At the risk of sounding like Elaine Paige in the current revival of "Follies," I started working at Back Stage in the early 1980s and I'm still here. During my tenure, I've seen the management of the company change hands multiple times, our offices shift location almost as often, the fortunes of Broadway rise and fall and rise again, our NYC-based newspaper grow into a national print-website information source, and advancing technologies alter the landscape of the casting industry and our brand forever. One thing that hasn't changed over the decades is the difficulty in pursuing an acting career and the determination of those who manage to do it.
I can still recall the thrill of my early days at Back Stage as a part-timer. I was working at the actors' bible in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by all the Broadway theaters. I wanted to be part of the theater, and here I was right at the heart of it. (See how I slipped in another reference to a hit song, "New York, New York"?) We've since moved downtown, but the excitement is still there.
There have been so many memorable people and experiences in my career here that it's nearly impossible to single one out. The strongest memory for me would have to be Sept. 12 and 13, 2001. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center took place on a Tuesday, normally our most hectic workday, as the paper had to be ready to ship to the printer on Wednesday at noon. We would routinely work late into Tuesday night to get ready for the deadline. This was before the pages were prepared and sent digitally. We used real boards and sent them in a real truck to New Jersey to be printed. After the collapse of the skyscrapers, it was impossible to get from my home in Queens to our offices in Manhattan. The bridges and subways were shut down as the national tragedy played out on our TV screens. The next day, Wednesday, I came in not knowing if there would even be an issue that week. Very few of my colleagues made it in, and Manhattan below 14th Street was like a ghost town. I sat at my desk trying to make sense of the senseless violence and trying to figure out how my job of managing editor at a trade publication had any relevance in a disintegrating world.
On Thursday, the entire staff was able to make it to work, and most of us assumed that there would be no Back Stage that week. Not long after I turned on my computer, our publisher, Steve Elish, informed us that our distributor could still get the paper to the newsstands by Friday if we got the finished pages to our printer that afternoon—meaning that they had to leave the building in one hour. This meant I had to squeeze all of Tuesday and Wednesday into 60 minutes. "Get out of my way," I yelled at whoever was standing next to me, and the entire staff proceeded to pull off a miracle. We finished proofing and laying out the late casting notices, signed off on a huge feature on the upcoming Broadway season, and replaced the cover photo of a bare-chested John Leguizamo in his new show "Sexaholix" with an image of the American flag and a short note expressing our sorrow for the tragedies and condolences to those who had lost loved ones.
We got the paper to newsstands, the show went on, and I remembered that we were providing a vital service—getting information to our readers to help them realize their dreams.
Here's to another 50 years.
Luke Crowe, National Casting Editor (2000–present)
Back in late 1999 or early 2000 I applied for my first job at Back Stage. It was a part-time proofreading gig that I thought would fit in nicely with my hectic schedule of other part-time jobs (freelance writing, website consulting, bartending, no-pay filmmaking, database management, you name it). The job interview went pretty well, and I aced the proofreading test, but I made one critical error: The editor-in-chief at the time (Sherry Eaker) astutely found a typo in my cover letter—and the job was offered to someone else: an actor named Scott Harris (who has continued to help out Back Stage many times over the years).
Luckily, Scott got cast in a regional theater production at the same time and couldn't accept the position. So, being the runner-up, I got the job. That quickly led to even more work at Back Stage: helping to plan events such as Actorfest and the Bistro Awards, writing assignments (at first I mostly got stuck writing obits), copyediting news articles (distinguished news editor Roger Armbrust did a great deal to kick my writing into shape and improve my journalism skills). Before I knew it, I'd accidentally become a full-time employee. Then I started concentrating on casting. Executive editor David Sheward and assistant casting editor Andrew Valvano (both of whom are still with Back Stage a decade later) showed me the ropes, and the entire Back Stage staff was very welcoming.
Back then, most of our business was "offline"—in-person or via fax and snail mail. Casting directors, filmmakers, theater practitioners, club bookers, acting teachers, and sometimes even entire classes of film students would line up in our office to place notices in Back Stage. It was stressful, but I met a lot of interesting people. Nowadays we receive most casting notices, job listings, and ads through email and BackStage.com. So the office isn't quite as crazy or exciting as it was in the old days, but the technological advancements have allowed us to more than double our casting coverage in NYC and across the U.S., and we're able to deliver that casting info to actors far faster than ever before. I can't believe that I've been at Back Stage for more than 11 years, but I'm still excited about its future. We've got a great team of casting editors working for us now, including Andrew Valvano, Sarah McKinley Oakes, Sri Gordon, Daniel Lehman, Thom Klohn (CSA), Jesse Austin Landberg, Melinda Loewenstein, Michael Patrick Coughlin, Byron Karlevics, and Susan Woods. And our plan is to bring the entertainment industry a lot of amazing new casting tools in the coming years, and to help tens of thousands of actors and performers across the world find sensational, fulfilling, star-making artistic opportunities.
Erik Haagensen, Columns/N.Y. Theater Reviews Editor (2000–present)
The phone call came on my grudgingly acquired and barely used cell phone on a midweek morning just after Labor Day in September 2005. The director of my revised version of the 1968 Broadway musical flop "Darling of the Day," slated to begin rehearsals in Chicago in just a few days for the show's first full production since Broadway, was pulling out because of differences with management. Replacing him would be the theater's artistic director, who had been slated to choreograph only. He admitted that he had not done the homework necessary to be prepared to direct, though he promised a crash immersion. I knew what I had to do. I took a deep breath and marched into national editor-in-chief Julia Kagan's office. I needed to go to Chicago immediately for five weeks. To my joy and amazement, she said that I could, provided I did my job from there.
The theater set me up with an idle computer in its Evanston offices. Weekday rehearsals were at night, so, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I worked Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., then grabbed a bite and arrived at rehearsal by 7 p.m. I was exhausted but happy, and the show was a critical and audience hit. What a way to discover that Back Stage, a publication serving and supporting the acting community, could be just as supportive of the artists on its own staff.
Daniel Holloway, News & Features Editor (2009–present)
Being a journalist consists largely of talking to people about what they do for a living. If you're a science reporter, you talk to scientists about science. If you're a political reporter, you talk to politicos about politics. If you're a finance reporter, you talk to jerks about making money.
But being an entertainment journalist can often mean talking to actors about things other than acting. In many cases, a journalist presented with the opportunity to interview George Clooney will feel compelled to ask him about his love life, his politics, the way he likes his suits tailored, and so on. Maybe there will be a perfunctory question or two related to his work—or more than one or two, if he was required to gain or lose a lot of weight for a role—but when it comes to actors, the question of who they are often seems to outweigh the question of what they do.
One of the nice things about working at Back Stage is that you get to talk to actors about acting (and often, in my case, about the business of acting). One of the other nice things is how eager actors are to talk about acting. Ask an actor enough questions about training, technique, or what it's like to share a stage with Patti LuPone, and suddenly you, Back Stage writer, are the most thoughtful, intelligent journalist that actor has ever met. It makes the job easy—and a lot more interesting.
"Back Stage" New York staff (Photo by Francine Daveta)
Thom Klohn, Manager of Casting Development (2009–present)
One memorable experience I've had while working for Back Stage happened while interviewing an actor for our Who Got the Part? column. About five minutes into the interview, he recounted that during his audition he mentioned to the director that he was a former criminal. Not the answer you would expect an aspiring actor to give when asked about his past experience. It turned out that this young man had been incarcerated on a drug charge when he was a teenager. He came from what he described as a small town in the middle of Nowhere, USA, and I was impressed that he took that experience and channeled it toward his love of TV and film, deciding to pursue acting. He read books while serving his time and was accepted into college on his release. Moving to Los Angeles was a big step for him, and he started to land acting jobs thanks to Back Stage. It was inspiring to hear how someone who started out on the wrong path was able to turn his life around and pursue his dream.
Jenelle Riley, Film & Television Editor (2001–present)
In my 10 years at Back Stage, I've been afforded the opportunity to experience things a girl from Salem, Ore., couldn't have imagined. I've shared a cheese plate with Angelina Jolie. I mistook Daniel Day-Lewis for a homeless person when he walked into our interview with a shaggy beard and a sweater full of holes. I've been able to give Martin Scorsese direction. Best of all, I've had the chance to speak to them and others about the craft of acting—what drives them as artists and human beings.
I think I first realized how fortunate I was to be in the employ of an actor's trade publication when I attended the SAG Awards for the first time. I was talking to other journalists there, and when I mentioned I was with Back Stage, they all expressed jealousy. I was surprised, noting that their publications were bigger, and glossier, and took up valuable real estate in the supermarket checkout line. One woman replied, "Yeah, but look at the questions I have to ask people." She then showed me a list that included, among others, "Do you think Harrison and Calista should get married?" and "Do you have any legal advice for Michael Jackson?" I suddenly realized how lucky I was to work for a publication that came from a place of respect for actors and recognized just how noble their profession was. And I've never envied another publication since.
Les Spindle, L.A. theater Writer/Critic (2004–present)
In reviewing the 99-seat theater scene in Los Angeles, one occasionally runs into peculiar situations. Yet none seems quite as bizarre as an incident that I recall from 1996. I was assigned to review a particular production and made my reservation. The producer soon called me, launching into the most convoluted saga of backstage Sturm und Drang I've ever heard: "The director is a jerk. The cast despises him. They are working to sabotage him and interpret the play as it should be interpreted, etc., etc., etc." Yet he wasn't trying to persuade me to not review. He simply wanted me to know the "facts," so I could consider them when reviewing. Presumably he wanted me to temper my impressions for my critique, cutting slack for the cast and crew but feeling it would be okay to dump on the vile director.
I can't remember exactly what I told this hysterical impresario, but I immediately called Back Stage West's then editor, Rob Kendt—rather sheepishly, I might add, as I was one of the newest kids on the block among his freelance critics. I told Rob I simply couldn't review this show and explained why. Good old Rob, of course, immediately pulled the show completely off the review roster. There were times in the future when I again was assigned shows overseen by this producer. Thankfully, there were no similar occurrences in my subsequent dealings with him. I'm not sure if he changed his approach to communicating with critics or if he simply didn't hire any more jackass directors.
Jessica Gardner, Features Writer (2009–present)
At a press "step and repeat," where celebrities walk down a red carpet talking to one reporter after another, I once stood behind an entertainment reporter as I waited to talk to a few actors I admired. In horror, I heard this reporter ask the actors about their love lives, their sex lives, and trashy gossip they'd heard about someone the actors had worked with. I was so embarrassed for them, both the reporter and the actors. When the actors got to me and I told them I worked for Back Stage, they visibly relaxed.
This is a common reaction. Our questions usually include asking actors about their method, their rehearsal process, who inspired them to start acting, and the best acting lesson they ever received. As an actor, I love being able to talk acting and "the business" with successful actors. They usually love it, too. It's a nice break from dodging questions about who they're dating, I'm sure.
My favorite interview was with Kim Cattrall. Normally, she's only asked about "Sex and the City," her relationships, and rumors about Sarah Jessica Parker. But after she heard I wrote for Back Stage and was an actor, she opened up, talked to me all about acting theory, and told some great candid stories about her early days being under a studio contract and what it was like working with people such as Jack Lemmon and Otto Preminger. It was like chatting with an acting coach. She was much more interesting and unbelievably inspiring than I could have imagined. It was an experience I will never forget.
"Back Stage" Los Angeles staff (Photo by Michael Gordon)
Steve Elish, Publisher (1973–2007)
I left Back Stage in 2007 after 34 years, but part of me still remains with the publication. The acting audience depended on our publication, and all my efforts included supplying this very fragile group with information and direction to be successful in a difficult industry. I loved my work and the very special people I worked with.
When I started at Back Stage as assistant to the publishers, Ira Eaker and Allen Zwerdling, I never envisioned what Back Stage could become. In the early days we were regarded as "the rag" of the industry. Nevertheless, year after year we produced a publication that garnered the respect of the talent and commercial production industries. Our exponential growth started when we were purchased by Billboard Publications Inc. in 1986. We were given the budget and ability to take Back Stage to a new level. It was at this time that I was able to institute my greatest accomplishments and eventually was named VP/Group Publisher. With my staff's backing, hard work, and understanding, Back Stage became the industry standard. As "the actor's resource," our publication was the only trade weekly to offer comprehensive advice, information, and casting notices.
My decision to acquire competitive publications such as Ross Reports and Drama-Logue was important to our growth in the 1990s. Not only did it improve our image, but it enabled us to move in new directions. I always looked at competition in a favorable way. The competitive nature of our business invoked a need to move forward to grow our audience base and to create a superior publication group. One of my associates once said, "Standing still is like moving backwards." I prided myself on hiring the right people to get the job done and always looked to my staff for fresh ideas. As a result, we created the Actorfest trade show, the Back Stage West Garland Awards, the Bistro Awards, and the An Evening With series.
Going online in the mid-'90s was something most people only thought and talked about. In 1997, BackStage.com was founded as a way to present Back Stage and Back Stage West original content to a larger international audience. Despite arguments against online, we started what was to be the future of the existing publishing world. This, however, never substituted for what was still a viable print product.
In 2005, to keep up with and pass the competition, we decided to "relaunch" all the Back Stage properties. We redesigned our print products together with a fully functional website that allowed our audience to search casting notices and provided an in-depth talent database. The foresight and intuition of my Back Stage staff was inspirational. They worked hard and smart, and even though some have moved on, there are still those in key positions carrying on the legacy. I am proud of what has been done and feel the future for Back Stage is bright.
Julia Kagan, National Editor-in-Chief (2005)
When I was reading Back Stage as a 20-year-old acting student, who knew that one day I'd be its national editor-in-chief? In early 2005, when I joined, Back Stage was still two newspapers—Back Stage and Back Stage West. There were two different designs and, for the most part, two different staffs, though the papers shared a website and a senior management team. By Oct. 1, we had created a unified paper, with one design and two editions—Back Stage East and Back Stage West—precursor of today's single paper. We'd instituted bicoastal articles meetings, the Back Page, and Who Got the Part? (maybe if that column had existed when I started out, I'd have gotten further in the theater). I still remember covering the walls of my office with sample logos so we could see which "popped" the most—and the thrill of seeing the first new issue on my subway-station newsstand the morning we debuted. Happy 50th, Back Stage!
Marjorie Broder Director of Advertising and Marketing, Back Stage West (1992–2005)
Among so many wonderful experiences and successes in launching Back Stage West, two things stand out in my mind as being very significant and rewarding. First, I think of Harvey Weinstein of Miramax (now The Weinstein Company) running a full-page ad in our paper and the headline saying "Attention SAG Actors!" This was the first time that a major studio chose to place advertising in our publication to promote one of its films for the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Weinstein was clearly onto something; the SAG Awards are very important to the studios, and we were thereby recognized as a prime vehicle by which to gain attention and possibly a "win" by influencing our readers—the actors!
The second thing that put us over the top was enjoying the immense privilege of having Sir Ian McKellen appear onstage in Beverly Hills to talk to our readers, at no cost to them, about his role as Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings." Of course, he spoke openly about his entire career and the difficulties and successes he encountered. He was absolutely superb, and that event launched our famous Back Stage Presents an Evening With series, a phenomenal success that has continued for many years. I'm proud to have been able to facilitate ways to serve our readership by putting them first in our constant efforts to support and affirm the actor.
Diane Snyder, Associate Editor (1993–96)
Back Stage was my maiden job in journalism, and during my three years there I took my first-ever business trip to Washington, D.C. It was just a one-day excursion from New York, but I had the chance to visit the National Endowment for the Arts when the wonderful Jane Alexander was head of the beleaguered organization.
I wasn't lucky enough to land a one-on-one interview; this was a group gathering. I was part of a small posse of journalists from a variety of publications, most of which I hadn't heard of. I'm not sure Alexander had heard of them, either, but she nodded politely as we took turns introducing ourselves. When she got to me and heard my affiliation, she paused and said something like "Back Stage was my lifeline when I first came to New York. It was the only place to hear about auditions if you didn't have an agent."
Although I vowed not to let myself be starstruck by the occasion—I was a serious journalist, after all—I was touched by her acknowledgment. Of course, I realized it wasn't because of any brilliant question I asked or insightful comment I made. It was simply a matter of affiliation. Until that day I hadn't realized how deep and how far that Back Stage attachment extended.
Rob Weinert-Kendt, Editor, Back Stage West (1993–2003)
I vividly remember cooling my heels at a Baskin-Robbins on Western Avenue in Hollywood with photographer Gary Leonard in the early spring of 1994, just months after Back Stage West had launched. We were waiting for the LAPD vice squad to show up and bust into the nearby studio apartment of Kirk Anthony Owens—a man who'd placed phony casting notices in Back Stage West and Drama-Logue to lure actresses to his apartment for nude "auditions." We had helped the police with their investigation, and they returned the favor by telling us when they planned to arrest the perp. The following week's cover featured a photo of Owens in cuffs; we later covered his trial and sentencing as if it were our own private O.J. case and pursued many similar investigations on behalf of wronged actors. As much as our extensive theater coverage, interviews with casting directors, and Screen Actors Guild reporting, Back Stage West's active "scam beat" let actors know we were on their side.
Bonnie Gillespie, Columnist (1999–2003)
My life changed the day Back Stage West editor Rob Kendt gave me—an in-house floater temp—a writing assignment: "The person who usually sits here writes this. Wanna take a stab at it?" Of course I did. I was fast. The blurb was good. Rob called me into his office and offered me a job interviewing casting directors for a weekly column we would call Casting Qs. I was an actor, and these CDs wouldn't see me if I showed up with a headshot, but if I showed up with a microcassette recorder and reporter's notepad, they were happy to invite me in to experience their world. I interviewed more than 250 casting directors in my years with Back Stage, moderated panel discussions, and published a few books.
Before I wrote for Back Stage, I scoured its pages for casting notices. Since writing for Back Stage, I tour the world to work with actors and cast festival-circuit indie films. I realize that acting was the bait that led me to the career of my dreams, by way of Back Stage. I will never be able to thank Rob Kendt enough for lighting up my path. Picking up the phone and being able to say "Hi. This is Bonnie Gillespie from Back Stage West" was a ticket into rooms filled with the legends of our industry, eager to share their wisdom with me and the readers for whom I would write it all up. I am forever grateful for having been a part of the Back Stage community.
Lisa Jo Sagolla, Columnist (1998–present)
I can still remember the dread I felt when I saw the name and return address on the outside of the envelope. It was 1999—people still wrote letters then—and I had only just started my job as a dance critic for Back Stage. My editor was handing me a piece of mail from a choreographer about whose work I had recently written a scathingly critical review. I was the paper's "third string" dance critic in those days, and my beat was the downtown dance scene, so I covered mainly young, emerging choreographers.
To my great surprise, as I read the novice choreographer's letter I grew overwhelmed with joy. It was the most gracious, respectful letter I'd ever received, full of thanks for my "insightful" criticisms and a promise to take them to heart—which he did. A year or so later, I received an invitation to review this choreographer's work again and saw that he had incorporated virtually everything I had suggested.
I am an educator at heart. When not writing reviews, I teach at Columbia University, and I like to think of my journalism work as an extension of my teaching practice. Thanks to Back Stage's strong commitment to covering downtown dance, Off-Off-Broadway, and emerging artists in new performance forms, I continue to be able to play an integral role in the development of exciting (and appreciative!) new artists.
Mark Dundas Wood, Columnist (2001–present)
About 10 years ago, I began compiling information for Back Stage's New York production chart for film and television, a column then known as Backlot Buzz. The number of projects shooting in the city has waxed and waned over the years. Fortunately, the column has been quite full of late. Familiar titles have appeared on the list occasionally—including the recent remake of "Arthur" and the HBO miniseries reconfiguration of "Mildred Pierce."
About five years ago, I was floored to learn that a project called "Michael Lucas' 'La Dolce Vita' " was seeking background actors. Who was this Michael Lucas, and what gave him the temerity to attempt a redo of director Federico Fellini's classic—to be filmed in New York City, no less? When I called the production office to confirm the information, I asked if this was going to be a remake and was told it was more an homage. Only after the listing had run in Back Stage for some time did I learn that Lucas' project was in fact a gay-porn homage to Fellini.
Of course, the listing was dropped immediately from the chart. And I believe the roles solicited were in fact for nonsexual background talent. But I wonder still whether any Back Stage readers answered the call and wound up in the opus.
Lucas later successfully fought a trademark and copyright infringement action by the owners of the Fellini film. As for me: Live and learn. I do think that if it had been "Michael Lucas' '8½,' " I might have grown suspicious a bit sooner.
Jordana Capra, Columnist (2008–present)
In the April 17, 2008, issue of Back Stage, I wrote a Commercial Break column titled "Understanding How Others Perceive You." In a nutshell, it said that as actors we tend to feel that we can play any and every role, but in the real world we need to know how we are instantly perceived. Here is an excerpt from one reader's response to that column: "Hi Jordana, I just read a great article you wrote for Back Stage. Thanks for your generosity in the advice you provided. I'm a young Australian actor and constantly seek to understand how I am perceived to best position myself in the industry. Thanks and Best Wishes, Erryn Akpinar, actor and filmmaker, Sydney, Australia."
In a remarkable small-world concurrence of events, I was about to leave for Australia to direct a film about life in a touring circus. As it turned out, Erryn was perfect for the role of the lion trainer. He has since traveled to this country to pursue film work, and we've met on several occasions. I'm delighted to count this reader among my friends.
David H. Lawrence XVII, Columnist (2009–present)
As I write this, it is my birthday. And I celebrate not only a second act in life—an acting career that only began in earnest after I'd retired from on-air radio performance—but also the ongoing, wonderful relationship I have with Back Stage. That relationship began with a simple subscription, then became a feature article about me: my acting success and my side job (voiceover training and my app, Rehearsal). Now, frequent articles are by me, and I also speak at Back Stage–sponsored events. Back Stage has allowed me to give back to the acting community, and for that I'm grateful.
The first time a Back Stage West arrived in my mailbox, I got a bit goose bumpy. It was yet another affirmation that I was on the path I'd set for myself: success as a performer. Poring over the issue from cover to cover, noting unfamiliar words and people and concepts, researching everything, learning, and growing—even just sitting with it at my local coffee shop—all just oozed "You're dealing with an actor serious about his career." And when that first actor came up to me and said, "Hey, thanks for that article. It really made things clear for me," the goose bumps reappeared.
I couldn't be prouder of Back Stage on its 50th anniversary, and I am grateful and proud to have the kind of relationship with Back Stage that I have.
Heidi Schooler, Columnist (2008–present)
At the beginning of my career, Back Stage helped me feel like there was some consistency and support, and it continues to inform me today. Originally, it helped me find information about auditions and always kept me up to date about what productions were coming—so I knew which CDs to follow up with—and it kept me organized while trying to make things happen.
Even though I have representation today, I still check to see what auditions are happening, and it's still a source of inspiration when reading the articles, as the topics are always current regarding what's going on in the industry. I feel like I always learn something from the columns or the people who are interviewed. All of this inspired me to become a Back Stage columnist and give back by helping other actors learn about the field of voiceover. It's been very meaningful to officially help other actors in this way, because I know how hard it was when I first came to Los Angeles from New York to learn the ins and outs of everything about so many areas of our industry without any help. I'm hoping to give back to the readers and inspire them the way I was originally inspired by Back Stage years ago.
Chuck Sloan, Columnist (2006–present)
As the author of Actors' Taxes, I understand that I write the first column that most actors would prefer to ignore. Sometimes I feel like I am the guy who has to give you the advice you don't want to hear. You know, like "Don't eat so much, and get more exercise." Regardless, I get correspondence from a number of readers, and I have to say I am genuinely impressed by the intelligence and depth of the questions I get from the Back Stage audience. With the exception of one note, all the emails I have received are from those who have obviously paid attention to what I have written and are working just as hard to keep their money as they do to earn it. The same could even be said about the one note I mentioned, an email from someone who disagreed with me about making sure to pay your taxes. He seemed convinced that I was part of a government scheme to illegally force U.S. citizens to pay the Internal Revenue Service. I just told him that if the IRS had no right to collect taxes, then how did Wesley Snipes lose his case and end up spending time behind bars?
Ron Cohen, Contributing Writer (2000–present)
As a freelance reviewer for Back Stage, I can't regale you with tales of the bright lights of Broadway. That's not my beat, but I can say that one ancillary benefit of reviewing for the publication is gaining an at least passing familiarity with the many nooks and crannies of the great borough of Manhattan. In its relentless pursuit of things theatrical on any professional level, Back Stage has sent me to the far reaches of the island, up and down hardly negotiable flights of stairs, and into barely visible doorways. And with that have come the various degrees of pleasure I've felt watching theater makers at work, sometimes with great success—as recently with the Classical Theatre of Harlem's energized "Henry V" or the affecting Irish two-hander "Noah and the Tower Flower," part of a festival of Irish plays—and sometimes not so successfully. Almost always, it's a revivifying experience.
David Finkle, Columnist (1999–present)
When asked several years ago to contribute a regular column on voice issues called Vocal Ease, I was reluctant to sign on. I wondered whether there was enough potential material to warrant constant coverage. But figuring what-the-hell, I eventually said I'd take the plunge, did, and quickly found out that the subject had unforeseeable possibilities. There was plenty to say about the voice and seemingly no end of people who had plenty to say about it. Just as quickly, I discovered that talking to these people was immeasurably broadening for me as someone who has always been intrigued by how actors and singers use and safeguard (or not) their voices.
Many columns come to mind as especially memorable, and specifying one is no simple task and probably unnecessary. After all, I've had the opportunity to interview perhaps the most famous and influential voice coach living today—Cicely Berry—as well as attend a class given by one of her foremost disciples, Patsy Rodenburg. I've gotten to know Kristin Linklater, maybe this country's most influential coach. I've talked to actors about their bankable voices. Michael Shannon had much germane to say about doing a (virtually) one-man show, as did, more recently, David Greenspan. I've talked to men and women who coach musical theater performers and movie stars and those who deal with opera singers and jazz singers.
If I were forced to single out the interviewee who most got me thinking about the possibilities of the voice, I'd name Steven Zeitels, the Boston otolaryngologist whose research may be leading him to a process whereby he'll be able to restore damaged vocal cords (think Julie Andrews) to their original strength. It was while visiting his state-of-the-art digs that I also got to watch him repair with his handy laser an unusually chummy Steven Tyler's burst capillaries.
Karl Levett, Contributing Writer
My very first review for Back Stage was of an Off-Off-Broadway offering, "Lullaby for Murder." I forget the locale but do remember that the seating consisted of rows of old cinema seats unbolted from the floor. The play's press release advised that the work was about a killer who struck only in inclement weather, so I believed that some comedy might be forthcoming. This comic notion was quickly dispelled: The drama was in deadly earnest (with the accent on the former). An attractive blond actor played a character named Fay, the "classically trained" piano player for the bar in which the play was set. It was soon apparent that Fay was unable to play with any accuracy, so for the several times she sat down to provide atmospheric music, the kindly audience held in its sniggering (well, mostly). But in the second act, when another character made the observation that "Fay seems to be having an off night," the audience's suppressed glee was such that a whole unbolted row was physically moved—and "Lullaby for Murder" finally rocked.
David A. Rosenberg, Contributing Writer (1998–present)
It's not clear who first said it, but let's attribute "I don't care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right" to P.T. Barnum. After all, the theatrical entrepreneur was not shy about using publicity to assert the superiority of his personal attractions. It's a good thing to remember, especially for those of us who deal in names all the time. You sit in a darkened theater and scribble notes that, back home, you can barely decipher. You try to write a clever or at least interesting review. Yet on occasion, you're just plain confused and therefore confusing.
That's where editors come in, and that's what I value most about my time at Back Stage. Lest you think that this is as blatant a piece of brownnosing as you've ever read, let it be noted that my face was rescued from turning red at times by an editor's insistence on accuracy and clarity. It takes the editor to question what this or that means, why this or that is so. And woe betide getting a name wrong or saying Amy Whatsit was great in a role that, in reality, Jane Whosit played. Careers depend on it.
So hats off to the gimlet-eyed editors at Back Stage. And thanks for saving my ass.
Adam R. Perlman, Contributing Writer (2005–09)
In my three-and-a-half years reviewing for Back Stage, there wasn't much drama behind the drama. A couple of times, playwrights let me know they were unhappy about a pan—one even invented a rather uninspired conspiracy theory to explain it—but why waste column inches on what's best forgotten? The truth is that the majority of what a critic sits through might be described as bad, but not memorably so. What kept me coming back were the surprises. For even in an era when the air seems as suffused with gossip as oxygen, every once in a while a play sneaks up on you. It manages to confound the chatterati or better yet slip under the radar altogether.
On this anniversary occasion, I'd like to celebrate the biggest surprises I covered—the shows that after the lights dimmed rewarded those precious seconds of anticipation with lasting memories. There was "Shrek," the supposed disaster that I found charming and misunderstood (it's hard out there for an ogre). Better recognized were "Circle Mirror Transformation" and "Passing Strange," two little-buzzed-about works about the power and place of art that went on to garner Obies and, in the latter case, a Spike Lee film. And as much as the successful works have stayed with me, so, too, have the promising messes—pieces such as David Adjmi's aptly titled "Stunning"—that I fervently hope will be revisited and redeemed.
And yet, the piece that I think of most from my reviewing days is "Smoking Bloomberg," a blink-and-you-missed-it entry in the 2006 New York Musical Theatre Festival. While I'm not (yet) calling it the equal of "The Book of Mormon," it had the same sharp but loving satire and the same mix of sneaky-smart politics and laugh-out-loud grotesquerie. It's the kind of knockout surprise that I miss discovering—and still hope for every time the lights dim.
Andy Propst, Contributing Writer (2003–present)
Perhaps the most distinct experience I've had writing for Back Stage involves a show whose cast and crew found themselves on the same side as this critic—against the show. I'd seen a musical Off-Broadway that inspired a particularly vitriolic review. In fact, the piece was written in longhand in anger as I rode the train home. I typed what I'd written up with few changes and submitted. No revisions were requested, and in fact I didn't hear from the editor until the day the review ran. Early that morning he forwarded an email from the lead actor in the show. I expected the worst and was surprised to see that it was a thank-you note. Apparently, he and the company were having as bad a time in the show as I had had watching it. Emails from folks involved with the show continued to come in that day, and there was even one further surprise—a note from an actor who'd been cast in the piece, saying that he appreciated seeing my review, as it let him know he'd made the right decision in opting to turn down the role he'd been offered.
Edited by Erik Haagensen