Mark Navin, Senior Producer
890 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Though I have lived here for over fifty years, every week when Radio Boston comes on, I learn things about Boston; often things so eye-openingly new and important I'd refer to them as "news". I thank you for teaching me what many things I don't know about my city. and, since you've asked us to "Send us your thoughts and story ideas!" I thought I'd ask you to turn your excellent staff of reporters loose to discover just how much you all don't know about the scope and vigor of Live Theater here in Boston. To entice you, let me enumerate a few things I know myself --- many of which I'll bet the many people who actively Make theater here don't even know themselves.
There is, of course, the shady history that kept plays out of Colonial New England --- though I think General Burgoyne Acted in plays when he held the city in the Revolutionary War. Everyone knows that a "museum" called The New Exhibition Room had to call productions of Shakespeare "lectures" because theater was illegal. But when flaming radicals calling themselves Actors' Equity demanded people actually get paid not just for performances but for Rehearsing, producers started "rehearsing" here in Boston, trying-out shows in front of the most intelligent and enthusiastic audience in America.
They may not know that when he became theater critic for the Boston GLOBE at first Kevin Kelly refused to "waste his time" reviewing even The Charles Playhouse's or the Theatre Company of Boston's plays, because making or breaking shows on their way to Broadway openings was more important. (At that time a producer who wanted a two-week run here had to reserve a slot in one of the three big playhouses here A Year in advance, so many came through town.) They may know, though, that visiting playmakers took much more seriously the words and advice of their friend Eliott Norton, who worked for the RECORD-AMERICAN and, when they bought it, the HERALD.
When I wrote reviews (circa '67 - '72), aside from the three Broadway houses and TCB and the Charles I found ten tiny companies that down in New York Brooks Atkinson was calling "off-Broadway" theatres. About the time I started my website (The Theater Mirror), including theater-schools and a healthy necklace of suburban Community Theatres I found 48 with local addresses. In 2001 I printed a little guidebook to 93 working inside the Boston city limits.
And how many do you think there are now?
Well, in 2009 you could see more than 200 shows --- I saw 194 of them myself. If your WBUR reviewer, or the critics "covering" live theater at the GLOBE did a decent job, they'd have a lot to talk about. In fact, there were about 111 different companies working here --- not including ELEVEN MORE that began performing in 2009 alone.
And the good news is that, though the financial attrition that the current recession wreaks has created revenue drops at sports and movies and concerts, attendance at live theater has not dropped at all; it may even be growing.
So there's a lot of "news" to report, isn't there?
If you're interested, I could get you started investigating:
1) the CENTRAL SQUARE THEATRE just opened the first new performing-space in years, now the home for two healthy, long-itinerant "homeless" local companies.
2) THE FACTORY THEATRE only seats 50, but every single week-end has been book by "fringe" theater-companies through all of 2010 already.
3) THE FOOTLIGHT CLUB in Jamaica Plain long ago lost count when after 100 years it became the oldest continually producing Theatre Building in America.
4) COMPANY ONE, the youngest "resident company" at the BCA is starting it's TENth season; WHISTLER IN THE DARK, now using The Factory, it's FIFTH; IMAGINARY BEASTS and The F.U.D.G.E. THEATRE COMPANY are a little younger.
5) THE BOSTON PLAYWRIGHTS' THEATRE only does New Plays, but they have to have Two stages there to accommodate all of them every year.
6) THE TURTLE LANE PLAYHOUSE in Newton has been doing award-winning productions of musicals in an intimate setting since 1981. The atmosphere after the shows in the bar (inches from the auditorium) is sublime.
I could go on; I'd love to of course, but I won't. Your crew are really good at digging into a subject and turning up things people never knew about the city they live in. I look forward to hearing what surprisingly new things you will find. I'll bet even the the people who Make theater here will be surprised --- they're too busy doing their thing to realize what a vast theatrical Explosion they're part of.
If you DO turn your excellent spotlight on the local theater scene, probably you'd like to co-ordinate airing it with one of the two major events that bring the entire "theater community" of Boston together under one roof:
In March or April, the IRNE Bash
(Each year "The Independent Reviewers of New England" give awards for excellence to both the Equity companies and the local Fringe companies in town. Ten years ago they started in a Chestnut Hill common-room; then in a larger upstairs function room at the Massachusetts College of Art. Outgrowing that they used the Rotunda Room at the Hotel Essex until they outgrew That, and now the event fills the Cyclorama Building at The Boston Center for The Arts. Even if you don't do a show, I recommend you attend this lively event.)
In April or May, The Boston Marathon
(Beginning at noon fifty different local companies perform fifty new 10-minute plays by fifty different playwrights, five an hour --- followed by the most hectic party full of cross-congratulating you can think of, after which everyone goes home to sleep for a week. It also outgrew the Boston Playwrights' Theatre (who still coordinates this extravaganza) and now takes place in the Wimberly Performance Space at The BCA. It is no longer confined to the Sunday before that silly footrace that stole its name.[Insert wry emoticon of your choice here!])
( a k a larry stark)