by: Sandi Durell
The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) met in New York City for a mini-conference November 7th thru 9th as critics from various cities, representing many different publications from across the country, congregated and participated in a variety of workshops and seminars. The event was chaired by Sherry Eaker and Ira Bilowit.
Opening day, November 7th, took place at the Lark Play Development Center where playwright Arthur Kopit (Director of Lark’s Playwrights’ Workshop) led an interactive playwriting primer for critics in an exercise where various critics submitted a scene that began with the words “Did You Bring It?” in a 2-character play that flowed from there. The various readings that ensued, bringing the scenes to life, included a brilliant cast of actors: Brian Dykstra, Paul Eddy, Annie Henk, Evelyn Spahr, Michael Oberholtzer, Heidi Armbruster. Definite Ah Ha moments!
ATCA Chair Jonathan Abarbanel (WDBC Public Radio & Windy City Times) moderated a panel of theater presenters and producers including Kristin Caskey (Fox Theatricals), Albert Nocciolino (NAC Entertainment), Lauren Reid (Key Brand Entertainment) and Jeffrey Seller (Tony Award winner Rent, Avenue Q, In the Heights, Private Lives) whose latest musical The Last Ship is currently on Broadway. The topic “A Two-Way Street: Broadway and the Road – How Do Critics Influence the Flow of Traffic?”
Chris Rawson (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) hosted a panel of notable playwrights in “Perspectives in Criticism” – what do playwrights really want to hear from critics? The panel included Tina Howe, David Henry Hwang, Doug Wright and Arthur Kopit. The discussion proved illuminating especially hearing Ms. Howe (who brought her own book of light) iterating that she wants glowing reviews. Hwang say “it’s important to separate the commercial from the artistic parts of a play;” Mr. Kopit suggested critics need more humility and there really isn’t one answer as each critic brings their own baggage to what they write; and Doug Wright offered a most significant thought to keep in mind – advocate for the form whether you like a play or not.
What all participants looked forward to occurred on Saturday, November 8th – “Luncheon with the Stars,” at Sardi’s, where Broadway celebrities mingled and lunched together with the ATCA members. The celebs included several from the cast of “You Can’t Take It With You,” (currently on Broadway) with Mark Linn-Baker, Elizabeth Ashley, Julie Halston; Blythe Danner (The Country House); the upcoming cast of Jason Robert Brown’s “Honeymoon in Vegas,” Tony Danza and Rob McClure, as well as Cady Huffman. Each was asked a question by one of the member critics, with audience members picking up from there and resulting in laughs-a-plenty for everyone.
Sunday, November 9th provided tips on “Social Media and You” for those who wanted to rev up their skills with Mark Lowry (TheaterJones.com) and Jonathan Mandell (New York Theater).
The next ATCA Conference takes place in the spring in New Orleans.