jakub | December 16, 2023

AMERICAN THEATRE | 2023’s 10 Most Popular Posts (and 10 That Deserve Another Look)

Clockwise from top left: Heidi Schreck in “What the Constitution Means to Me” (photo by Joan Marcus); The scene shop at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Cables, Fla.; Ron Cephas Jones in “Richard III” (photo by Joan Marcus); Guadalís del Carmen, Christin Eve Cato, and Julissa Contreras (photo by Valerie Terranova Photography); Luke Halpern, Alec Phan, and Crystal Claros in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” (photo by Jenn Udoni)

Though 2023 was the year that American Theatre finally came back into print after a COVID-induced hiatus, that didn’t slow down our publishing online, where we’re still able to be timely and go long in ways we typically can’t on paper. Accordingly, our analytics show that readers had roughly equivalent interest in news and in-depth features—and not only because there was an extra helping of both called for in a time of contraction and anxiety for the nation’s theatres.

As always with these round-ups, we’ll first tell you which stories you clicked on most, then tell you which great pieces too many of you seem to have missed.

2023’s Most Popular Posts

  1. Theatre in Crisis: What We’re Losing, and What Comes Next. This extra-long piece, which shared a byline among six writers, did its best to reckon with the theatre’s summer of discontent, in which a cascade of closures and cancellations had many in the industry on edge and worrying that the sky was falling. While our headline used the word “crisis” advisedly, and the piece concluded with a list of 35 U.S. companies that had shuttered since early 2020, we also reported signs of resilience and realistic optimism amid the gloom.
  2. Artists Repertory Theatre Suspends Production on 2023-24 Season. Coming in August, just a month after the above piece, this news was a blow not only for the Portland, Ore., theatre in question but for its new artistic director, Jeanette Harrison, who had only just gotten situated and picked an ambitious season when the theatre’s board pulled the plug and laid her off.
  3. The Complicated Triumph of ‘Here Lies Love.’ This thoughtful essay by Amanda L. Andrei (which we liked so much, we included it in our Fall 2023 print issue) examined David Byrne and Alex Timbers’s immersive musical from a variety of angles, from its groundbreaking employment of so many Filipino American talents on Broadway to its arguable portrayal of the history of U.S. relations with the Philippines.
  4. The Top 10* Most-Produced Plays of the 2023-24 Season. These lists tend to do well, for obvious reasons. This year in particular, I think they might have drawn extra attention for the mere idea that there were any plays being “most-produced” at all, as well as for the clear picture they paint of an industry judiciously balancing relevance (What the Consitution Means to Me) and familiarity (Dial M for Murder) in its programming.
  5. New Repertory Theatre to Close Doors After 40 Seasons. Another bit of shitty news, coming down in October. As Jenna Scherer wrote in a lovely memorial tribute, New Rep had set itself apart with innovative, often ambitious programming at its Watertown, Mass., location. But a return to programming this year after years of pandemic lockdown could not survive fundraising shortfalls, so it was curtains for yet another mainstay.
  6. The Big Crunch: Theatre’s Labor and Materials Crisis. Bill Hirschman’s piece from June put its finger on one reason the year was so tough for the nation’s theatres: The return from lockdown coincided not only with inflation in the cost of materials but with a scarcity of labor, as many of theatre’s essential workers had spent the pandemic finding other, less punishing avenues for their talents.
  7. The Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights of the 2023-24 Season. Another popular list, this year’s featured more than the usual number of musical theatre librettists, both living and dead, in one sign of a programming trend toward the tuneful.
  8. Some Hard and Beautiful Truths About Making Plays. Every once in a while a writer comes to us with an essay, sometimes based on a speech they gave somewhere or a book they’re working on. In this case, it was the latter, and the author was playwright Steven Dietz, who’s been no stranger in our pages over the decades, with some bracing advice for writers (including the wise admonition that “the writer you envy has outworked you”).
  9. 3 Things to Know About the Miracle That Was Ron Cephas Jones. We lost and paid tribute to a number of greats this year, but this fierce, funny, moving farewell to the actor best known for his work in LAByrinth Theater productions, Clyde’s on Broadway, and the TV show This Is Us did stand out, not least because it was written by Jones’s longtime colleague and pal Stephen Adly Guirgis.
  10. NYC’s Metropolitan Playhouse to Close After 31 Years. This one hit home for me personally, as this happened to be the only New York City theatre I worked at in a professional capacity (as composer/music director on the show The Devil and Tom Walker). A tiny company distinguished by its emphasis on rescuing early American plays, as well as on commissioning new ones about its neighborhood, it fell victim to what artistic director Alex Roe referred to as “the limits inherent in a company of our small size…It is time to draw the curtain on a wonderful run.”

As always, we thank you for reading (and reading this far). While we have you, please consider reading (and sharing) some of the following 2023 posts (for the sake of this list, unlike the one above, we’ve excluded posts that also appeared in our Fall 2023 issue, most of which is online here).

Louder Than Words: Finding Trans Joy in ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’ Woodzick, who hosts the podcast Theatrical Mustang, kicked off the year with this inspiring report about Bo Frazier’s trans and gender non-conforming revival of Jonathan Larson’s musical for Chicago’s BoHo Theatre.

The Play That Got Away: A History of ‘The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.’ Elise Harris contributed this must-read deep dive into the contested history of Lorraine Hansberry’s final play on the eve of its starry revival at BAM (which later moved to Broadway), as part of our three-story package about the seldom revived work.

Hard of Hearing Shouldn’t Have to Be This Hard. Theatrical musician Jo Brook contributed this fascinating, often harrowing look at working in theatre as a hard-of-hearing person, which, with the guidance and encouragement of associate editor Alexandra Pierson, Brook turned into a useful, wide-ranging call-in for greater access for all disabled theatre workers.

‘This Is Why We Tell Stories’: 3 Afro-Latina Playwrights on Their Off-Broadway Debuts. This dialogue, hosted by Jacob Santos, marked the extraordinary convergence of NYC premieres of new plays by Guadalís Del Carmen (Bees & Honey), Christin Eve Cato (Sancocho), and Julissa Contreras (Vámonos). “It’ll be the first time that my family can come out and watch a full production of mine,” said Contreras. “This is not going to be my mom and the elders being like, ‘Oh, that was nice, it was pretty, but I don’t know what I was watching.’” More of this, please.

When the Process Is the Problem. Alexandra Pierson reported this complicated, nuanced piece about a dispute that arose between playwright Mushaq Mushtaq Deen and New Dramatists, where he was a resident, and grew into a wider conflict over privilege and procedure that seemed to me as emblematic of the nonprofit theatre’s systemic challenges as Francisco Mendoza’s autopsy of The Lark.

How Does the WGA Strike Affect the Theatre? Ask Playwrights. Intrepid reporter Amelia Merrill first headed out to the picket lines to find out if more new plays would be one byproduct of writers not working in film and TV, but while she was reporting, a fresh controversy erupted over whether writers should attend the televised Tony Awards, which famously boost Broadway ticket sales (and hence theatre workers’ livelihoods). A deal was worked out by presstime, but the seemingly zero-sum standoff showcased the high stakes of the struggle for all concerned.

No Sondheim Is Alone: 3 Directors on His First Posthumous Revivals. I hosted a lot of meaty Q&As this year, but this one with Into the Woods‘s Lear deBessonet, Sweeney Todd‘s Thomas Kail, and Merrily We Roll Along‘s Maria Friedman is a piece I’ve gone back to reread repeatedly, just because there’s so much good stuff in it—not only about Sondheim specifically but about the art of theatre and what it has to say about the world.

Black Ensemble Theater: The Jackie Taylor Story. Profiles of theatre leaders can be inspiring, entertaining, sometimes fascinating. Seldom are they as educational and eye-opening as this piece by Crystal Paul about the longtime leader of one of Chicago’s most successful yet least widely known theatres. I defy you to read this and remain hopeless about the future of the art form.

Decentering Doom: A Word From Chicago Theatre Workers. Speaking of Chicago-based antidotes to despair, this piece, co-authored by Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel and Elsa Hiltner, explicitly set out to counter the crisis narratives that took hold of theatre coverage this year with some examples of how the town’s theatres and artists are rebuilding the industry on their own terms. (For the record: Our metrics showed this post was the 11th most read of 2023.)

Superheroes on Native Land. This three-part series by Todd London is a bona fide #longread about a years-long process undertaken by Cornerstone Theater Company in South Dakota’s tribal lands to create a play about and for the Lakota and Dakota people of the region, by a locally raised author making a homecoming, playwright Larissa FastHorse. So far, it’s a bumpy and beautiful ride (part 3 should be out next week) into territory, I think it’s fair to say, that probably only American Theatre would dare to explore.

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