A Rich And Fruitful Meeting
Frank Rich, chief drama critic of The New York Times, was
guest speaker at the January 26, 1990 Overall Membership Meeting. Mr. Rich
has held his present post for 10 years. He was born in 1949; graduated magna
cum laude from Harvard University; was film and theatre critic for the
Harvard Crimson and served as film critic and editor of Time Magazine before
coming to The Times.
ATPAM Board Member and Press Agent Shirley Herz invited
Frank Rich. President Merle Debuskey presided over this historic question
and answer session and opened with the following remarks: "In spite of
the apparent incredulity of this event, it is my pleasure to introduce Mr.
Rich, who will make a brief statement and then take questions, which he will
attempt to answer in spite of the possibility of psychological, if not
bodily harm. He is receiving no honorarium and might wind up being
Mr. Rich opened with the following remarks:
"Everything I have learned about the theatre I was taught by you
people. Ergo: you are responsible for me Ė especially certain members of
this Union. My only professional job in the theatre was as a ticket-taker in
the pre-Kennedy days at the National Theatre in Washington, DC. Scott
Kirkpatrick, who was then manager, took pity on me. He so frequently saw me
in the lobby, he wrote out something I didnít know existed Ė a pass to a
box. He and Assistant Manager Richard Kidwell always talked to me.
I learned a great deal from Company Managers at that
time. It was later that Press Agents entered my life; sometimes as
collaborators, often as adversaries. All of us critics, players, Managers,
Press Agents, on both sides of the fence, have a natural obsession with the
theatre. I am glad to be here and will take any questions."
Q: (Dan Landon, House Manager of the Barrymore Theatre)
"Why does the Times have a policy of not re-reviewing shows that have
moved from Off-Broadway?
A: "There are many items competing for space. If a
play is virtually the same, there is no reason to re-review it. We do so for
shows that move from out-of-town or from London, or is a show has been
re-written in a major sense, or re-cast Ė in other words, if a major
change (has taken place). Perhaps we should take greater notice of
transfers. But each would be judged on a case by case factor. No such
transfer has occurred yet this season. We donít want to discriminate
against Off-Broadway producers who move plays to a new venue. I emphasize
there will be a case by case consideration."
Q: (Carol Mooney, House Manager of the Cort Theatre)
"Why was SARAFINA! Not re-reviewed?"
A: "This kind of transfer sometimes is and sometimes
is not. For instance, the recent transfer of SWEENY TODD. It lost something
in transferring to a larger house. The Times wishes to stay out of all real
estate and commercial arrangements. We will ask Press Agents whether or not
there are any major changes."
Q: (Rene Savich, House Manager of the Booth Theatre)
"Why repeat a bad review in the Sunday listings each week?"
A: "We feel, like the New Yorker, that our readers
should know what our opinion was. I donít know the criteria used by the
Arts and Leisure editors on whether to use quotes or not."
Q: (Robert Kamlot, ATPAM Manager) "Do you require a
higher standard of excellence for a Broadway show, than from a non-profit or
A: No. Every critic has been attacked for being more
lenient to Off-Broadway. Thatís not so. To hold the non-profit theatre to
a lesser standard is not fair."
Q: (Victor Samrock, ATPAM Manager) "I have been
deputized to ask this question. (Laughter.) How long is your contract with
The New York Times?" (A roar of laughter.)
A: "There is no contract. No regular writer has a
contract, although we are members of the Newspaper Guild in whose premises
we are currently meeting. I have no intention of leaving soon, if that'í
what you mean. I love my job.""
Q: (Gino Giglio, House Manager of the Marquis Theatre)
"Why do critics no longer attend opening nights? Is there a possibility
of returning to this policy?"
A: "We will not return to covering (the actual)
openings nights. Harold Prince broke that policy by allowing critics to come
to previews (on CABARET). Clive Barnes (former New York Times critic and
currently with the New York Post) has said that opening night is not
necessarily the best performance. Critics used to miss the last part of
shows in order to meet a deadline. There has been a change in newspapersí
schedules. (Ed note: There are no early morning editions any longer.) I give
you an example of BILOXI BLUES, which was flatter on opening night than at a
Q: (Merle Debuskey, ATPAM President and Press Agent)
"Why spread the coverage over four or five nights?"
A: "There are many factors involved, such as how
many shows are opening, some are out of town, and magazines need special
Q: (Roy Somlyo, ATPAM Manager) "Are you affected by
A: "Most shows I see register the audience as wildly
enthusiastic. It doesnít mean a thing to me. If the response is legitimate
I will mention it. But I wonít when it seems irrelevant. For instance, at
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE there were at least thirty walkouts. Perhaps
that performance was a benefit. But it did not make any difference to me. I
write as this member of the audience. I cannot be responsible for anyone but
Q: (Diane Judge, ATPAM Press Agent) "Why is there no
longer a second opinion in the Sunday Times?"
A: "Walter Kerrís successor was Benedict
Nightingale, but her returned to England. The job is open. We are looking
for someone of that type (Kerr and Nightingale) for The Times."
Q: "Why is it so difficult to find someone?"
A: "Anyone can volunteer for the job. I am not the
prime person to make such a decision. The higher echelons make the
Q: (Diane Judge, ATPAM Press Agent) "Why do fashion
writers become drama reporters? Apprentices spend years under press agents
and managers learning about the theatre, but The Times puts anybody in the
Drama Department and then limits the coverage to one square box once a
A: "Ask Marvin (Siegel) about that. The Times is the
paper of record. New York is an arts town. There is greater competition for
space with all the other arts, not only drama. The Times covers everything
more completely, so rock, books, art, etc., are all covered. There is
television and radio. The Times tries to keep all these in balance. I cannot
give you the answers. I do not make decisions on coverage. The Times insists
that drama has to be news and so soft releases will be driven out by hard
Q: (Richard Kornberg, ATPAM Press Agent.) "Who
determines who will review?"
A: "That is not a hard science. Each case is
discussed and decisions are made."
Q: (Richard Kornberg.) "What is The Times position
on how long previews should go on?"
A: "There is no policy on the length of previews,
unless there is a flagrant attempt not to have a critical response."
Q: (Gino Empry, ATPAM Press Agent) "Do outside
things that happen to you affect your criticism."
A: "I try to avoid covering a show when I do not
feel well. I get someone else to cover."
Q: (Marilyn Levine, ATPAM Press Agent.) "John Simon
is too critical. Barnes tries to present the better aspects of a show. You
lie in between. Do you ever take a more positive view of a show you donít
A: "I do not take that point of view. Would you
yourself do that? I thought not. If a critic does that he loses all
credibility. If I were a Pollyanna, then when I do really like something no
one would believe me."
Q: (Robert Buckley, ATPAM Manager) "Would The Times
consider two daily critics of widely divergent views?"
A: "Thatís for the editors to determine. I donít
think itís possible. Suppose you get two pans? I give you the example of
the movie critics Siskel and Ebert."
Q: (John Springer, ATPAM Press Agent) "What about
re-reviewing when another star comes into a show? Is this not newsworthy?
A: "We have no set policy. Sometimes we do and
sometimes we donít. I give the example of M. BUTTERFLY. A rush of news and
events control this. I do not make the decisions. Marvin (Siegel) makes the
Q: (Joe Wolhandler, ATPAM Manager) "Do you ever read
a play before reviewing?"
A: "I read the play after seeing it. I am reviewing
for an audience which will not have read the play. I try to find out as
little as possible. I try to keep an open mind about a play."
Q: (Bill Liberman, House Manager of the Royale Theatre)
"What is your workload like in a 12 hour period?"
A: "I try to pace myself. After a show I write down
notes. I try to create what the event was in words. Just to say great is not
enough. I try to be descriptive. Next day I write Ė there is no discussion
Ė with anyone. If I have not heard a line I may ask about that, but my
criticism is what I thought at the time. I am usually a bit withdrawn at the
Q: (Jim Walsh, ATPAM Manager) "Does Marvin Siegelís
decision about feature articles depend on reviews?"
A: "I donít make decisions about features. Press
Agents have to be innovative about interviews. Simple interviews with actors
are not necessarily news."
Merle Debuskey comments: "Marvin Siegel has denied
that a bad review automatically knocks out any possibility of further news
on a show. Press Agents have to persist. There is no quid pro quo on a bad
Q: (Gino Empry) "What about revivals?"
A: "I donít let earlier productions influence me.
There is a certain excitement to see what someone else has done with an old
play. I give you the example of GYPSY."
Q: (Carol Mooney) "How much editing is done on your
A: "Space is always a consideration. I am read by
two editors and if serious space problems exist, there can be a
Merle Debuskey: "We have pestered Mr. Rich enough. I
wish to thank him." There is much applause.