They’re Not Dead Yet

Allan Appel PhotoThe genial gent with the glasses doesn’t look like a dinosaur, but the Hartford Courant’s Frank Rizzo is one: One of the last remaining full-time theater critics in Connecticut—and, to indulge in dramatic license, perhaps in the nation, the planet, the cosmos.

Rizzo is intent on reversing the fossil trend.

Rizzo and his colleagues in the Connecticut Critics Circle (CCC) made their declaration to grow the ranks of theater writers and, through them, theater-lovers, at the the Long Wharf Theater Monday night.

The occasion was the group’s 23rd annual awards ceremony. It drew about 75 people, about of third of whom constitute the full membership of the CCC.

The much anticipated party, one of the few occasions where directors, actors, set, costume, and sound designers get to meet the people who review their work, was the occasion for awards in these fields, based on the voting of the CCC.

“There aren’t full-time theater writers,” said Rizzo, whose 30-year career covering theater for the Courant and for Variety is hard to imagine recurring today. (He previously wrote for New Haven’s now-defunct daily Journal-Courier.)

The challenge is to reach what Rizzo called the “new dynamic.”

By that he meant people communicating to a theater-loving audience. “If you’re in your bedroom blogging” to six people or so, you’re not a likely candidate for the CCC of the present and the future, he said.

“But if a thousand people are following you, you should be considered a critic,” he said.

The group currently has only 19 members, said Geary Danihy, who with Rizzo sits on the board of the CCC. The full membership nominates plays for the awards; a committee of five goes to see them.

That could mean over 100 plays during the course of a season. “It’s a big commitment,” said Danihy.

Click here for the entire list of awards, which included the Yale Rep’s Marie Antoinette for outstanding play production and outstanding leading actress, Marin Ireland in Marie Antoinette; and David Greenspan for outstanding featured actor in the same play.

Greenspan played, with aplomb and just the right mixture of gravity and wool,l an ethereal talking sheep who was a trusted adviser to the ill-fated queen.

The Long Wharf picked up the best actor award for John Douglas Thompson‘s bravura channeling of Louis Armstrong in Satchmo at the Waldorf by Terry Teachout; and Leah Gelpe received the outstanding sound design award for her work in Long Wharf production of Laura Jacqmin’s January Joiner.

The ceremony is like Connecticut’s Tony Awards, said Karen Isaacs, who writes for Shore Publications and also talks theater on the University of New Haven radio station WNHU.

Isaacs was among several people who described the critic as an educator. She called her role bringing “an educated eye” to a play and then reflecting that in her writing or broadcasting.

Danihy said he too sees the the role of the critic as part of the “educatory process,”  not as antagonistic to the theater but in support of.

“A good review should have something about theater. I look at us as teachers to those who don’t understand the theater, who can learn.”

“My biggest concern is how to reach [and bring in] younger members of the organization [the CCC],” he said.

Since the newspapers are not reaching younger people, Danihy said the CCC is gearing up for an outreach to local colleges and those covering theater through whatever newfangled platform.

In case you didn’t notice, there’s a lot of white hair around here, he added.

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