in some lofty, mission-oriented sense, of holding up the art form’s highest artistic and social goals, though that’s certainly an important part of our calling, particularly at a time of much needed reevaluation of both the field’s aesthetics and its business practices. I mean it in a much more basic, even physical sense: that the theatre needs a print magazine to record and reflect its work as it flashes past us night by night; to account for it and hold it to account; to trace the arc of its history and point to its future; to take it seriously both as an art and as a trade.
This isn’t just me talking. American Theatre did a survey of readers in the spring, and the message was loud and clear: They—you—want the magazine back. The sentiment we saw expressed repeatedly in survey comments is that the deluge of information flooding our inboxes and screens makes it nearly impossible to pause, check in, and keep up with the things we love, including theatre, and that a magazine remains a powerful way to collect and concentrate the attention, even if just for a stray hour here and there, and to preserve it against the ravages of time and fading memory. Theatre folks (I presumptuously include myself) cherish the chance to pore over playscripts page by page, to gaze at photos and design sketches, to take the time to absorb words on ink and paper, and, yes, save back issues like numbered diaries. And they (we) have missed that since our enforced pause in May 2020. Films and music we can seemingly revisit endlessly, now without reference to any physical object other than the screen or speaker that delivers them. But the tactile, fleeting art of theatre makes us crave something to hold in our hands. There is otherwise so little else to hold onto, even in theatre’s best times.
So, theatre and magazine lovers alike, ring them bells: Starting this fall, American Theatre will return with a quarterly print edition, available by mail and at fine bookstores (you can subscribe by becoming an individual member of TCG here). Each issue will have a complete playscript, plus a mix of original features, reviews, commentary, photography, and art from our team of talented, hard-working writers and editors all over the U.S. and the world. Though you will still find up-to-date news and all kinds of timely and expansive coverage right here online, with the return of our print magazine we plan to resume, after a hiatus of some 40 months, our otherwise unbroken witness to the American theatre, which began with our April 1984 issue and will last, we hope, as long as there is life in the live arts.
Rob Weinert-Kendt (he/him) is the editor-in-chief of American Theatre.
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