AMERICAN THEATRE | 2022’s 10 Most Popular Posts (and 10 That Deserve Another Look)

I guess we should be used to this by now. But 2022 seemed, even more than the previous two years of pandemic and protest, to be a time in which every good thing (like the return to live performance, yay!) had a downside (continuing COVID-related postponement and cancellations). Or maybe you’d prefer to turn the snow globe upside down, and see that for every bit of bad news on Broadway (short runs for KPOP and Ain’t No Mo’), there were also some heartening Broadway success stories (a Tony and a healthy run for A Strange Loop, the well-reviewed Broadway debut of Cost of Living). Even one of the year’s more momentous milestones—the announcement that Long Wharf Theatre would leave its longtime home to become an itinerant, community-based theatre for the city of New Haven—seemed an equivocal, half-full/half-empty development. Or at least divisive: When longtime Long Wharf observer Frank Rizzo wrote a circumspect piece about where the theatre has been and the legacy its new move will leave behind, theatre leader Todd London penned a response praising the move as a visionary and long overdue counter to the elitism, racism, and toxic masculinity that has dominated the theatre field for too long.

The year’s bifurcated character surfaced in much of our reporting, and can de discerned in the following list of our most-read posts, which lurch back and forth between harrowing and hopeful, celebratory and exploratory. You can also see this Janus-faced aspect in the 10 stories we picked that deserve more attention. First, here is how you voted with your clicks.

2022’s Most Popular Posts

  1. Fat Failure: Why So Much Rain on Beanie’s Parade? Our most read piece of 2022 was Meg Masseron’s impassioned first-person editorial about the demoralizing experience of watching Beanie Feldstein’s performance in Broadway’s Funny Girl get not only criticized online but viciously vituperated, in a way Masseron found upsettingly fatphobic.
  2. Disney Announces Plans for ‘Sweeney Todd’ Animated Series. This 100 percent real news item, published on April 1, remorselessly murdered most of the competition.
  3. What Happened at The Lark? Francisco Mendoza wrote a painstakingly thorough and measured autopsy of this beloved play development hub, with hard lessons for both artists and administrators about conflict and expectations within nonprofit institutional culture.
  4. The Baker’s Wife: More Than a Moment in the Woods. Sondheim was popular this year—we’re not surprised—and in this lovely piece, Carey Purcell interviewed the three actors who’ve originated the role of the Baker’s Wife in Broadway’s three productions of Into the Woods (Joanna Gleason, Kerry O’Malley, and Sara Bareilles) and reflected on the way the role, and the show, have felt different in each successive era.
  5. Clyde’s’ Is Most-Produced Play, and Lynn Nottage Most-Produced Playwright, of the 2022-23 Season. The full return of our annual season preview and Most-Produced Plays and Playwrights lists was cause for some celebration, and not just because both lists were a fascinatingly diverse mix of confrontation and comfort food (more of that 2022 bifurcation). Though our data showed that production at TCG member theatres was down overall by at least a quarter from pre-pandemic times, what there is of it so far has given us some reason to hope.
  6. Ken-Matt Martin, Dismissed by Victory Gardens’ Board, Won’t Return. One of the year’s most distressing stories was the ouster, after little more than a year in the job, of Victory Gardens artistic director Ken-Matt Martin by the theatre’s board, which spurred a mass exit by the theatre’s staff. This wasn’t just a Chicago story; like the closure of the Lark, Victory Gardens’ implosion raised questions about board governance, artistic freedom, and lack of support for leaders of color that resonate throughout the field.
  7. An Audition Power Shift: Princeton Tries on a New Approach. Not all stories of change in 2022 were bad news, as this report from Rachelle Legrand showed. She reported on “Try On Theater Days,” an initiative at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts, that allows students to engage in mutual audition/matchmaking sessions to suss out what roles and pieces are right for them while directors do the same.
  8. David Mamet and the Stupid F***ing Words. This interview by Leo Adam Biga was already in the works when the contrarian playwright went on Fox and tarred teachers as predators, joining one of the right-wing’s more odious trumped-up culture wars. On the other hand, his 1975 classic American Buffalo was having a fine new revival on Broadway, so we went forward with the piece, and found the results as contentious and fascinating as the man’s best work (even if many of the clicks were hate reads).
  9. Hath Not a Jew Roles? The Case for Authentic Jewish Casting. Controversy draws attention, no question, but hopefully many folks read beyond the headline, and even the opening argument, of Edward Einhorn’s nuanced editorial, in which he both objected to a high-profile production of Merchant of Venice that cast a Black, non-Jewish actor as Shylock, and defended a non-dogmatic approach to culturally specific casting in certain cases.
  10. The Dance Call That Went Viral on TikTok. Trevor Boffone unpacked the story of how a casting call for a role in Legally Blonde at St. Louis’s Muny spawned a TikTok explosion. One of the best things about Boffone’s piece: It illustrates its points with copious embedded videos. It’s really something to see.

We thank for your readership on all those pieces! But what are some we wish more of you had read? Here are 10 that deserve a second look.

‘The Chinese Lady’ and the Long Road Home. This deep dive by associate editor Alexandra Pierson into the 2021-22 season’s most-produced play (we didn’t do a whole Top 10 list that season, but our listings data showed that Lloyd Suh’s two-hander would have been the clear winner of such a list) examined the play’s historical origins, its own development and production history, and the chilling resonance of its themes in a time of rising anti-Asian hate.

In Louisville There Once Was a Festival and Robert Barry Fleming’s Sense of Scale. These two should be read in tandem, as they address the end of the Humana Festival of New American Plays as we knew it, and the new models might that take its place (that 2022 duality again).

For Better or Worse, We Still Live in Joe Papp’s World. When PBS finally aired this long-in-gestation documentary about the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater, I took the opportunity to reflect on the ways his legacy has had as much influence on the nonprofit theatre movement outside New York as it did on Gotham.

Digging Deep With Native Theatre Icon Muriel Miguel. We knew that this meeting of two generations of Native theatre talent (Rhiana Yazzie did the interview) would be worthwhile, but we had no idea how many vivid stories, and how much frank wisdom and insight, could be packed into one Q&A.

How to Bring Together a Small Town Divided by Murder: Put on a Show. One of the more unexpectedly moving stories of the year came courtesy of writer Wendy Smith, who wrote about the small town of Beatrice, Neb., the focus of the HBO documentary series Mind Over Murder, where director Nanfu Wang literally dramatized the town’s divisions on a local stage.

Theatre Heaven: A Place a Lot Like Festival d’Avignon. The best theatre reporting makes you feel like you were there, and this dispatch from Torange Yeghiazarian about the international offerings at the world-beating French festival took us through a range of emotions: awe, admiration, thrills, and finally profound gratitude.

What Role Can Theatre Play in the Fight for Abortion Rights? The earth-shattering if not entirely unexpected end of Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision convulsed the nation, and theatre artists were no exception. In this piece, Diep Tran wondered whether any play could have salience in a fight usually waged in clinics and courts. But the stage, she found, can be a forum too.

Exuberant and Wild: The Long, Evolving Ride of Sylvan Oswald’s ‘Pony’. The critic Miriam Felton-Dansky had been following the progress of this long-gestating play about trans men and butch lesbians, and initially reached out to us to see if we’d consider publishing it. As the magazine is online only for the time being, not in print, we had to regretfully pass on—instead we got this thoughtful, finely etched piece from Felton-Dansky about the play’s journey to a revival at Maine’s Portland Theatre Festival.

Jewish Joy, Jewish Trauma: Why They Feel Different Onstage Now. One of our favorite finds this year was the writer Gabrielle Hoyt, who first wrote for us about the Jewishness of Stephen Sondheim, then did a pair of dialogues about Jewish and antisemitism with director-activist Emma Jude Harris. She was the obvious host, then, for a sobering yet scintillating conversation among theatremakers (Joel Grey, Tovah Feldshuh, Michael Arden, Caissie Levy, and Bess Wohl) about how portrayals of Jewishness and antisemitism onstage feel freshly fraught in the proto-quasi-fascist, increasingly hate-speech-hospitable environment of late 2022. She hosted it both for a podcast and an edited transcript.

Conversation Starters: How Robert Egan Put Ojai Playwrights on the Map. We’d been hearing about the unique magic of the Ojai Playwrights Conference and its New Plays Festival for years, but it took the announcement of longtime artistic director Robert Egan’s departure for us to finally see what the fuss was about. Margaret Gray’s on-the-scene feature is a model of the form, capturing the character and essence of an ephemeral gathering with wit and acuity.

Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good summary what we endeavor to do with everything we publish. Till next year, stay safe, and we’ll see you at theatre!

Rob Weinert-Kendt (he/him) is the editor-in-chief of American Theatre magazine. rwkendt@tcg.org

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