Back in the summer of 2001 when co-publishers Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz placed a small ad in the newspaper seeking to hire someone to help expand their theater coverage, little did they anticipate that the middle-aged, bald and bespectacled gentleman who responded would still be there 13-and-a-half years later. But after more than 660 weekly columns, 1,700-plus reviews, and 7,000-plus calendar listings, my tenure as Between The Lines' theater editor will come to a close Dec. 20.
It's been a blast – and I thank Jan and Susan from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to play in their sandbox and carve out my own little kingdom to rule as I saw fit. Two better bosses would be very tough to find.
Their goal – and mine – was to seek ways to forge and expand the natural relationship that has existed between the LGBT and theater communities since the dawn of the performing arts. After all, remove all the gay people from on and behind the stage and what would be left? Not much – and much of it would be pretty damn boring.
So that's we did, first by approaching theaters big and small, professional and non-professional, and inviting them to send us their press releases so that we could begin including them in our print and online calendars. And respond they did. Our listings grew to an astounding 50-plus shows a week across the state during the busiest times of the season. (Who said theater is dead? It's certainly alive and kicking here in Michigan!)
But more importantly, as the state's major daily and weekly newspapers were trimming or cutting their theater coverage – especially their reviews of our professional theaters – we decided that was a niche we were uniquely capable of filling. So that's what we did – focusing first in metro Detroit and Southeast Michigan, and eventually expanding from one side of the state to the other. To do that, however, meant we had to increase our critics from a single person – me – to an entire team of professional journalists and critics, many of whom joined us from those very same newspapers that dropped their coverage. The result, then – in my humble opinion – was the most comprehensive and finest theater coverage this state has ever seen. And I thank the more than one dozen critics who, throughout the years, joined us on our merry, crazy crusade.
Still, we weren't done yet.
If we were going to provide complete coverage of our theaters, and we wanted to build bridges between our communities, it only made sense that we should throw an annual party to bring us all together – and so we created The Wilde Awards. Designed to celebrate the best productions, performances and technical work of the professional theater season, The Wilde Awards first hit the stage in 2002 and quickly outgrew The Furniture Factory in Midtown Detroit. From there, The Gem Theatre became its home for several years, until finally landing at The Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield, where it celebrated its 13th year this past September. What's more, The Wilde Awards have become a nationally recognized symbol for recognizing theatrical excellence – and, to be honest, we're quite proud of that!
If that wasn't enough to keep us busy, Jan, Susan and I – along with tech guru Kevin Bryant – had yet another idea: Why not launch a separate website to promote the state's professional theaters? Call us crazy, but that's what we did in 2008 – just months before the country's economy tanked and shredded our business plan all to pieces. But we persevered, and after an ownership change or two, EncoreMichigan.com is still alive and picking up steam, attracting thousands of readers each and every day. (I'll be retiring as its editorial director on Dec. 20 as well.)
So how do I feel about leaving behind what I've helped to build these past 13-and-a-half years, you might be wondering?
The quick answer is this: I'm pretty damn proud of what we've accomplished, both personally and as a team. And while I'll miss the daily interactions with the BTL staff and our wonderful theaters of all sizes and configurations, every now and then the universe kicks us in the ass and points us in a new direction – sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes not.
It's the latter that's happening here. Two months ago, I had no plans for the future other than to figure out ways to improve our coverage; a month later, I spent seven days in the hospital after experiencing a life-changing event and being told to change those plans – or else.
Since one thing I'm good at is taking doctors seriously, a new chapter in my life awaits me. And I'm very much looking forward to it!
But before I head off into the sunset, I'd like to thank our theaters for their trust in me for nearly 14 years; I value the relationships I've built with them, and I look forward to working with many of them again as I move into the next phase of my life journey.
I'd also like to thank the staff at Between The Lines for all of their support over the years. Although the editors and writers have changed over time, their passion has not – and from start to finish, I couldn't dream of a better group of people to work with.
Finally, a big tip of my hat and a major thank you go to our readers, who have stuck with us these past many years, and who never shied away from telling us what they liked and what they loathed about our coverage. Our ultimate responsibility was to provide our readers with the best work we could possibly produce, and to do so in a way that was entertaining, educational, fair and honest. I think we accomplished that far more than we failed, which is a pretty decent score to leave with.
So what will I do next? After completing my editorial duties for next week's paper, I'll return to the life of an occasional freelancer, working when and where suits me best – and that, of course, includes here at BTL. And elsewhere.
Until then, I wish all of you a Happy Holiday and a very Happy New Year!