A spokesperson for the paper confirmed that the column, called "On Stage and Off," would not return with the new theatre season. For decades, the feature—which appeared on the second page of the Friday arts section—was the favored repository of theatre new items among press-hungry theatrical producers and press agents. Placement of a tidbit in the column was thought to buy precious publicity. Shows and theatre companies fought for space in the 1,000-word weekly occurrence.
According to the Times, such items should now be referred to Lawrence Van Gelder, the editor of the daily "Arts Briefings" column, which is seen on the second page of the arts section Monday through Friday. In the daily assemblage of news pieces, theatre shares space with reports on art, dance, film and other topics.
The last person to author the powerful column was Jason Zinoman, who left his post as theatre editor at Time Out New York to join the Times in 2003. Before that Jesse McKinley penned the feature for four seasons. Some who manned the column, such as Bruce Weber and Peter Marks, went on to become Times theatre critics. Others, such as Rick Lyman, were seldom to be seen writing about drama again after leaving the post.
Most observers agree that the most successful, and most notorious, stewardship of the column in recent years belonged to Alex Witchel. Witchel authored the weekly feature for two seasons and brought to it a bite and verve which producers didn't always care for, but readers loved. Witchell is currently a cultural writer for the Times, and is wife of former Times lead theatre critic Frank Rich.
For a time, the items were adorned with a weekly drawing by Al Hirschfeld. That tradition was discontinued during Witchel's tenure. Thereafter, photographs were the art of choice. With the Times' decision, the New York theatre community is left with few local columns devoted solely to the theatre. The most prominent are the gossipy and opinionated Wednesday and Friday offerings by Michael Riedel in the New York Post. The competition Riedel offered was arguably a factor in the demise of the Times' column. Reports have also mentioned the minute-by-minute, scoop-spoiling coverage of theatre websites such as Playbill.com and theatre chat rooms like "All That Chat" on the Talkin' Broadway site as becoming increasingly frustrating to producers and Times editors.
Gordon Cox writes a Thursday column for the Newsday, and Jeremy McCarter pens an often observational piece for the New York Sun every Wednesday. On a national level, Variety's Robert Hofler posts a news-oriented column in the trade's weekly edition.
The Times has made other significant changes in its theatre coverage in recent months. Over the summer, Charles Isherwood replaces the much disliked second string theatre critic Margo Jefferson. The Times also recently named Patti Cohen to the new position of overall theatre editor. Cohen will oversee the daily and weekend coverage of the theatre. Additionally, Jesse Green was taken on as the primary theatre feature writer for the Sunday "Arts and Leisure" section, penning exhaustive pieces on subjects such as Tonya Pinkins and The Frogs.