Terry Teachout | Critic, playwright, musician, and theater lover
Terry Teachout, a drama critic and cultural columnist at the Wall Street Journal two decades, died early Thursday, January 13. He was 65.
As summarized by the editorial board of his publishing home base, Teachout had a wide range of interests and explored them all — reviews and articles for the WSJ books and arts pages since 1987, books and memories, even a play about his beloved Louis Armstrong that played around the country called Satchmo at the Waldorf that premiered off Broadway in 2014. He started a weekly theater column in 2003 and carried on covering the theater scene in New York City and across the country.
Colleagues posted about his legacy throughout the day, often commenting on disagreeing politically and always remarking on Teachout’s joy in debate and graciousness in conversation.
— Helen Shaw@Helen_E_Shaw “The loss of Terry Teachout means the loss of our last national critic—he covered everything, everywhere. What an awful, awful day.”
— Peter Marks@petermarksdrama·”Terry was a colleague and friend of boundless humor, buoyant talent and immense kindness. The hours we spent, he and I and Elisabeth, trading stories and opinions about the art form we love, will be a treasure to me always. I’m devastated.”
— Elisabeth Vincentelli@EVincentelli·”If you ever saw a comedy when Terry Teachout was in the audience, you’ll remember his big, joyous laugh — he LOVED the theater. @petermarksdrama and I delighted in crossing swords with him on our podcast because he was always such a good sport about it all. What a loss.”
— David Cote@DavidCote (Replying to @Helen_E_Shaw) “Lord knows we didn’t agree on most things and certain antipathies were quick to arise, but he was always more gallant and civil than I. Which probably wasn’t too hard.”
— Jason Zinoman@zinoman “This is shocking and terribly sad. A great critic and irreplaceable champion of the theater, the rare national critic who regularly covered regional houses all over the US. Also, just far kinder and more generous online than anyone else. RIP Terry Teachout.”
— Charles McNulty@CharlesMcNulty “Shocked by the news. I didn’t know Terry personally, but I feel as though I did because he’s been such a good neighbor on Twitter. And of course he’s been a mainstay of drama criticism, a national voice, filing manicured columns week after week.”
Young mentees wrote about his gentle guidance and encouragement.
— Diep Tran@diepthought “I’m devastated. Terry was an invaluable mentor to me: Always encouraging and positive, and saw things in me I didn’t see in myself. And despite his long tenure at WSJ, he never lost his sense of wonder for theater. Truly an inspiration and a gigantic loss for the field.”
— Nicole Serratore@MildlyBitter “I’m genuinely in shock. Terry was so supportive of me and my writing. And I loved when I made him laugh.’ and she continued, “And we never agreed on a single show. But he was such an enthusiastic theatergoing partner and kindly invited me to shows with him. And he just loved theater through and through.”
Theaters posted about his generous coverage of their often-overlooked productions. Teachout saw his job, they reported, as covering the waterfront in ways and with an enthusiasm that few critics and reporters are interested in or have the institutional support to execute today. Jonathan Bank, artistic director of the Mint Theater Company in New York City, offered some deep felt sentiments to patrons in an email early today that reflects how theaters felt about being in Teachout’s enthusiastic embrace.
“Terry Teachout introduced so many of you to the Mint over the last 16 years,” Banks wrote, “that I feel compelled to reach out to you this morning, knowing that Terry was the matchmaker who brought us together. I know this because you told me so. We all loved Terry and trusted him, for his honesty, enthusiasm and generosity, not to mention his taste, and frank and vivid prose. And we will all miss him.” Bank continued, “Terry reviewed 14 Mint productions between 2005 and 2018. His impact on the Mint, and so many other smaller companies, is profound and immeasurable. We corresponded some over the years. Last April, I sent a note in response to his coverage of our streaming (remarkably, he watched and reviewed all of our recordings). He replied, “God, am I ready to sit in an audience again….””
Finally, we should uplift the words of the critic himself in the 2012 “Perspectives in Criticism” address at that year’s annual convening in Chicago. Read the entire piece, and savor his love for the artform.
“I used to teach a college course in criticism, and on the first day I always gave my students a handout called “The Fifteen Commandments of a Critic.” Some of them were just plain horse sense—be simple, be brief, be specific, wear a watch—but the last three bear on what I’ve been talking about. They are:
Always treat artists with respect. Most of them know how to do something you can’t do.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong.
And, last but very definitely not least:
Don’t be afraid to be enthusiastic!
That’s what I think criticism should do, at its best. It’s about enthusiasm, and passion, and love—and if it’s not about those things, then it’s no good.”
Though he was not an ATCA member, ATCA valued and uplifted his work. He was generous to our members and the field at large. He will be missed.
– Submitted by Martha Wade Steketee