As a kind of year’s end and year’s beginning, I crafted a summary of the work accomplished by and through the people of the American Theatre Critics Association in 2020. I’m massively proud of everyone I work with there. The work of chair of this far-flung association of spirited and opinionated journalists would not be possible as a single person flailing alone. It takes a writing village, a village of writers — it takes a bunch of folks.

“To assess our present and future in normal times requires some reflection upon the immediate past. For the 2020 pandemic year, this requirement is most essential. In the end, we might be saying good-bye to many familiar ways we conduct business as critics and arts journalists. We have already modified how we run elements of ATCA. Let us review.

As ATCA Executive Committee Chair during the past two years, my personal creative energies often have been taxed, but I found strength in teams, even before March 2020. Leadership challenges often eclipsed my creative energies, but I gave those over freely during the first year of my tenure as chair. And then, a door shut for all of us.

When Broadway and theater around the country shut down in March 2020 (the March 11, 2020 final preview of Six on Broadway was my last show of the season, what was yours?), I had decisions to make from within that black hole. Teams led me through this year, and successes abounded.

Leadership. When I become ExCom vice chair in 2018 under chair Bill Hirschman, I appreciated a routine he established: weekly phone meetings with the co-chair and the administrator to check in on ATCA business. I carried on this tradition with Frank Rizzo as co-chair and administrator Robert Sokol during my first year as chair, and expanded the mostly weekly meetings this year to include 2020-2021 leadership co-chair David John Chávez, secretary Amanda Finn, treasurer Scott Bennett, and new administrator Doug Strassler to keep the work of ATCA moving forward. The role of chair would not be possible without colleagues like these. I salute you all.

Conferences and Awards. For ATCA, our door shut in March on the initial stages of registration for a long-planned conference to be held in Costa Mesa, California. The April 2020 annual conference planning, led by co-chairs Lou Harry and David John Chávez, was designed to fold into parts of the Pacific Playwrights Festival. Covid-19 forced the cancellation of this event — hotel contracts, terrific playwrights and theater creators had been lined up and now were released from agreements. We had planned to present our Steinberg-ATCA and Osborn awards during the conference too, at what we hoped to be a new annual home base for the ceremony. Disappointment encouraged creativity, and in May we released a first-ever ATCA video award ceremony for our four award playwrights. As the year progressed and the pandemic wore on, we realized that any ATCA annual conference in 2020 would have to be virtual, and a team of experienced conference hosts (Lou Harry, Frank Rizzo, Lindsay Christians, Jay Handelman, and I) began work in August to plan ATCA’s first truly national digital conference. Without geography rooting us in place, in November we explored our profession’s “Next Normal” using Zoom and a stage manager-producer (as well as some amazing content) to hold the event together. The Conference Committee has been renamed the Conference & Event Committee to embrace our envisioned continued use of digital meeting strategies for many if not all ATCA convenings soon.

Committee excellence. Our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee, an ATCA creativity center since 2018, changed its name to add “Equity” this year. This inspiring group, now co-chaired by Kelundra Smith and David John Chávez, has rolled out a monthly seminar on Zoom, conducted monthly “Member Spotlight” interviews we have featured on our website, and initiated a committee newsletter. Updates on the extensive committee activities and plans are provided in our weekly newsletters. The Conference & Event Committee members who worked to create the November 2020 conference are experienced hosts from prior conferences. The plan for 2021 is for the committee to aid other members who volunteer to host upcoming convenings — it is a huge job, as past hosts know well, and the committee will provide support and lessons learned, and ATCA administrative staff will assist with registration and website information.

The Membership Committee, under the expert leadership of co-chairs Cameron Kelsall and Mark Lowry, have led the renewal process, managed a “Pay What You Will” program for membership supported by the Executive Committee through June 30, 2021, and implemented several total new ATCA membership categories. Communications have been supported by committee chair Amanda Finn, who handles social media, Brad Hathaway who has edited the weekly Update since 2017, Frank Rizzo who works with our administrator Doug Strassler to craft ATCA press releases, and our old and new website contributors including me as webmaster.

Lou Harry, as New Play Committee chair, shepherded the Steinberg-ATCA and Osborn awards processes in 2020 and connected with a video editor colleague who cobbled together video segments to create a virtual awards ceremony distributed on YouTube. He is in discussion with the Steinberg family about plans for the next Steinberg awards. Kerry Reid continues her great work with the Primus Prize Committee and chaired a session with all our 2020 award recipients during our November meeting.

Our International representative Jeffrey Eric Jenkins has navigated the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) 2020 in-person meetings and has attended and reported on several that have been re-conceptualized using Zoom. Foundation ATCA president Jay Handelman has generated new ideas, convened several Foundation board discussions to envision work in the years ahead, conducted the annual end-of-year contribution solicitation and reviewed a proposal developed by members Chris Byrne, Frank Rizzo, and me for an ATCA Helbing Mentorship program.

Website Project. Nancy Bishop led a committee process in 2019 and 2020 to review the aging ATCA websites serving ATCA’s public facing and member-only content, developed a workplan, and identified several bidders to revamp the website. We decided to work with the exceptional Julien Kos of Utopian Designs who has conducted our site reformation project. We are in the final stages of this work now, with me as webmaster, and Julien retained as a resource. We will roll out the new site this month, with expectations for continuing refinement work through the year. More on this project in next week’s Update, along with a new look for our templates for mail communications.

This has been a year of collaboration, committees, and conference planning. I look forward to my final six months as chair, eager to roll out our next innovations, while we continue to honor our rich and essential history. My journey through each post in our old website and preparing those posts with categories and tags that work with our vibrant new design to sort and display old news, current news, and upcoming events, has newly reminded me of the magnificent work of our founding members and prior leaders, and the rich legacy they leave.

My term on the Executive Committee must come to an end this summer due to our term limitations. For now, as both Executive Committee chair and ATCA webmaster, I’m happy to do my part to maintain the legacy of our past, ensure that our communications are open for the work of our present, and prepare ourselves to tackle the challenges in our future.

Mask up!”

— as sent to the membership of the American Theatre Critics Association, January 5, 2021.

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