Though oft maligned and misunderstood, critics are as vital a part of the total theatre scene as audiences, ushers, stage managers, marketers, feature writers and anyone else concerned with the quantity, quality and perception of what's currently on stage. Many awards bodies and "critics' circles" exist on a regional level, but only one national organization serves a home base for theatre critics across the U.S.
Twice a year, the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) meets, with its several hundred members attending seminars, joining discussion groups, sharing views with colleagues and, of course, attending shows. This year's full-scale meeting will take place in Philadelphia, June 1-6. The annual New York mini-meeting (recently renamed "the New York Conference") happens this weekend, Feb. 19-20, with most panels occurring at the Roundabout Theatre space.
After remarks by ATCA chairperson Betsy Maupin, the first panel will cover the relationship between commercial and non-profit theatres. Newhouse Newspaper critic Michael Sommers chairs the discussion, with participants expected to include Scott Zeiger (Pace Theatrical), Todd Haimes (Livent and the Roundabout) and Emily Mann (NJ's McCarter). Sommers told Playbill On-Line the panel, titled "The Vanishing Line," would show "how twenty years ago, there was all this huge conflict between alternative theatre and Broadway. That's pretty much gone, and now there's a great deal of cooperation. For example, The Civil War, was first done at the Alley Theatre, now Pace is doing it. Tommy started at La Jolla. And McCarter Theatre put up the Donmar Warehouse's Electra before it came to New York."
Following the discussion will be a lecture by former New York Times critic and current op-ed writer, Frank Rich. Capping the day are a panel offering ideas to freelance theatre writers, and a discussion among producers, press agents and critics about working together more peaceably.
On Saturday, ATCA holds its annual "Celebrity Luncheon." Expected at the Broadway Grill are Matthew Broderick (Night Must Fall), Alan Cumming (Cabaret), Edie Falco (Side Man), Elizabeth Franz (Death of a Salesman), David Marshall Grant (author of Snakebit) , Uta Hagen (Collected Stories), producer Eric Krebs, author Warren Leight (Side Man), Anna Manahan (The Beauty Queen of Leenane), Christiane Noll (Little By Little), Zoe Wanamaker (Electra), Rachel York (The Scarlet Pimpernel). Also on Saturday, Dan O'Brien will receive ATCA's sixth annual Elizabeth Osborn Award for an emerging playwright. In O'Brien's surreal Lamarck, an American searches for an allegedly insane woman in Paris. She's reported to be the last living relative of pre Darwinian scientific theorist Lamarck.
O'Brien is a Rhode Island resident and Brown University graduate student. His Lamarck received a staged reading at Trinity Rep and a production in November 1998 at the Perishable Theatre, both in Providence.
The Osborn Award, which comes with a $300 prize, will be given out at the Broadway Grill luncheon. Last year's winner was Rebecca Gilman's The Glory of Living. (Please note that the Osborn Award -- named for late theatre critic Elizabeth Osborn -- is separate from ATCA's New Play Award, still to be announced.)
The American Theatre Critics Association comprises critics from across the country and is allied with the International Association of Theatre Critics. The NY Conference closes on Sunday with a general business meeting.
For information on the American Theatre Critics Association call (812) 474-0549.
-- By David Lefkowitz