It’s a Sad State of Affairs when…

…one of my favorite Los Angeles theater critics, Tony Frankel of Stage and Cinema, is writing glorified press releases for theater companies.

Unfortunately, it’s a trend I’ve been noticing with Tony over the last few months. I know he’s slammed with his duties as Editor-in-Chief at S&C, and thankfully he continues to assemble a crack group of critics over there, including Jason Rohrer, Paul Birchall, Samuel Bernstein, Thomas Antoinne, Jesse David Corti, Mia Bonadonna, Tom Chaits and Barnaby Hughes, probably the most honest and insightful group of critics in Los Angeles, but seeing Tony’s talents relegated to these puff pieces is, frankly, depressing.

The good news, I guess, if there is any to be found, is that these “features” or “previews” (as they are being called on the site) by Tony are extremely well-written and rich with context and history, which certainly separates them from some of the other puff pieces I read around town. Neverthless, I still have to call ‘em as I see ‘em, glorified press releases. And I find myself simply skipping over these articles when I see them on the site. I see enough press releases come down the pike as it is, I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to read some more even if they are well written.

Sometimes a cigar is simply a cigar.

I guess a brother has to got to do what a brother has got to do to get by, we all have to dance with the devil to some extent to make ends meet, still, I don’t find it to be a positive development in the evolution of theater criticism here in Los Angeles.

Okay, my virtual sigh is complete.

Carry on.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. Kevin Delin Kevin Delin says:

    It also sets up the most basic “appearance of a conflict of interest.”

  2. Tony Frankel says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write about this, Colin.

    While it is true that I have written more “feature” pieces (and thank you for acknowledging that they are not “cut-and-paste” jobs taken from press releases), I will only write about organizations which I support, not limited to but including LA Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale, LA Chamber Orchestra, The Joffrey, Actors’ Gang and more. The truth is, I want to see more people attend classical music and dance, which, in my mind, far outshines L.A. Theater when it comes to productions that are moving, touching and inspiring.

    Whenever I write a review for a show which has received a “feature” piece, my honesty remains the same.

    Sadly, Colin, you do hit on a larger, more disturbing trend. There are some organizations who will only give press tickets if they write a piece beforehand (especially when it is a short run). Many companies don’t want reviews, they want to sell tickets (especially in this economy). When theater tickets are the only compensation for a helluva lot of work, what would you do?

    Ultimately, this is a very tiny issue compared with the so-called critics who praise nearly every show they see. Or worse, critics who are not allowed to write anything negative in their publications. That is the conflict of interest – my support of organizations which I believe in is not.

  3. Trevor Thomas says:

    I think it’s fine if Colin doesn’t read Tony Frankel’s news items and previews. I don’t much bother with Ben Brantley’s or — back in the day — Dan Sullivan’s, but frankly these sorts of pieces are what old school print reviewers wrote when they weren’t writing reviews, before such pieces were relegated to the swamplands of stringer and blog. He brings extensive knowledge to all his work and, for example, in a town so bereft of musical sophistication that D Major is a post-operative bra size to many, anyone who can render Philip Glass’s complex ostinato compositional technique into compelling prose should be praised, not buried.

    To my way of thinking Frankel approaches his job like the classic arts beat editor. The true sad state of affairs is that if there were any goddamned justice he’d be doing it at the L.A. Times as Dauphin, playing Isherwood to McNulty’s Brantley. He is among the top three or four arts writers on the West Coast and there’s the tragedy: not that he’s writing process pieces along with his lucid reviews but that he isn’t writing any of it for a major newspaper.

    • Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell says:

      Professor Thomas back in the saddle! Nice to see.

      On your first point, heck yeah, if a glorified press release spins your tassel, by all means dig in. As I mentioned, Tony is always a quality writer so whatever he forges will certainly be a good read. For me its the evolution towards that, the glorified press release, the puff piece, which is depressing. Also, As Kevin mentioned earlier, the “appearance of a conflict of interest” does come into play.

      On your second point, couldn’t agree more. Even the fact that Tony was left off the LADCC membership AGAIN is a travesty. I believe Deborah Klugman from LA Weekly is the newest member this year. She’s very good, but to not have Tony in the ranks continues to de-legitimize the organization.

      And D Major, isn’t he a rap star?

  4. Trevor Thomas says:

    To Mr. Delin’s point, unlike the vast majority of junior “critics” running around today imaging themselves contributing to the art form by attending shows and retching up their opinion, people like Frankel, Verini, Morris and McNulty are writers who have so established their bona fides that only the disgruntled or the ignorant would think process pieces – what you call “glorified press releases” – would ever compromise their integrity. This is what real newspaper people do all the time, writing all sorts of pieces, that is to say acting as ADVOCATES for theater.

    M. Delin’s quite right about most of the L.A. stable, but those in the know know that a favorable review from one of the worthies above mentioned is warranted. Likewise, if a dis is called for, a dis there shall be.

  5. Kevin Delin Kevin Delin says:

    For the record, neither the response “trust me” nor past reputation is adequate in standard business ethics and the precise reason for the phrase “even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” The first rule of ethics is that if the rules don’t apply equally to everyone, they apply to no one at all.

    I’m not implying anything about Tony Frankel’s personal integrity in bringing this up. But there is the larger issue of someone who crosses back and forth between writing paid promotion pieces (as distinct from positive reviews) and writing critiques.

    It appears that, in addition to the problem of not being able to pay actors a living wage from theater (the 99 seat waiver), we now have the problem of paying critics a living wage from theater. The issues, taken together, imply that (to quote the bard) “sumptin’ ain’t copasetic in Copenhagen.”

  6. Jason Rohrer Jason Rohrer says:

    For the record, Mr. Delin, you have not only missed the point of this conversation but apparently failed to read Mr. Thomas’s rebuttal to your argument. If there is no conflict of interest when the New York Times or any other paper writes features, why would there be when Mr. Frankel writes features? Further, your presumption that Mr. Frankel is paid to write these pieces is as wrong as most of what you say within my hearing.

    The saddest state of affairs here is that Colin Mitchell hasn’t enough to write about. If what Tony’s writing is excellent whether it’s a feature or a review – and we agree that it is – and if he’s running the best crop of writers in town – and we agree that he is – I think you may have defeated your own argument by writing this piece.

    • Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell says:

      Not when that purpose is to start a conversation about the state of theater criticism in Los Angeles. This particular article was the topic of three conversations at three separate events yesterday, a play, a birthday party and a benefit. It’s one of the best read of the week (which isn’t saying much I realize). And it’s elicited comments from you, Kevin, Trevor, Tony and myself (again not saying much I realize). And just so we’re clear, the impetus for writing this came out of a direct conversation I had with Tony and as your beloved Tony has said himself he appreciated me bringing up the topic.

      But you’re right, Jason, nothing to see here, people, move along.