ATCA members connect with the latest in New York, national theater
By Maren Scriven Swensen
NEW YORK — More than 60 members of ATCA gathered at the new MCC Theater complex on West 52nd Street Friday, Nov. 1, to Sunday, Nov. 3 to engage with the best and the brightest in the theater industry, including Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, Oscar and Tony Award recipients and Tom Kirdahy, producer of both the past season’s hit “Hadestown” and this year’s most talked about play, “The Inheritance.”
On Saturday, ATCA awarded its Primus Prize for emerging female playwrights to Leah Nanako Winkler. “Playwrights and critics need each other,” said Winkler at the Sardi’s luncheon, attended by Will Eno, Charles Busch, Marisa Tomei, Celia Keenan-Bolger, William Ivey Long, Marga Gomez, Gerard Alessandrini and Lillias White.
ATCA members refined their skills with sessions on podcasting from their own Lauren Van Hermert and Google Tools research strategies from expert Frank Bi, from Google, under a collaboration with the Society of Professional Journalists.
Highlighting Friday’s panels was a conversation among playwrights Douglas Wright, Robert Schenkkan and director Bill Rauch. Other sessions on Friday concentrated on reviewing with cultural awareness: a conversation with ATCA member Kelundra Smith and The New York Times critic Laura Collins-Hughes and a panel moderated by Soraya Nadia McDonald that featured David Henry Hwang, Nambi E. Kelly and Susan Soon He Stanton.
Critics also focused on two panels about music in theater: one on the evolving sound of musicals moderated by Julie James, featuring Ross Golan, Michael R. Jackson and Georgia Stitt, and another on the art of cast recordings from Sean Patrick Flahaven, Van Dean, Kurt Deutsch and Scott Farthing.
The importance of conferences like this for ATCA member critics was summed up at Sardi’s by playwright Eno: “Your true self is revealed in your connections with other people.” ATCA has embraced the commitment to connect across cultures and perspectives in its mission to increase diversity in its membership, offer skills training for members to connect in the ever-changing world of criticism in the digital age and conduct panels and conversations on diversity and identity with major names in the American theater.
At Saturday Sardi’s lunch, ATCA members listened to Marisa Tomei talk on how she prepared for her role in “The Rose Tattoo,” Lillias White on her long career, Celia Keenan-Bolger on her journey in “To Kill a Mockingbird” (her final performance was the next day), William Ivey Long on designing the costumes for over 75 shows and Gerard Alessandrini on the “Forbidden Broadway” art of show biz parody. Watching Winkler accept the Primus Prize and knowing that ATCA is actively a part of keeping new storytelling alive was a luncheon highlight.
Colleagues debated and unpacked the art of good criticism and the value of self-reflection and the ability to adjust to changing storytelling. With connections provided through the planning committee, I saw five productions, and with colleagues I discussed the theatrical scene in New York and across the nation. The amount of thought and work put into this event cannot be understated. As a critic from Utah, I know just how difficult it can be to make it to one of these conferences, but I can say that I have found the experience invaluable and one I will not soon forget.
Dr. Maren Scriven Swensen is a counselor, theatre critic, mother, and stepmother based out of Salt Lake City. She writes for Utah Theatre Bloggers Association.
Thanks for photos to Frank Rizzo, Martha Wade Steketee and Sharon Eberson.