ATCA chair Abarbanel welcomes critics, outlines challenges and opportunities

ATCA chair Abarbanel welcomes critics, outlines challenges and opportunities

Opening Remarks, General Membership Meeting, Louisville, KY, 3 April 2014
By Jonathan Abarbanel, chair 

Jonathan Abarbanel, ATCA chair

Good-morning, everyone. Welcome to Louisville, Kentucky and the Annual Conference of the American Theatre Critics Association. While this is our 37th annual meeting, in fact our Association marks its 40th anniversary this year, founded under a now-mythological Copper Beech tree at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. We will take public note of our 40th anniversary this Saturday night when we present the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Awards so, as they say down here, y’all come!

I’m Jonathan Abarbanel, as I think most of you know, and it’s been my privilege to Chair the ATCA Executive Committee since last July; a committee which I assure you has been very, very busy as you will find during our General Membership meetings this morning, tomorrow and Saturday morning. I urge you, and humbly request you, to attend all three meetings as we’ll be discussing changes to our bylaws and organization which may have a profound impact on ATCA’s future. We also will be electing three Executive Committee members and selecting the site of our next Conference from several enticing prospects. Indeed, we’ll have a more lively Conference competition than we’ve had in several years.

Only nine months have passed since our last Annual Conference, a shorter time-span than usual, but those months have been filled with a great deal of activity and change, not all of it happy news. In the last five months we have lost four veteran members, each of whom we held in high esteem and friendship.

It would be inappropriate to move forward without noting the passing, at 100 years of age, of our beloved Clara Hieronymus, a founding member of the American Theatre Critics Association and its long-time Executive Secretary, who helped mentor the next generation of Association leadership, represented by several now-gray-haired folks in this room, myself among them.

Death also unexpectedly took Barbara Gross, of Rockville, MD, at far too young an age, Barbara having been with us in Shepherdstown just last July; and veteran critic, theatre historian and scholar William Green of New York City. Finally, just a few weeks ago, we learned of the passing of Jay Stanley of New Orleans and, before that, an active theatre critic in Los Angeles. We are a small organization as professional associations go, and every loss is a heavy loss to us.

The new year also brought news of a Manhattan street scuffle that left our dedicated member, Randy Gener, with severe head injuries. The outpouring of support for Randy—and I mean in money as well as good wishes and prayers—from scores of our members—and our friends in the International Association of Theatre Critics and the Canadian Theatre Critics Association—was astonishing and moving and made me so very, very proud to be one of you. Randy now is recuperating at home, awaiting the start of his outpatient intensive rehabilitation program at Mt. Sinai. He is gaining strength and has consistently amazed his doctors with the speed of his physical and cognitive recovery. He sends his thanks to all those who sent cards and messages of support during his two hospital stays. It meant a great deal to him to hear from so many people and it had a very positive impact on his convalescence

I’m pleased to tell you that there has been happy news as well, as our colleagues have celebrated marriages, births, bar-mitzvahs and—in the case of our administrator, Barry Gaines, a recent 40th wedding anniversary.

Most of you in this room today are ATCA veterans and old hands at our annual conferences. Indeed, I’m delighted to see so many former ExCom chairs here to be my back-seat drivers as I do this for the first time: Marianne Evett, Rick Pender, Betsey Maupin, Jay Handelman and Chris Rawson … please stand up and let everyone see how fat you’ve become! I expect to follow you in due course.

The principal purpose of our meeting today and our meetings tomorrow and Saturday, is to conduct the business of our Association as required by our by-laws and articles of incorporation, and also to update you on our activities and programs. As you will hear in a few minutes, the American Theatre Critics Association remains stable in membership and in sound fiscal health, no mean achievement in an era when our profession continues to be under pressure along with many other traditional aspects of journalism. By necessity, we continue to re-invent ourselves. This will, in fact, be a central focus of discussion tomorrow as we begin a review of our membership categories and requirements, the first such review in quite a while.

Already, change has begun. For one, the Executive Committee is in the process of the first major overhaul of our by-laws in many years. These revisions will make possible electronic/online voting for members of the Executive Committee and thereby extend the voting franchise to ALL members in good standing, not just those attending meetings. We hope this will engage more members in active involvement in our Association.

We also will introduce, this morning, a new critic-to-critic mentoring program devised by the Professional Development Committee, and we will seek your input in creating the first in-depth survey of our membership and our professional work in two decades.

Additionally, plans are being made to publish a new hard-copy of our Membership Directory, which we hope to have completed by the end of this calendar year. It will be our first printed directory since 2009.

These are just a few key aspects of what’s been afoot since we met in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, last July. The ongoing work is conducted by our nine-member Executive Committee and our dedicated Executive Secretary, Barbara Bannon. Electing a hard-working and energetic ExCom is one of the chief orders of business at our Annual Conference and this year is no exception. As a reminder, each year we elect three members to serve for three years. Each member can be elected for a second three year term, but then must cycle off for at least a year. This year, our Vice-Chair and Treasurer, Brad Hathaway, completes six years and will cycle off, as does Edward Rubin, our ExCom member from NYC known far and wide as “Fast Eddie.” New members will be needed to succeed them. Another member, Wendy Rosenfield, has completed her first three-year term and is eligible to elected for three more years. She has let us know she IS running for a second term.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll call for nominations for the ExCom. Please spend part of the next 24 hours thinking about those who might have the dedication and energy to serve. There are no pre-conditions except you must be a member in good standing and able to make the time commitment required. There is no organized slate of candidates, no pre-approved list, so I urge you to discuss among yourselves the issues ATCA faces and who might best carry forward our work.

Tomorrow morning we will also hear presentations for future ATCA Annual Conferences, and I’m excited to tell you there will be at least three proposals put before you. For the first time in quite a while, we may find ourselves able to plan not just one year ahead, but two years ahead. So I urge you to be here tomorrow for the presentations, and to be here Saturday to vote for a Conference venue and for new members of the ExCom.

The bottom line is that the American Theatre Critics Association is largely a volunteer-run professional organization. We rise or fall on the involvement and hard work and creative energy of all of us in this room, as well as many colleagues who are not here today but are engaged in the work of our Association. I ask you, I urge you, I invite you to help us stay strong as an Association and strong as a profession.

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