All Philly all the time

Home for the holidays and all the days

Fairly often, I receive queries about or submissions about New York-based events. And every time, unless they have an obvious Philadelphia connection, I reject them.

(Photo by Tyler Sprague via Flickr/Creative Commons)

The pitch

Since taking the helm of Broad Street Review last summer, I’ve instituted a pretty strict Philadelphia-area coverage radius, and I’ve received a bit of flak about it. However, our readers don’t seem to mind. It’s the writers who complain. And I get it, I really do. It’s nice to get press comps to the Metropolitan Opera or Broadway. Tickets don’t come cheap and those openings garner national interest; plus, Philadelphians head up the turnpike or hop on Amtrak every weekend. Why aren't we serving them? 

I believe we are. I’m not backing down, and here’s why: in Philadelphia, we have an advantage. As our arts scene grows exponentially, regional arts coverage is shrinking. It’s insane. Today, Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood, the New York Times theater critics, listed their top 10 New York shows for 2016. Four of those shows had Philadelphia connections, and three were developed or premiered here. 

I reviewed the world premiere of one of those productions, Lightning Rod Special’s Underground Railroad Game, for the Philadelphia Inquirer, but when I searched online today for a link, it was buried in an archive for which I’d have to pay a monthly fee. We sent one of our critics, Trish McFadden, to the show’s next iteration, and it’s still available for you to read in our free archives (and will remain there).

One show on this week’s roster, Jib: Or, the Child Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was, is a new musical produced by a Brooklyn-based company with the help of the Dresden Dolls’s Amanda Palmer. But they didn’t open it in Brooklyn, they opened it in Old City. And Melissa Dunphy, a Philadelphia composer whose Gonzales Cantata made its own mark on the national scene and is presently in the throes of opening her own brick-and-mortar theater, reviewed it for us.

Community caring

There’s so much happening here and so much that would otherwise be overlooked that it’s — if not criminal — at least inexcusable to cover work that’s already getting reviewed from every angle elsewhere while allowing our own creative ecosystem to wither unnoticed. Take Elkins Park’s White Pines Productions. They have a new home and are doing wonderful things for their community, including producing a new holiday musical featuring disabled actors who trained with the company’s acting school. Who’s covering them? Nobody. Our podcaster Darnelle Radford recorded a half-hour long interview with their artistic director, Benjamin Lloyd.

Every week, we sift through press releases and every week, maybe a fifth of what I'd like to cover gets covered. I could go on and discuss this city’s non-theater buzz, or tell you that after 20 years of reviewing, I’ve developed a near aversion to seeing theater out of town because it means I’ll suffer an inevitable case of FoMO when I read about everything I didn’t see back home, but you get the point. But even more compelling, it seems that by limiting our coverage to our region, our readership has either remained the same or grown.

Sure, some readers could still accuse me of parochialism, but only if they don’t believe that Philly, with all its universities, festivals, cultures, arts organizations, and museums, has much to offer. And if you don’t believe that, you should really be reading more Broad Street Review

Our readers respond

Gary L. Day

of Philadelphia, PA on December 07, 2016

I'd like to go on the public record as being wholeheartedly in agreement with Wendy on the issue of Philly-centric arts coverage. I have long been critical of Philadelphia's major media for shortchanging its home-grown talent, for devaluing local arts. And with print and broadcast media losing ground to the internet, the problem has only grown worse. Fortunately, the internet itself, in the form of BSR and other arts sites, is stepping in to fill the void. Besides, it is my contention that work being done locally is every bit as good, if not better, as in New York.

Editor's Response

Thanks, Gary. There's so much going on it's often hard to keep up, but we're trying!

Joseph Glantz

of Levittown, PA on December 10, 2016

Screw New York. Viva Philadelphia!

Ann Davidson

of Philadelphia, PA on December 10, 2016

I couldn't agree more with the premise of this editorial. However, for those in your audience requiring validation, I refer you to none other than the New York Times, which recently featured an article on the great food to be had at four Philadelphia restaurants. The Times has also reviewed exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy on many occasions. What has been and is to this day created in this city stands with the best in the world, and that has been true since William Penn. As a visitor from Williamsburg, Virginia once said to me after seeing Elfreth's Alley, "Everything we have there [Williamsburg] is fake. You people here in Philadelphia live with the real thing!"

Editor's Response

Thanks! And yes, there is so much good food to be had around these parts that last year my family decided we'd try to eat at a different restaurant every time we go out. So far, we've mostly succeeded (though our West Philly favorite, Dahlak, beckons fairly often).

Bob Levin

of Berkeley, CA on December 10, 2016

Robert Gottlieb, in his recent memoir, contrasts his and William Shawn's editorships of The New Yorker, which he describes as writer-centered, with those of their successors, Tina Brown and David Remnick, which he describes as regrettably subject-centered. BSR seems to have opted for the latter approach and to have narrowed these subjects to those of direct Philadelphia relevance. This is understandable, but for those of us who do not live in this area and are unlikely to experience the shows or exhibitions or recitals (or political shamefulness) that BSR covers, there becomes that much less reason to read it. So I miss the old BSR.

Editor's Response

It probably won't shock you to hear that I was a fan of Tina Brown's New Yorker. But aside from that, I think it's possible to be both writer-focused and Philly-focused. For example, Maria Corley's essay on receving her U.S. citizenship after the presidential election is one that certainly has national significance. As for using local arts reviewers to review the local scene, I've long held that the importance and advantage of professional/career critics versus amateurs or drop-in critics is that they bring with them a depth of knowledge— of a region's players and history— that the hobbyist can't hope to match. That experience also helps move a region's arts scene forward, and just might have something to do with Philadelphia's growing reputation as a great city for new work. I don't see many of the shows reviewed in the New York Times or eat at all the restaurants they visit, but I'll still read about them, because often the writing makes it worth my while. Stick with us in the coming year; I suspect you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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