Dec. 2, 1960: The curtain rises on a brand new publication. Back Stage, with a subtitle under the masthead that reads, A New Complete Service Weekly for the Entertainment Industry, makes its debut on the newsstands. The 16-page trade weekly, selling for 25¢ per copy, is filled with theatre and casting news, and offers columns on an entire range of topics written by industry pros, plus a list of currently-running Broadway shows. Little did its founders—my dad, Ira Eaker, and Allen Zwerdling—know then that Back Stage would be in for a long run, to become the preeminent publication of its kind.
Lots of changes have taken place within the industry during the 40 years since Back Stage first appeared. Trends have come and gone. Important events have occurred. And Back Stage has been there all along, reporting on these changes, trends, and events, as well as undergoing changes itself in order to meet the demands of an ever-evolving performing arts field. But the one thing that has remained a constant is Back Stage's faithfulness to its original vision: that of providing news, information, and opportunities for actors, singers, dancers, playwrights, directors, and other talents to help them move ahead in their careers.
The major part of my job as theatre editor in the late '70s was to take and process the casting notices that came in—either brought in by the director or a cast member, or sometimes through the mail. Today, a minimum of four editorial staffers handles the 200 or so items that come in via e-mail, fax, regular mail, and sometimes brought in person. They are categorized under one of 10 or so headings. Actors' Equity requires that auditions be held for a certain number of its contracts. All of the above indicative of a changing technology, and a changing industry.
I asked Ira Bilowit to join us as our project editorial coordinator. Ira, who worked on many of our previous anniversary issues, convinced me that dividing up the issues by subject matter rather than decades would be the more logistic approach.
And so it was. We then matched up writers with the topics that they know best: Erik Haagensen, staff editor, as well as playwright/lyricist, writes about musical theatre; David Sheward, managing editor, takes a look at the Off-Broadway arena; Michael Grossberg, Back Stage regional correspondent, discusses the role of regional theatres; playwright Jeffrey Sweet, author of our "Playwrights Corner" column, speaks on playwriting; Lisa Jo Sagolla, Back Stage dance reviewer, reports on Broadway and concert dance and choreography; Professor Arthur Bartow, actor and director, follows the changing roles of directors on Broadway; Simi Horwitz, feature writer, examines the role of the producer; David Johnson, editor of "Entertainment Design," covers the various design elements of a show: sets, costumes, lighting, and sound; Scott Siegel, "Bistro Bits" columnist who also teaches and has written several books on film, looks at filmmaking in New York; Roy Sander, former "Bistro Bits" columnist, traces the ups and downs of cabaret; Amelia David, "Laughing Matters" columnist, reports on the comedy scene; Esther Tolkoff, a frequent Back Stage contributor, covers the changing roles of press agents, publicity, and marketing; Roger Armbrust, news editor, looks at both government and the arts, and the performing arts unions. Also included is a look at the audition process through the years.
Naturally, I've written about the history of Back Stage, since I was there right from the get-go, though actually on the scene only since 1977.
And hold on to this issue. It will be fun comparing it to the issue we publish 10 years from now, when Back Stage celebrates its 50th anniversary.
In the meantime, from myself, from Back Stage Publisher, Steve Elish, and from the entire Back Stage staff, a happy holiday to you all.