A Final Curtain Call

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Ethel Barrymore had a signature Broadway curtain-call line she delivered each night, which originated from her role in 1904’s Sunday by Thomas Raceward. “That’s all there is — there isn’t any more.”

And thus LA STAGE Times goes on hiatus and my time as Editor in Chief comes to an end. It’s been a great run; one which for me began 13 years ago as a contributing writer for LA STAGE magazine in 2001, followed by managing editor of the website in 2010 and then Editor in Chief in 2011.

I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished since the print version went online in mid-2009.  Visits to the site quintupled and unique visitors sextupled. Each story gained national exposure via our RSS feed to aggregate site broadwaystars.com. In the past two years, outstanding work from our writers garnered nine nominations from the Los Angeles Press Club in both the 5th and 6th National Entertainment Journalism Awards plus the 55th Southern California Journalism Awards. We took home two first place awards and one second place in categories populated by national media outlets. No small feat for a non-profit arts journalism site.

Our stories were both noted and respected. Emerging artists to theatrical legends thanked us for our research and knowledge base. A-list celebrities tweeted links to their followers while intimate theaters mounted poster-size features in their lobbies. Occasionally we even scooped our major media brethren.

None of which would have been possible without the dedicated contributors I’ve had the pleasure to work with these many months. From seasoned pros to recent graduates of the Arts Journalism Master’s Program led by Sasha Anawalt at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, each drove all over LA county (and sometimes Ventura, Riverside and Orange as well), conducting in-person interviews and crafting in-depth stories about LA’s vast theater community. I can’t thank you enough for your commitment and friendship. And thanks also to countless other artists who wrote about their personal creative journeys via our First Person columns.

I want to acknowledge our longtime columnists Don Shirley, Julio Martinez and Connie Danese, plus recent additions, Dani Oliver and Steven Leigh Morris. Julio’s LA STAGE Insider became a must-read destination for breaking news and historical LA theater tales while Connie’s opening night dispatches earned a devoted following. Don’s deep legacy covering LA’s theater scene makes him one of the most respected voices in our community as well as a wicked fact checker and copy editor (just ask the writers.) His contribution to the journalistic integrity of this site cannot be praised highly enough. He taught me so much and I will miss our lively debates.

My thanks also to colleagues Dany Margolies and Lynne Heffley who stepped in upon several occasions with their editing and Photoshop expertise in Don’s absence.

To Dani Oliver, assistant editor and photo editor plus my partner in the daily post trenches. Her artistic and tech savvy dramatically expanded the graphic possibilities of each story as well as their social media delivery.  If people only knew how much time was spent obtaining the perfect mix of production and historical photos or the lengths we went to locate them. Both of us had big dreams for the next phase of this site and I will miss our shared camaraderie.

To photographer Eric Schwabel, who started out shooting cover stories for the magazine and continued to do features when we went online. From “Faces” shots of Ray Bradbury and Kirk Douglas to more elaborate shoots with Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, he brought us his A-game on a 99-seat theater budget. Celebs loved his work, told their fans and boosted our traffic.

Kudos to all my publicist and marketing colleagues working both independently and on staff at the theaters. No one knows more than I do about how hard you work for your clients or in-house shows. I’ll miss those wee hours emails wondering why we’re both still up and whether hopping a late flight to a warm tropical climate might just solve everything.

To Doug Clayton and Terence McFarland for believing in an arts journalism site and keeping it afloat when logic suggested otherwise. And the rest of the LASA staff — Julie Briggs, Mark Doerr, Crystal Diaz and Mandi Homes — with whom I’ve shared this wild adventure and who give 150% daily for LA’s theater community.

A seminal theater experience for me was watching Kathy Bates in the 1986 Mark Taper Forum production of Marsha Norman’s night, Mother. Fast forward nearly 30 years later to another transcendent evening, though not nearly so gut-wrenching, at the Ahmanson Theatre last week attending Christopher Plummer’s charismatic one-man show, A Word or Two. Both indelible high points.

In between, I’ve seen more than 700 shows, most of them during my time with LA STAGE. It has been a profound gift to witness live performance on this scale. Not to mention interviewing and covering the incredible artists dedicated to creating it.

I would not be penning this farewell if it were not for one man, our late Editor Emeritus Lee Melville. He introduced me to L.A.’s theater community when I moved back from San Francisco in 1998, assigned my first cover story in 2001, championed my Ovation Award voter application and paved the way for me to succeed him as Editor in Chief.  He was my mentor and without his encouragement, I never would have met any of the amazing people I’ve interviewed nor become as widely connected to our community as I am today. And for that, I am deeply grateful.

Maya Angelou once wrote, “Sometimes we think we have found the place, the niche, and my instinct is that we should keep on our traveling shoes, that we are in process, every one of us, and we should keep on the traveling shoes and be ready.” A new road beckons. May we meet again somewhere upon it.

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Deborah Behrens

Deborah Behrens

Deborah is an award-winning arts/entertainment journalist best known for her celebrity profiles. She is the former Editor-in- Chief of LA STAGE Times, the predecessor site to @ This Stage Magazine. Her work has garnered numerous honors including a 2009 Maggie Award, a 2012 National Entertainment Journalism Award and recognition at the 2013 Southern California Journalism Awards. In 2014, she received the Queen of the Angels Award at the 35th Annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards for her contributions to L.A.’s theater community. You can follow her on Twitter @deborahbehrens.