By PAM HARBAUGH
Members of the American Theatre Critics Association love being in that organization. It comprises nationwide critics and theater writers, most of whom are crazy smart, insightful, well educated, fun and very passionate about the theater.
Being in that organization also brings a critic and arts writers to national conferences around the country where we can all discover works by great theaters in places they might otherwise never visit. ATCA has gone to a wide range of places, from San Francisco Bay Area theater scene to Shepherdstown, West Virginia for the Contemporary American Theater Festival. There’s been Denver, Sarasota, Washington, D.C., Ashland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Louisville, Waterford…so many.
And there’s also, of course, New York City, the site for smaller conferences held over a long weekend. While there, members see plays, of course, and hunker down in Don’t Tell Mama for some intimate panels, listen to panels with big names talk to us about bringing new works to Broadway (this time it was the brains and talents behind “The Band’s Visit”)….and did I say see plays?There’s also one more thing offered at NYC long weekends — ATCA’s annual “Lunch with the Stars at Sardi’s.” That’s where members get a delicious meal served by a battalion of great servers…and, sit at tables with Broadway luminaries where we chat and laugh and feel all around like we’re mixing it up. This year, I sat at the table with Robert Lopez and his wife and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote the music for Disney’s “Frozen.” Robert Lopez also co-wrote music for “Avenue Q” and “Book of Mormon.” This couple is so likeable. You’d never know they were award winning artists…very down to earth and sweet and friendly.
A couple of the actors from the incredibly hilarious hit “The Play That Goes Wrong” were also there — the gorgeous Ashley Bryant (she plays one of the backstage crew) and sweet as pie Jonathan Fielding (he plays the dead body). The new Lincoln Center play “Junk” had a couple of its actors there as well — gorgeous Ito Aghayere and elegant Michael Siberry. There were also Ar’iel Stachel, John Cariani and Katrina Lenk from “The Band’s Visit,” Richard H. Blake from “A Bronx Tale,” Lee MacDougall and “Sharon Wheatley” from “Come From Away,” Jin Ha from “M. Butterfly” and Caitlin Houlahan from “Waitress.”We were also treated to couple of extraordinary panel discussions at Theater Row: “From Page to Stage: The Journey of a New Musical” which gave us all an inside glimpse into the making of “The Band’s Visit.” So we all had the rare opportunity of meeting producer Orin Wolf, director David Cromer, librettist Itamar Moses and composer/lyricist David Yazbek. Yep…you read that right. The quick story: A 2007 Israeli documentary had inspired Wolf to pursue creating this musical and over the years he was relentless. His friend and colleague, Hal Prince, got involved and the Prince of Broadway then helped bring in Moses, Yazbek and Cromer. Yazbek spoke a lot about how he was a devotee of Israeli and Arabic music and how this became a vehicle to share that passion with audiences. Another panel brought onto the stage some important playwrights — Kirsten Childs (“The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin”), Sarah Ruhl (“How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” which, by the way, featured Brevard’s own David McElwee), Doug Wright (“War Paint” and the Pulitzer Prize winning “I Am My Own Wife”) and Mr. Lopez. As if all that was not enough…then came the third panel with Broadway veterans talking about originating roles in Stephen Sondheim musicals. The panelists included Len Cariou (the first “Sweeney”), Harvey Evans (“West Side Story”), Pamela Myers (“Company”), Kurt Peterson (“Follies”) and Teri Ralston (“A Little Night Music”). They all called Mr. Sondheim “Steve.” The panel was held in the Don’t Tell Mama cabaret nightclub, a must-do late night spot for any musical theater enthusiast. Oh my…just so many things for a theater nerd to geek about. And I want you to know that this organization has other amazing perks (we’re talking participating in the processes for the Regional Tony Awards and the Theater Hall of Fame and deciding important national awards for playwrights). It is open to all bona fide theater critics and art writers. If that means you, by all means, shoot me an email to BrevardCulture@gmail.com and lets get you into the vetting process. Yes, you have to jump some hoops, but it’s so worth it.
For more information, visit AmericanTheatreCritics.org.