Looking at the Lack of Theater Journalism and Saying Goodbye to Lynda Gravátt

As coverage of theater dwindles, it becomes harder for the public to realize it even exists.

By: Feb. 26, 2024
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Looking at the Lack of Theater Journalism and Saying Goodbye to Lynda Gravátt
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We’ve all heard about the shuttering of media outlets and the departure of entertainment journalists from publications still in business. I’m one of many who have written about there being fewer theater critics in the last decades. Jason Zinoman recently wrote about the “slow death of criticism” more eloquently than I could and I urge you to read his words. In the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking frequently about how the dearth of theater coverage is changing our perception of the art form.

It feels like off-off-Broadway has shrunk tremendously since the pandemic. But the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./New York) reports more members than it had five years ago. Now you could argue that maybe there are more young companies or that some are more niche than the companies of old or larger theaters are now joining because of black box spaces; I don’t think any of this explains all of it though. A lot is a lack of press.

I’ve been talking to the leaders of theaters all across the country. So many of them reference lack of coverage as a major concern. An artistic director of a struggling theater in Florida told me he recently ran into a woman who recognized him from curtain call speeches. She wasn’t a subscriber, but she was someone who would occasionally go to the theater when she heard about a show that interested her. This woman thought his theater had not reopened after the pandemic. Why? He explained to me that his city has a daily and an alternative weekly, both of which still exist, but now rarely cover theater. Neither do reviews anymore. The alternative weekly used to do about 4 features on the theater per season; since the re-opening it’s been two total. Sure, the theater sends email blasts, but those are often lost in a sea of junk email. So you can’t blame this woman for not knowing the theater reopened. But theater companies cannot afford to lose women like her. And this company lost her not because of the quality of its shows, but because the press in many places has abandoned the art form. Local theaters can’t afford billboards or radio ads—they long relied on press that no longer exists.

If you’re reading this column, you care about theater. So, whatever your opinion on critics and criticism of art, you should want to keep people writing about theater. So I urge you to click on the stories written in your local media outlets about theater. Send letters to the editor praising them when they appear. Do something.

A final unrelated note. Last week, the theater community lost Lynda Gravátt. And it was a huge loss to many. For many years she was a constant presence off-Broadway. Whether it was as the boardinghouse owner in Intimate Apparel, union rep Faye in Skeleton Crew (played on Broadway by Phylicia Rashad), the imposing matron in The House That Will Not Stand, or any other of her many roles, she had a gravitas that stuck with you. Time Out New York’s Adam Feldman called Gravátt’s Faye “a model of rusted steel.” But it was her warmth I think you’ll hear most about in coming tributes. She was a mentor and a teacher to several actors. In terms of leaving a legacy, she not only leaves her performances and a family, but she leaves actors made better because of her. More than most can say.

Industry Trends Weekly is a short column that runs in the weekly Industry Pro Newsletter. To read past columns and subscribe https://cloud.broadwayworld.com/rec/ticketclick.cfm?fromlink=2263077&regid=&articlelink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.broadwayworld.com%2Ftopic%2FIndustry-Pro?utm_source=BWW2022&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=article&utm_content=bottombuybutton1. If you have an idea for the column, you can reach the author at cara@broadwayworld.com.