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The Nose

Stage Fright

Anger, Anxiety in Theater Scene as Sun Cuts Community Stage Coverage

Posted 8/15/2007

When longtime Sun theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck left the paper in June, members of the local theater community started to wonder what her departure would mean for theater coverage at the city's only major daily. Last week their worst fears were realized when a pair of e-mails from current Sun theater critic Mary McCauley to two members of the local community theater scene began circulating, even making it as far as the Nose's in box. According to these e-mails, The Sun will no longer be reviewing local community-theater productions, instead focusing its critical coverage on the local professional companies: Center Stage, Everyman Theatre, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, traveling shows at the Hippodrome Theatre, and the smaller traveling productions at Theatre Project.

As for Baltimore's many smaller theaters--such as Fells Point Corner Theatre, Vagabond Players, Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, the Mobtown Players, Performance Workshop Theatre, Run of the Mill Theatre, and many more--The Sun will cover their productions in various other ways, it will just not be reviewing their productions.

No one from The Sun would comment on the matter for this story.

Like many major daily newspapers, the Sun's staff is shrinking, and just this summer yet another round of buyouts reduced the paper's staff yet again. As a result, reporters are juggling many duties--McCauley, for example, also covers books and dance--which translates into fewer people covering a wider range of material.

A lack of reviews doesn't necessarily mean a lack of coverage, though. Features, profiles, and other such advanced coverage will continue, sometimes even as Sunday above-the-fold arts stories--a distinction of a 35-inch story vs. a 10-inch review in the back of a midweek Today section.

"We'll take anything we can get press-wise," says local playwright Joe Dennison, one of the local theater people who initially contacted McCauley inquiring about the Sun's changes. "We are a greedy bunch. But timing is everything. A review at the beginning of a run helps fill the house better than an article two weeks before the run starts."

But promises of supplementary coverage didn't stop local theater people from firing off angry e-mails to each other last week with calls to cancel Sun subscriptions as a response to what one unhappy theater buff called this "devastating news." In short, Dennison feels a lack of reviews hurts local theater. "I'll even take a bad review, and I've had my share, because I've always thought any press is good press for PR reasons," he writes.

Community theater's main gripe, though, is that The Sun isn't treating local arts in the same way it treats sports, news, and everything else it covers. "The readers do not rush down to D.C. to catch a show based on a Sun's review as much as they would go to Mobtown Theater in Hampden or the Vagabond in Fells Point had they the same coverage," Dennison writes. "The Sun has no problem writing about the crime on my street, or its local political race. It should have no problem writing a few words on the good things happening to its readership base.

"I'm not expecting the same amount of press coverage as the other sections. Just respect for the contributors to the art environment in the immediate neighborhoods."

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