Gone are the days when you open a paper with your morning coffee to peruse the day’s news. We’ve known that for decades, and yet DC theatergoers have tenaciously hung on to The Washington Post — and longtime Post critic Peter Marks — as the ultimate word on theater in town. Yes, the Post is a national treasure with resources, reputation, and readership greater than any other publication in town. Getting your name in the Post brings visibility it is impossible to get elsewhere. And yet, the economic model that enabled papers like the Post to pay critics a living wage is crumbling before our eyes, and as it crumbles, the amount of theater content featured in DC’s premiere publication will continue to decrease. Marks’ departure, precipitated by a generous buyout offer, is just the latest episode in a trend that is pushing theater criticism out of large publications, and we are unlikely to have another critic of his singular stature on the scene again.
So where else can theatergoers turn for local theater news and criticism? Well, on the surface, things are pretty grim. In recent years, local publications as diverse as Washington Jewish Week, The Washington Diplomat, and DCist, stopped publishing theater reviews. Other publications, notably District Fray Magazine, once a stalwart supporter of local theater under Editor-in-Chief Monica Alford, folded entirely.
Talk to any journalist and they will tell you that the main problem in the industry now is monetization: the old model (print newspapers) no longer works, and no one can figure out a new model that will pay the bills. When it comes to theater coverage, this results in a field that is populated by local news outlets struggling to survive and scrappy individuals “working” for the love of the art and little else.
But maybe, just maybe, these scrappy arts entrepreneurs will lead us to develop new models of arts journalism. There is no telling which of these diamonds in the rough will shine with enough support. At the very least, it means that we will never again live in a world where one singular view — usually the view of an older white male — dictates the success or failure of a show. The evolving, decentralized, and, let’s be honest, for the moment completely chaotic, new reality of theater criticism means that very, very few will make a living off it, but that many more will have the space for their voices to be heard. And that is a good thing.
As theatergoers adjust to a world without a staff critic at the Washington Post, we all need to adjust how we stay informed about the intellectual and cultural events in our community. Here are some outlets I turn to for local theater news. These individuals and organizations are still here, working against pretty tough odds to inform and engage the community in robust conversations about the arts.
Washington City Paper
Despite its own financial woes, Washington City Paper has bucked the trend of decreasing local arts coverage. City Paper maintains a roster of great arts writers who benefit from the editorial prowess of Arts Editor Sarah Marloff. Veteran writers like Chris Klimek and Ian Thal and newcomers including Colleen Kennedy, Jared Strange, and D.R. Lewis continue to pump out reliable, readable reviews and feature articles that tap into the very pulse of the city.
How to access: While City Paper discontinued its print edition in May of 2022, it is still free to access online. Sign up for City Paper’s newsletters to get theater info directly to your inbox. (Side note: As a member-supported outlet, City Paper relies on readers to sustain it. Consider becoming a member to help maintain this reliable source of local news.)
Metro Weekly, DC’s LGBTQ magazine, has produced professional theater criticism from skilled writers for decades. André Hereford, Metro Weekly’s contributing editor, is a particular favorite, offering balanced reviews of both theater and film and cover-story interviews.
How to access: Metro Weekly does not employ a paywall. Theater reviews can be found here.
While DCist has suspended its theater reviews for the time being, it does still employ a staff arts and culture reporter, Elliot Williams, who regularly reports on local theater for DCist and on WAMU’s “Get Out There” segment. (Look out for Elliot’s upcoming article on Woolly Mammoth’s world-premiere production of The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes.)
How to access: Elliot Williams’ arts and culture coverage for DCist can be accessed here.
The Washington Post
The Post may no longer have a full-time theater critic, but larger theaters in the region will likely still benefit from coverage by skilled freelance writers like Celia Wren and Rhoda Feng and staffer Thomas Floyd. What other changes can we expect from the Post? Only time will tell. DCTA reached out to the Post to inquire about its plans for covering theater going forward and got this stock reply: “The Washington Post remains committed to delivering impactful theater coverage to its readers and the community.” Sigh…
How to access: Washington Post theater coverage can be found online or in print form. Most of it exists behind a paywall. (But you know this already.)
Like DC’s own masked theater superhero, Unprofessional Opinion is the nom de plume of a mystery writer who returned to the scene after a hiatus about a year ago. The writer publishes succinct, well-written, and highly opinionated theater reviews on the self-publishing platform Medium with content summaries on Instagram. While I don’t always agree with Unprofessional Opinion’s perspectives, I have come to admire them for the quality of their prose and insight. Bonus points for the intrigue behind the persona! Who is this masked theater bandit in our midst!?
DC Theater Arts
DC Theater Arts publishes reviews of nearly every show (professional, university, and community) produced in a 30-mile radius of Washington, DC. Yes, that means if a show has not been reviewed elsewhere, you can probably find a review of it at dctheaterarts.org. The publication (which, full disclosure, you are reading right now) is also a nonprofit that strives to spread awareness about DC theater, poke into the issues embroiling the industry, and train a new generation of arts writers.
How to access: DCTA maintains a website, a free twice-weekly newsletter, and a social media presence on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Threads (and has a currently inactive account on X). Follow what suits you best.
TheaterinDC.com kept popping up at the top of my Google feed. So I reached out to learn who was behind this website that is winning the Google algorithm game. It turns out TheatreinDC is run by Mark Meyer, a tech consultant and theater aficionado based in Chicago who uses his automation skills to aggregate information on theater in several cities across the country. His goal with TheatreinDC (and Boston, Chicago, and LA) is to gather logistical information for theatergoers to facilitate outings to the theater. By all accounts, his efforts are a success, most notably in the way that he aggregates reviews for readers to compare, Rotten Tomatoes style. It’s not fancy, but it’s clear and gives readers an easy way to compare reviews in one spot. Hmm… maybe I should have paid more attention in computer class.
How to access: Bookmark TheatreinDC’s comprehensive Now Playing page for easy access to a roundup of reviews on each show. (Side note: TheatreinDC’s review aggregator is reminiscent of the wonderful Didtheylikeit.com aggregator, which is my favorite way of comparing reviews of Broadway shows.)
Theater District (podcast)
Theater District is a brand-new podcast produced by Yale-trained dramaturg Chad Dexter Kinsman (who also writes about theater for DC Theater Arts and other publications). The podcast features interviews with a wide range of theater makers and advocates. “DC is such a great theater city, and it’s the people who make it so,” Kinsman shares. “I want to spotlight them and all the unacknowledged work that often goes into making a production or a company work.”
Embracing Arlington Arts (podcast)
Former radio personality Janet Kopenhaver has produced a solid podcast for the past six years in which she interviews local arts professionals from all arts genres, from actors to directors to musicians to behind-the-scenes staff. The podcast’s 300th episode aired in October 2023 and new episodes drop every Tuesday at noon.
Nothing for the Group
You should read Lauren Halvorsen’s Nothing for the Group newsletter just for the pleasure of Halvorsen’s wry, singular humor. But the former Studio Theatre dramaturg’s newsletter also offers much more. While technically a national publication (Halvorsen compiles lists of openings at regional theaters around the country each week), the publication does include a lot of DMV content and also hot takes on the big conversations happening in the industry. Recently, Halvorsen has brought in guest writers, like playwright Annalisa Dias, with articles that speculate on solutions to industry woes.
How to access: Subscribe to the newsletter on Substack and each new post will arrive in your inbox like magic.
Theatre Washington, DC’s theater service and partnership organization — best known for producing the annual Helen Hayes Awards — revamped its website last year, creating a comprehensive “What’s Playing” calendar. The website also features partner updates from DC Theater Arts and theaters around the region.
How to access: Sign up for Theatre Washington’s weekly newsletter here. Additional resources, like the Theatre Washington “Show Selector” calendar, can be found here. News updates from the region’s theaters can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the Theatre Washington homepage.
WETA Arts, hosted by Felicia Curry (PBS Television)
The world keeps changing and somehow PBS stays the same. For me, PBS is like a reliable blanket, something I know I can always return to when life feels a bit too much. DC’s local PBS station, WETA, has produced WETA Arts, a 30-minute weekly show detailing aspects of the local theater industry since 2013. Now hosted by DC favorite actor Felicia Curry, the show airs a new episode each Monday from September to December and February to May.
How to access: Turn on your TV and tune into PBS! Or, for a more high-tech option, all episodes of WETA Arts stream on the WETA website here and on YouTube here. WETA’s YouTube channel also offers a theater-heavy “Things to do in the DMV” page here.
Maryland Theatre Guide and Broadway World DC
Maryland Theatre Guide and Broadway World hark back to the days when there were a handful of theater “blogs” on the scene churning out reviews on low-budget websites. The quality of writing in each review varies from very good to “Where was the editor?” and the websites could do with an upgrade, but all in all, these are reliable resources for theatergoers who want to keep abreast of what’s going on in town. Andrew Walker White, who writes for both publications and DCTA, is a favorite.
Instagrammers and TikTokers
A few intrepid fans have begun creating their own content on social media, primarily on Instagram and TikTok, platforms that allow people to share content without the burden of creating a website. Emerging voices on Instagram include @dctheatregoer, @dmv_theatre_review, @morristheatredc, and the aforementioned @unprofessionalopinion. And on TikTok: @broadwaybekahchica and @dctheatergoer.
How to access: Give them a follow and their content will appear in your social media feeds, immediately increasing the number of opinions you encounter before deciding what to see. (Side note: I also love the TikTok content being created by Signature Theatre and Baltimore Center Stage. These theaters hired young TikTokers and gave them free rein to do their thing. The result is often very fun.)
Just as there is a lot more theater going on in town than most people realize, there is also more theater news and criticism. We don’t need to rely on a single source. Check out these outlets and curate your favorites. Here’s to a new era of diverse, informed theatergoing!