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Theater critics in L.A. -- a dying breed

January 9, 2009 |  2:47 pm


Steven Leigh Morris, the longtime theater editor and critic at the LA Weekly, has been let go and his position eliminated.

In his blog, he writes:

In the program of the off-Broadway production of my play Beachwood Drive last year, I wrote in my bio, somewhat facetiously, that among my proudest accomplishments was surviving six rounds of layoffs at the L.A. Weekly. The joke is now on me. That survival streak ended yesterday, when the newspaper's corporate uberseers in Phoenix eliminated the position of Theater Editor at the paper. Over six years, the "transitions" at this and other papers in the chain have become the alt-weekly's answer to the French Revolution.

During his 20-year tenure at the Weekly, Morris was a tireless champion of theater in Los Angeles — particularly on the smaller stages — and he oversaw the LA Weekly Theater Awards. In his blog post, Morris, who is also a playwright, said he will continue to contribute to the Weekly and help organize the awards.

Late last year, the Los Angeles Daily News dropped theater critic and writer Evan Henerson.

The L.A. ranks shrink, with Bob Verini at Variety, Paul Hodgins at the Orange County Register, Don Shirley at Los Angeles CityBeat and our own Charles McNulty among the full-time theater critics who remain. UPDATE: Phil Gallo, an associate editor at Variety, tells us that Verini is not a full-time theater critic. He adds that even though he's overseen theater coverage for more than a decade, it's never been his primary responsibility either.

-- Lisa Fung

Comments () | Archives (9)

This is indeed very, very sad news. Steven has not only great passion for the art of the theatre, but more specifically for the art of OUR theatre community. He has been tireless and passionate about the valuable and vital nature of the art of the theatre that is produced in Los Angeles (and indeed all of Southern California). His voice, both editorial and critical, will be greatly missed. Let us hope that it continues to be heard in support of our community and the work that we do in some other form very quickly!

What provincial thinking, L.A.! Your growing theatre community was actually turning into a viable, quality artistic destination these last few years and you had no idea?? How could you not have a theatre editor? VERY small town, provincial thinking --
Writing from the fine proud theatre city of Chicago, I am sad to hear this --

Steven Leigh Morris will be sorely missed. What a tragedy. A critic not just of exceptional intelligence, but with a true love of theatre. I've read him for years, and was always grateful for his unique commitment. 20 years is an accomplishment to be very proud of.

Steven Leigh Morris is one of the finest minds we have in the business of critique of Los Angeles theatre. Firing him shows that LA Weekly wishes to marginalize itself. Theatre in Los Angeles needs voices like Steven Leigh Morris. I guess LA Weekly doesn't wish to be considered the premiere publication for entertainment in Los Angeles.

Steven and Evan's forced departure from their respective papers is a tremendous loss for our theater community. Not only did both men truly love theater in Los Angeles, a fact which was apparent in their consistently thoughtful, smart commentary; but the loss of any voice that helps bring the arts to the attention of our community is eventually going to have irreprapable damage on our local theaters, and ultimately our city's cultural profile. I can only hope that people will continue to follow Steven and Evan's thoughts on their blogs until our city recognizes their importance and reinstates these jobs premanently.

Newspapers across the country are laying off staff members. This layoff is not a reflection of a decline in theatre in Los Angeles, it is a reflection of an evolution in how we communicate and share information. Instead of bemoaning this inevitable process... encourage reviewers to post their work on one of any number of websites that cater to the theatre community here, and encourage friends and colleagues to frequent them.

Steven and Evan were (and are!) both great champions of LA Theatre. My company could not have succeeded in its quest to bring fine art to LA without the support of these two men, (and their countless colleagues). Their loss will be felt widely. I only hope they find other significant venues for their voices. We need vocal educated champions of our work. How will the audiences know where the quality theatre is if they are not there to guide them? We will miss their presence at both publlications. Keep fighting for the arts!

The decision to eliminate the position of Theater Editor at LA Weekly is one that will hurt not only the thousands of shows produced annually in Los Angeles, but the actors and audiences as well. When such a position is eliminated, it silences an advocate for an important element of the cultural fabric in our country. And when that voice is silenced because of misguided corporate decision, it adversely impacts the support of theater in this town. Fewer people will know about the productions and fewer people will purchase tickets -- and that means fewer people will frequent the surrounding businesses. It’s a domino effect. But what is most devastating to all of us, is that the Theater Editor who is silenced is Steven Leigh Morris. He has been instrumental in helping to shape and grow the theater in Los Angeles. How does one quantify the enormous contribution he has made these last twenty years? Actors, directors, producers all look to see if he is in the audience. Publicists vie for coverage in his reporting. Readers from around the country know LA Weekly because of him. At least the courage and determination of Beth Sestanovich and Laurie Ochoa have resulted in keeping Steven as Critic-At-Large. They, at least, understand and appreciate what Steven Leigh Morris means to the Los Angeles theatrical community. We just wish the folks in Phoenix also understood.

It is shocking and shameful that Steven Leigh Morris has lost his position as Theater Editor at the Weekly, and shocking and shameful that the Weekly could make such an indefensible decision. Morris has been an indefatigable advocate of Los Angeles theater, and one of the reasons I have been proud to be even a small part of this theater community. Regardless of the supposed "power of the Internet," the LA Weekly and the Los Angeles Times (not necessarily in this order) are the two publications which Angelinos read in order to stay up to date on what shows are playing around town and what shows deserve to be seen. Without Morris' voice, and with the radically diminished importance given to theater by the "new" Weekly, every Los Angeles theater will suffer. The damage to our community lies squarely on those who are making these destructive decisions.


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