Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - Thurday 27 March, 2003 11:59 a m: "Why I Don't Just Quit"

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Thurday 27 March, 2003 11:59 a m:

"Why I Don't
Just Quit

I could, of course.
I could pull the plug, buy a vcr, and use my library card to see movies, read books, and hibernate.
Why don't I?

I have two letters here that make me, again, ask that question --- and I am astonished when I read the dates at how long I have been trying to respond to them. Let me save them till later. Before I deal with the specifics those letters bring up, I can tell you the two bottom-line pieces of The Theater Mirror that make me feel I must keep it intact:

The Reviews, and the !!!EMERGENCIES!!!

There are two real Emergencies at the top of the Auditions page right now. Companies caught an actor short as rehearsals approach (sometimes as opening night approaches!) use The Mirror because the response-time on the internet can be as close to instantaneous as possible. I get Emergencies up just as soon as I see them. And, since the people looking in (all of whom swear they read it every day) are all involved in making theater, it's a good bet that the people needed will hear about it. And if I pull the plug........ ??

That of course is the extreme case. Audition Calls and Special Announcements arrive every day and --- though the self-images of reviewers as well as my own might be bruised to hear it --- those are really the most important parts of The Mirror for its readers. And I can report here that a savior on a white horse has already galloped to my rescue, though I'll save that revelation to last. (Yes, Tom Stoppard, there IS an art to the building of suspense!!!)

But once a company has found a cast, worked up the play, and advertised its existence, the real payoff for all that hard work is Response. That's what audiences are FOR after all, and that's what Reviews are for as well.
And The Mirror has been blessed by a large number of dedicated people who regularly send their thoughts on what they see to me. Because of them Mirror readers are aware of the scope and variety of the theater world in this northeast corner of the country --- more aware, I must say, than the regular readers of any newspaper (with the single glowing exception of the New England Entertainment Digest!). The Mirror has a duty, I think, to include reviews and quick-takes that can make people aware of what work is being done on our stages --- much of it consistently overlooked in other places --- and to preserve those reviews in a permanent archive.

I'll get to my own problems with reviews shortly, but I must say first that The Mirror also has an obligation to that very number of dedicated reviewers who volunteer their thoughts. No one is "sent" by The Mirror anywhere; the reviewers send their stuff and I get it up, unchanged and unedited, and The Mirror has no "official voice" --- not even mine. But most of the people you see regularly here have been sending reviews for several years. They rely on The Mirror to get their insights to the public.

The companies reviewed also rely on them, partly as simple advertising but also as a thoughtful touchstone on the value of their work. And it is in that regard that I have been most guilty of late of an unforgiveable lapse. I hold in my hand at this moment F I V E programs from productions I've seen in the past nineteen days about which I have said nothing. That's unfair.
At this late date I cannot write full reviews of them all (and, frankly, I haven't the time I would want to take to do them full justice), but here I want to make clear the good reasons why these plays Should be noted:

"Molly's Dream" at Boston Theatre Works was part of that company's program of finding unexpected and interesting plays, and using their performance-space for more than one play at a time. The play was by Maria Irene Fornes (a playwright I do not understand as yet), and it was directed by Dani Snyder in an energetic (and, the night I saw it, enthusiastically enjoyed) production full of vigor and surprise. A new young director doing a neglected play at10:30 after the main show --- all of these are reasons that attention should be paid.

"Bits and Pieces" was more than another of the Rough & Tumble Theatre's amusing minimalistic group efforts. The dozen short pieces were always theatrical, whether silent or spoken, and gave evidence that their unique style and approach can handle more than comedy. Even more important, though, was a collaboration in which William Donnelly (of Industrial Theatre) provided words for a laconic, economical story of two lives --- a novel in subtexts. That piece alone, with its implications about the inter-cooperation of small, serious companies here, makes a review a must.

"The Double Plays Festival" produced by Shadow Boxing Theatre Workshop at Theater Cooperative's space, is another evidence of cooperation between companies. More importantly, it was a genuine experiment: the four plays were cast, directed, and performed twice on the same night. The different approaches of two groups to the very same scripts made a fascinating exercize for the sold-out houses of theater enthusiasts. It could also serve to remind playwrights that what actors and directors do with the words out of their typewriters will probably be different from the original vision!

"A Class Act" by Speakeasy Stage was a surprising delight for me from beginning to end. Act one had a song-writing class criticizing the work of Ed Kleban, in the same was that, as his friends, they criticized Ed himself. In the second act, they also played the roles of Michael Bennett (William McGarrahan) and Marvin Hamlisch (Andrew Miramontes) reprising their writing of one song from Kleban's only Broadway hit "A Chorus Line". This flawless cast, all of them demonstrating again their habit of continuing to act while singing, gave real insights into the creative life of composer/lyricists, and the heqrtbreaks and the triumphs of making theater.

"Of Mice And Men" (which was my first visit to the Stoneham Theatre) should be talked about less for the show than for the beautiful renovated theatre, the big stage, the largely Equity cast, and for the loyal, enthusiastic subscriber-base that was its audience. Theater is alive and well and satisfying eager audiences in such growing suburban theatres. I felt curiously unmoved by this production, but that was not true of its standing-o audience, who will be back for their next show.

For these reasons --- most of them having nothing whatever to do with "what I think" --- these shows should be reviewed, in The Mirror and elsewhere. The reasons why I dropped the ball on all five are less important than the fact that most of them, in one way or another, were noticed by other Theater Mirror reviewers.

But I mentioned letters.
Here they are:

From: "Email" don_campbell@charter.net
Subject: Don Campbell
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2003 15:28:49 -0500
Hey Larry, I don't know if you remember me, but I ran "ugot2havvefun.com" for some time. Looks like you are still working hard on your project and hope all is well.
Best Regards, Don Campbell

From: Juree2269@aol.com
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2003 01:41:10 EST
Subject: Cricket's Notebook
Hi Larry!
Hope all is well with you and you are enjoying this new year!
I have, with great interest, been reading your greenroom mail and Cricket notebook entries. (I always check your site to get the scoop!) The topic of getting a larger support team for the Mirror on board to assist you in the time consuming process of updates is one, if you remember, we had over tea many moons ago. This topic is exactly why I built NETheater411.com to begin with.

My intent for NETheater411.com was to have a website that would be a compliment to the terrific service you offer to all theater lovers in the New England area. But, more importantly, my intent was to provide YOU with the opportunity to "let go" of the production, audition, special announcements, emergency, and bargain listings that take up so much of your time.

Because NETheater411.com uses a submission form and a database rather than email, I skip the step of needing to copy and paste, reformat, or accidentally insert typos when the information goes onto the website. I still "touch" each listing to check that the content is "appropriate", but the person submitting the information does the majority of the typing. And even better, once the listing is out-dated, it simply "falls" off the website automatically. It was my hope that once NETheater411.com launched, you would be able to once again focus on the content that you originally designed the Theater Mirror to provide - things you spoke of in our initial meeting so long ago, mainly reviews, editorials and your Cricket's Notebook entries.

I know that we do not see eye-to-eye on the submission process. I do not accept email for listings - but to date, I haven't had any complaints about the process. Those users who have given me feedback have nothing but rave reviews for the functionality of the site, including the ease with which they are able to submit listings. For those users who do send me email, I have posted their information, but have let them know that I would prefer that they use the submission form. To date, every person that I have responded to like this has had no issue with using the submission form online instead of sending me email.

Regardless of our opinion differences, I would still like to offer you the option of passing the responsibility of the production, audition, special announcements, emergency, and bargain listings to NETheater411.com. The site has been in operation for over a year and I think that my commitment to the service the website offers is evident.

From your last Cricket entry you inferred that NETheater411.com doesn't have the same listings as the Theater Mirror. This is probably quite true. However, I think that it is reasonable to expect that if you pointed people in the direction of NETheater411.com (and did not do these listings on the Theater Mirror) those who wanted to post information would figure out the process and post to the NETheater411.com site.

In this manner I think all of our objectives will be met. Doing so will reduce your workload, the information will still be available to our users - and in the end, both of our websites (and our visitors) will benefit from the extra time you have to do the reviews, editorials, and Cricket Notebook entries.

Let me know how you feel about it. I just wanted to throw it out there for your consideration.
Your fan and fellow theatre info geek,
Juree

Of course I remember Don Campbell, and the "ugot2havvefun.com" website he ran for years. He did the very same sort of work with it that The Mirror does --- as well as having a full-time job and a real life! How he did it I have no idea, but I met him only when keeping it alive became impossible. Don and Lee VanderLaan and Matt Breton and I all met and talked about it. He offered to turn the whole thing over to me, because the work-load was too great and he was simply getting frustrated and tired. (I know exactly how you felt, Don!!!)

What gave me pause then was that the website included paid advertisers --- something The Mirror has often flirted with but never committed to. Lee and I talked about it --- talked much too long, as it turned out, because Don simply gave up and closed the site.

Of course, Don's letter coming when it did only emphasized my own plight with The Mirror. I take my commitment to it fairly seriously, and feel genuine guilt whenever a review doesn't get uploaded for a day or two, when Auditions or Announcements mount up untouched, when I reflect that since Matt Breton got on with his real life, all the listings of events he oversaw have come to a screaming, total halt The bottom-line is obvious:
I can't do it alone any more.

And so along comes Juree James, offering to let me "quit without quitting" as it were.
What she suggests is what, as she mentioned, I intended when we talked "over tea" about replacing The Mirror's basic Audition/Announcement pages with her own NEW ENGLAND Theater411.
Actually, when she started the site, I thought that's exactly what should happen.
And she's correct that if The Mirror were to stop taking items for those pages, NETheater411.com would probably become "the only game in town" and people who now depend on The Mirror would simply use her site instead.

I don't want to do that.

Since I actually DO look at what comes in, I know that a lot of the stuff that comes to The Mirror wouldn't fit into Juree's little boxes.
Stuff arrives here in all sorts of lengths and formats, and some of it is obviously composed by rookie p/r people with limited computer experience.
I have tried using NETheater411.com myself and given up, and though Juree has heard no complaints about it, I have.
At the moment, Lee is working on just such a "submission-form" for The Mirror as Juree's site uses --- something that people could use to put up their information directly and immediately untouched by another human hand. That's fine for those who can and prefer to use it. However, what NETheater411.com has always lacked is any way in which the computer-unlettered or the merely rushed can be included. In brief, what NETheater411.com excludes is anyone who needs a human touch.
The Mirror treats people differently, and I hope it always will.

But, while Lee tinkers with a submission-form, there is rescue waiting in the wings!
And that rescue lies in the capable hands of (Drum-roll please...)

JAMES TALLACH!

You may have met Jim at The Turtle Lane Playhouse.
I met him back of the bar, where his (not-Irish but) Scotsman's burr enlivens the conversation while he dispenses drinks. Or you may have worked with him as a Turtle Lane stage-manager, or performed with him on that stage, where his burr magically disappears.

We have shaken the bugs out of a cooperative effort on the significant time-consuming pages in the past couple weeks, and I believe we now make a team.

It is very important, though, that you send your Audition Call e-mails to:
AUDITIONS@theatermirror.com
And that you send your Spcial Announcement e-mails to:
ANNOUNCEMENTS@theatermirror.com

There's a filter-system on my computer, so that as soon as anything sent to either of those two addresses comes here to me, it is immediately and automatically re-sent to Jim as well.
He will then turn your e-mail into the coded form The Mirror needs, and shoot it back here for upload.
If you send the stuff to ME instead of one of those two addresses, I will try to deal with it --- at my 70-year-old, distracted pace.
Of course, if you need a pianist This Afternoon, send that !!!EMERGENCY!!! directly to me and I'll deal with it as fast as I can.

By the way, if you have some free time to donate to The Mirror, there are still other house-keeping duties that anyone who's interested can do.
Like surfing through the WEBSITES page to update or remove any dead wood.
Like Taking OUT all the outdated Audition Calls and Announcements after we put them in!
Like checking the RESOURCES listings against the WEBSITES to make them as complete as possible.

If you can help us with any of this work, Please send an e-mail!!!! And,
Break a leg all!

Love,
===Anon.
( a k a larry stark ).


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | SEATS | INTERMISSION | CURTAIN |


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