Dec 7.2009 — With today’s posting of The Snow Queen, DC Theatre Scene has published its 1,000th review of Washington area productions. The thousand reviews span as far north as Toby’s of Baltimore and as far south as the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. Not included in the count are the nearly one hundred reviews by DCTS’ New York correspondent, Richard Seff.
Local theatre lover and computer professional Walter “Ronnie” Ruff brought the site into existence as DC Theatre Reviews in June of 2005 with a review of American Century Theater’s The Emperor Jones written by Noelle Wilson. Wilson is one of forty writers, including our summer Fringe crews, to have reviewed Washington for DCTS, although nearly two-thirds of DCTS reviews have been written by five people – Debbie Minter Jackson, Rosalind Lacy, Steve McKnight, Ruff and Tim Treanor.
Ruff recalls that his initial objective was to focus attention on the area’s small stages, but that he soon found the site covering all stages. “It was a tightrope we walked in those early days,” Ruff observed. “We wanted to cover all of those wonderfully talented small to medium sized companies while at the same time writing about the pillars of DC theatre.”
DC Theatre Reviews published 56 reviews before it ran a single news article, but since then has published 418 news or opinion pieces and 276 interviews, as well as numerous opinion columns and 165 podcasts.
Ruff, who moved to Texas in 2008, made a crucial early decision to join forces with two local theater activists, Joel Markowitz and Lorraine Treanor. Markowitz, longtime leader of the Ushers Theatre Group, was profiled in DCTS before he joined the site, and since then has conducted over 250 interviews and written 50 opinion columns as well as a few reviews.
Treanor, whose colorful employment history included a stint as a theatrical producer in Chicago and a manager of Tyson Gear, Mike Tyson’s clothing line, had been editing Brian Dragonuk’s Theatre News and met with Ruff after a Journeymen Theater production of Experiment with an Air Pump.
“I will always remember the evening I met Lorraine,” Ruff says. “We had attended the same show at the WSC space and decided to have a cup of coffee and discuss a bit of theatre. That simple cup of coffee lead to a friendship and partnership that is one of the most special of my life thus far and one that I am so proud of.” Treanor also remembers that encounter, and talks about it in her just published interview.
Jackson, Lacy and McKnight joined in 2006. Gary McMillan and Janet Cane, contributed significantly as well. Today, Leslie Weisman, Ted Ying and Miranda Hall add occasional reviews.
In 2007, Broadway character actor, playwright and agent Richard Seff joined DCTS, applying his critical faculties to New York productions and at the same time providing the long view of the Great White Way in his popular column NY Theatre Buzz.
“I’m very pleased with our reviewers,” Treanor says, singling out recent additions Hunter Styles and Ben Demers as well as the mainstays. “They all bring something to the party: Rosalind is familiar with Spanish theater, Tim is a student of Shakespeare, Miriam Chernick writes for children and so is a natural reviewer of children’s theater, Steve sees nearly everything produced from here to New York, Hunter is a director, and Deb brings an invaluable perspective as an actor and playwright.” Treanor adds that she’s always on the lookout for new writers.
The site’s readership grew as DCTS expanded its coverage to include interviews with theatre artists in Washington and New York, most of them conducted by Markowitz. Over the years, DCTS has published or podcast interviews with Valerie Harper, Edward Albee, John Kander, Mark Kudish and Chita Rivera among other theatre luminaries. The site’s most recent interview is with Estelle Parsons, in town with August: Osage County. Markowitz has been equally relentless in securing interviews with top community theatre talent and young actors with school-based programs.
DCTS won significant readership through its coverage of Washington’s inaugural Fringe Festival. The site provided blogging space to Fringe artists and reviewed a dozen shows. DCTS grew with the Fringe; in 2009 it;s Fringe crew reviewed 117 productions.
Another visible indication of the site’s impact was in a December 29, 2006 end-of-year roundup by respected City Paper critics Bob Mondello and Trey Graham which noted “”the maturation of DCTheatreReviews.com as a valuable clearinghouse for critical opinion, podcasts, photos and bloggage.”
The site incorporated as a DC nonprofit before Ruff moved to the Austin, Texas area for business and personal reasons, and Treanor took over as editor and publisher. Unlike Ruff, she reviews only rarely. “I’d rather sit back and enjoy a production,” she admits, “and devote my energy to improving the site in the broadest sense.”
Among the innovations Treanor has brought to DCTS is the Audience Choice Awards, which permits readers to vote for their favorite performances and productions from among shows and artists nominated by DCTS reviewers. Winners are revealed in an old-style radio show presented by The Audible Group, an organization devoted to preserving and practicing radio theatre. The Audible Group, which includes artists James Konicek, Susan Lynsky and Matt Nielson as well as Treanor, produced a radio version of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” last December for the site.
Like her writers, Treanor does not take a salary from DCTS. “Virtually all our revenue goes to maintaining the site,” she says. “I hope at some point to be able pay our writers and staff.”
Treanor envisions the site taking on other creative endeavors. “We changed the name to DC Theatre Scene because I wanted to broaden our focus with more features, bring more writers and performers onto the site who are working in theatre, and be a place where people can experience theatre as well as read and talk about it.”