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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New York Times and the Fringe

It's perhaps no surprise that, while Charles Isherwood and Ben Brantley have sent dispatches from theatre hubs like Chicago and London, the Times has committed only a single article, thus far, to its coverage of the New York International Fringe Festival. Fairly, this may well be a matter of scale and of the Fringe's growing reputation as an overcrowded grab-bag.

Pointedly, the coverage of the Fringe this year has been arbitrary on most fronts (an article to acknowledge its presence) and, overwhelmingly, negative. Most coverage has been about how chaotic it is, how it needs fixing, how its quality is in question.

Most of this coverage has come out of wariness, though, and not experience. How many Fringe shows have you seen actually reviewed (outside the always amazing efforts of Nytheatre.com)? Why doesn't the Times commit a single freelancer to covering the Fringe the way they sent their top man overseas, blogging style, on the website?


Zack said...

I completely agree. It's idiotic. It seems like they are annoyed that an international theatre festival is going on that has something like 180 shows in it in 20 venues.

Now if the show was at Lincoln Center, Ben Brantley would be at every show with bells on, and frankly I've seen some shows there that wasn't much better than some of the dreck that's done at the Fringe.

TD said...

In addition to nytheatre.com's great coverage, offoffonline.com seems to be making a big effort this year--they've already reviewed almost 50 Fringe productions. And Time Out NY is sending reviewers to over 100 of the offerings and posting their reviews online.

The Times, however, according to my unscientific quick flip through the press book at FringeCentral, didn't seem to be in the mix.

Mark said...

I seem to remember them publishing Fringe reviews in recent years, so I have been assuming some are coming. I think they should be covering Fringe shows.

However, to play devil's advocate, August: Osage County is legitimately one of the biggest theatrical events of the season. It's going to be a frontrunner for the Pulitzer and if they hadn't covered it, people would have justly got on their case.

Freeman said...

Totally agreed that the Times SHOULD review theater outside NY, and hit Chicago and London.

Perhaps the Times is looking at increased coverage in other sources (ones better equipped to handle it, like websites) and are just saying "Go get em."

I do expect some reviews from the Times. It just seems, as of now, like mostly light coverage.

Ian G said...

Meanwhile, the London Guardian has an entire special section of its website devoted to the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe; an article posted there wonders if they're covering everything too thoroughly and maybe people are suffering from a bit of Fringe burnout.

Over on the Guardian's theatre blogs, in the wake of Brantley's stay there was a long, very self-congratulatory, but largely accurate piece about why the theatre scene in London is in every way superior to NYC. The crux of the argument is that while London is plagued with dumbass West End crap the same way NYC has to deal with a staggering crap-to-quality ratio on Broadway, the difference is that there is a huge amount of quality theatre in London completely independent of the West End that would never be produced in New York because it's not commercial enough (A prime example seems to be the RNT's recent "Saint Joan", which admittedly will never cross the pond unless they score Lindsay Lohan for Joan). Rather than the off-Broadway scene in NYC, which is content to be "Broadway Junior" and ape the values of Broadway on a smaller scale, London's independent theatres (naming the Almeida, the Globe, the Royal Court, the RSC, the RNT among others) function in a completely different sphere from the West End, providing a thriving home for quality, full-scale productions of exciting new works and revivals. As a result NYC has no choice but to look to London for its talent, which is why vastly more UK-based work and artists are seen in NYC than vice versa.

There is no mention made of the small, "fringe" or "indie" scene in either London or New York, and the tone, as I said, is pretty self-congratulatory, but I gotta say, much as it pains me, most of the article struck me as a fair assessment. The "Big Theatre" scene in NYC - Broadway and off-Broadway - is pretty laughable compared to the "Big Theatre" scene in London. But the comparison is also somewhat false, in the sense that the UK, while having some great regional theatres, is a much smaller country geographically, and the vast majority of the theatre work is done in London. The vast majority of theatre in the US happens outside of NYC, so if you really wanted a picture of US vs UK theatre you'd have to stack all those London theatres against the ACT, OSF, Goodman, Huntington, etc. But as far as the city with the best "Big Theatre" scene - that's a no-brainer. Better and more inclusive press coverage too, from what I can gather.