Monday, September 17, 2007


A little bird whispered in my ear this weekend that the Reader's theater reviewing staff has suffered some casualties this past week. It was suggested that the new ownership has begun moving in and cleaning house.

Now, I am of course using my amateur blogging status to report/write about something that is not necessarily been verified. I am not a journalist, and therefore not bound by the work flow that the 4th branch has chosen to adopt. Still, I have a voice, an opinion on this matter as valid as the next persons.

Some people might shrug their shoulders at this recent move by the Reader feeling that since the reconfiguration that the paper went through a few years back, that it has lost its teeth. Most of us in Chicago remember a time when the Reader was the paper in Chicago when it came to theater listing and theater reviews. The reason for this was the Reader's comprehensive quality. No matter whether you were a one artist operation opening your first show or Steppenwolf putting up a Malkovich vehicle, you were listed. One of the reasons why Chicago Theater is the scene that it is is because of this. Shows that Hedy Weiss wouldn't even list in Sun Times were getting reviewed by the Reader.

The Reader was a leveler of sorts. People could hear about your work even if your annual production budget was less than 5 or 6 figures. People could read ink on that work. Again that sort of promotion was one of the truly unique elements to our scene. NYC doesn't have that sort of comprehensive listing (Anyone remember Theatreweek magazine? I don't think even the blogsphere today is as comprehensive as that rag used to be in the 90's).

Some might say that I'm making a mountain out of mole hill, but Cassandra sees the hills burning. This city will lose a fair amount of what makes it a special city if we don't promote theater at all levels of production. And the Reader used to do that. I only hope that the new owners have something in mind other than the sort of coverage that selects the most important shows (i.e. this 90% of the time translates to the shows with big budgets) to the exclusion of the new comers, the risk takers, the people out there who used to perform in 30 seats spaces. If the truly small companies have no avenue to promote then their numbers will dwindle. Where once artistic individuals could speak, you will rather find more of those who are backed by an organization. It seems to me that there is a little less emphasis on the individual in our scene today. It seems to me that the resource we would wish for, the resource that we believe there once was in this theatrical expression, that resource is shrinking shrinking shrinking.

I see the sides of a goldfish bowl that once held a wide variety of specie every day getting to a place where it will only support the heartiest breeds. The water level is dropping maybe it is the natural act of evaporation or maybe someone somewhere I can't identify is slowly siphoning the water out. But, I see a couple of goldfish at the bottom who are slowly pushing the angelfish up out of the top like an commercial for childhood asthma.

Theater will never die. I am a believer in the empty space. But that should not be my excuse for not speaking my mind about something that I love. I love the Reader of yore. I love how it was a sustenance to many newbies in this city. I hope that it can continue to do so.


Tony said...

Yeah, I think the staff of TimeOut Chicago would be the only people in Chicago happy about the turn the Reader has taken.

Devilvet said...

why happy? Do they view themselves as competitors?

Yes, they are both weekly, but the profile or personality of both seems so different to me (or at least it used to be different)

Are they competitors?

Tony said...

I don't know that Kris Vire necessarily competes with Jack Helbig. But on the business end, I think TimeOut is the first real competition from a weekly that the Reader has had in a while, if not ever. Though, I think lately it's been more conceding than competing on the Reader's side.