What Does It Mean to Be Local?

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Happy New Year LA Theater!

While most of us were consumed with the holidays the LA Weekly announced a major change in theater coverage. In a nutshell, they're cutting the theater section by roughly 70 percent. And perhaps more significantly cutting both the size and the frequency of theater critic Steven Leigh Morris' feature articles - they'll now never run every other week and be roughly 25 percent shorter.

This is a big deal for LA theater, especially small theaters. But what exactly it means, where it came from and what's next is a little tougher to put together.

Let's start with why the Weekly's theater coverage mattered. Each week the paper ran 8-10 capsule reviews of small shows in LA. Together with its theater listings, the Weekly was the de facto paper for the under-99-seat crowd. It was the place to not only find out what was playing but also get a quick taste for what to expect and through Mr. Morris' insightful feature stories, a place to put it all in context. Coupled with it's annual theater awards, the paper was the champion of small, local theater.

Losing that coverage is a big deal.

Before the cutback in coverage, anyone picking up the paper could come across the theater section and see that there was a lot of theater in LA. (The section dwarfed the other art sections which is part of the Weekly's rationale behind cutting it). Theater took up more ink and whether you loved it or simply waded through those pages to get to more ads for pot shops and plastic surgeons - you had to confront it.

Losing it means LA is less of a small theater town.

Which came first - the chicken or the egg? Is the LA Weekly simply recognizing that small theater matters less to Los Angeles than it did a decade ago? Or are the same forces that necessitate a cutback in journalism hurting the arts?

We have to remember we're dealing ultimately with institutions and audience: both journalism and the theater are still trying to make sense of the new global, on demand, always connected world. In the same breath I say that theater matters less to LA, I can easily say that the LA Weekly matters less than it used to.

To appreciate how we got here, at least for LA theater and arts coverage, you should turn to LA theater's journalistic conscious - Don Shirley. For more than a decade, Mr. Shirley has written passionately about the lack of local playwrights at our larger theaters and the lack of theater coverage at the LA Times. This lack of relevance has been a long time coming. And It begs the question: in a city where are papers are owned elsewhere and most of are playwrights are flown in, what does it mean to be a Los Angeles institution?

In a global world it's easy to forget, or at least lose sight of, civic responsibility. Beyond economic impacts, butts in seats, and page clicks, there's a responsibility to our city. Whether you're a theater or a newspaper, or even a radio station, your work should make Los Angeles a better place to live.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.