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ATCA condemns selling press comps

NOV. 4, 2015: The American Theatre Critics Association is incensed that a Seattle theater critic for The Huffington Post has offered for sale on Craigslist his second free ticket to events that he was covering.

“To be very clear, the writer is not a member of our organization,” said Wm. F. Hirschman, chairman of ATCA’s executive committee. “But, nonetheless, we want to stress that our code of conduct specifically forbids taking advantage of the generosity of theaters’ decades-old practice of providing a second ticket to reviewers. 

The code governing our membership requires: “I will respect the intent of complimentary items (tickets, merchandise) given to me in the course of my job and not use them for financial gain.”

Chairman of ATCA’s Committee on Ethical Standards Victor Gluck wrote, “The ultimate problem with reviewers selling their complimentary tickets is that it casts an ethical pall over the entire the critical community.”

Gluck wrote, “It is standard practice that if a critic cannot use one or more of his or her tickets, the press agent will be notified and the tickets returned to box office or reassigned to another critic who was not fortunate enough to have been provided with tickets. As critics’ tickets represent a loss of revenue to the theater, selling the tickets is in effect stealing from the event.”

In fact, reports of such behavior are quite rare. In New York City, an offending critic has been summarily dropped from the press list and barred from future events. In addition, such prestigious critics’ organizations as The Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle have expelled members proved to be selling their complimentary tickets.

ATCA is concerned that the public confidence in criticism is endangered when anyone can claim to be an arts journalist, regardless of their knowledge of theater and professional experience. ATCA is in the process of exploring the ethical challenges that have arisen in the past few years and we are fine-tuning what we hope will be suggested industry-wide standards for professionals to consider in developing their own code of ethics. One benefit of ATCA membership is access to colleagues to discuss standards of practice and hopefully avoiding such episodes.

ATCA was founded in 1974 and works to raise critical standards and public awareness of critics’ functions and responsibilities. The only national association of professional theater critics, with members working for newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations and websites, ATCA is affiliated with the International Association of Theatre Critics, a UNESCO-affiliated organization that sponsors seminars and congresses worldwide.

ATCA administers Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Award, the Francesca Primus Prize honoring outstanding contributions to the American theater by female artists, recommends a nominee for the Regional Theater Tony and votes on inductions into the Theater Hall of Fame.

For more information on ATCA or this issue, visit www.americantheatrecritics.org or contact Hirschman at muckrayk@aol.com.

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