Wednesday, April 17, 2013

So That Freelancing Thing

Jose Llana, credit: Joan Marcus

So the thing I've been trying to do ever since I got to New York City, besides get a job, was do some freelancing. And then I got a job and realized that while I loved writing, I also loved drinking, and going out to dinner, and taking long walks. So there went the freelancing idea...until now!

Hello world! Diep is here and she takes assignments! And she is not monogamous to "American Theatre" magazine.

Why just last week, "Time Out New York" ran a story I wrote about Filipino-American Broadway-leading man Jose Llana, who I was first introduced to via the "Flower Drum Song" 2002 cast album (my reaction back then was something like, "Who is this hot-sounding Asian-American man? And where has he been all my life?). Well in real life, Jose has a boyfriend and he is also my co-worker's cousin. I did not know that when I pitched the story.

But here is the link to the story, about Jose and his work in "Here Lies Love," a new David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim musical about former Filipino first lady Imelda Marcos, currently at the Public Theater. And if you have not bought tickets, you should, the music is super catchy and the performances are electric. The whole thing is set in a disco nightclub (da club) and it's like I time-traveled back to 1975 and Studio 54, where David Byrne dressed all in white and was on the dance floor bopping his head to the beat. I may have done some (a lot) dancing.

Here's an important snippet of the chat between me and Jose that I could not fit into the article:

I’m getting old enough now, I’m 36, where I’m beginning to work [chuckles] with younger Asian guys who were in grade school when I was in "The King and I." For them to say to me, "When I fell in love with theater, you were the only Asian-American man  I could look up to who was not from the '50s." When I think of all my heroes growing up as a musical theater geek, they were Caucasian or African-American. There weren’t many prominent Asian-American musical theater stars. If I can be that person to a young Asian kid who thinks, "If there are roles for Lea Salonga and Jose Llana and Telly Leung and Paolo Montalban, maybe I can do it too." For a young kid to see someone who looks like them, doing what they want to do, it's really really important. I used to shy away from that but I really own it now.

Isn't he someone who you just want to hang out with? Not many people realize the importance of seeing yourself reflected on the stage, so it's so refreshing to hear a theater artist acknowledge that. And mini-soapbox over.

Here's some more links for things I've done lately:

I created a video for "American Theatre"
AT also launched a new podcast series, which I also edited. Two episodes are up. I conducted the third episode, which should be up next week, in case anyone is wondering what my wonderfully soothing voice sounds like (oh if I could sound like Terry Gross).
I created a tumblr for arts journalists, because I love the fact that gifs are back in fashion. I also take submissions! What Should We Call Arts Journalists?

And I'm in the middle of writing two pieces. 2013 is going marvelously.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Future of Theater Criticism and Me Playing Devil's Advocate

This image has no relation to theater. I just wanted to use it.

So this past week was an eventful one. "American Theatre" finally launch our podcast series (the idea sparked by yours truly and edited by me as well). Howlround ran a very well-written series of essays about theater criticism, curated by my colleage Rob Weinert-Kendt. Roger Ebert died (though not before filing his very last review, proving that right up to the end, your movie sucked). And "Back Stage," the august trade publication for actors, got rid of its film and theater reviews.

And the Internet (or at least my tiny corner) fell apart. Or rather, regarding "Back Stage," there were comments like this, this and this. And many others. In short, people were not happy.

But to this I ask, was anyone really surprised? After all, "Time Out Chicago" announced that they were going online-only and eliminating 60% of their staff. "Variety" is no longer printing out a daily edition and fired its longtime film and theater critic in 2010. And downsizing and depression rages in publications across the nation. Arts journalism is floundering and it's scary. I've been scared ever since I decided, during a recession, that I was going to be a journalist and that print was dying and I should count myself lucky if I ever got a job. 

Were we surprised that "Back Stage" decided to follow what is already an industry-wide trend in downsizing? And if the reasons truly were, as executive editor Daniel Holloway explained, "the metrics," aka the lack of hits, can we blame them?

These days, not even theater artists can seem to agree on why reviews and criticism are important, if they're important at all. In this age of lacking arts coverage, you'd think people would argue less about "Why can't artists be critics?" "Why can't critics hang out with us first?" "Why can't we get better critics?" and more about, "How do we save criticism which is how we get publicity?"

The quandary as I see it (at the moment because I'm young and prone to changing my mind) is the question for any theater artist: how do you get the audience to engage with your work? For theater artists, it's how do you get the audience to engage so that they will buy a ticket and then tell their friends. For journalists it's: how do you get people to read the article?