UPDATE from Wm. Steven Humphrey, Mercury Editor-in-Chief, moved up from this morning: As usual Alison is being self-deprecating in her post below—but when she wrote this entry, she didn't know the entire backstory. Here's the real dirt: PCS artistic director Chris Coleman and the PCS board got buttsore about a couple of reviews (probably either this one or this one, or both). In return, about a month ago, they delivered a not-so-thinly-veiled threat to our advertising department, saying they were "thinking" of pulling their ads because the Mercury didn't cover their shows "enough" and when we did, we were "dismissive." Going back over the last year or so—and I invite you to do the same—I found that the Mercury reviewed 80 percent of their shows, and of those reviews they were just about half-positive, half-negative. They were informed of our viewpoint, considered it, and after figuring out we weren't going to be bullied... YANK! No more press invitations or ads for the Mercury.
Don't worry! The loss of PCS ads won't drive the Mercury into bankruptcy. We just think it's sad and lame, because it's obvious what PCS really wanted. They wanted preferential treatment. They wanted 100 percent positive reviews and coverage, because as the biggest theater in town, they think they're entitled to it—never mind the other 50-75 theaters in town who are also doing interesting, exciting work on a much smaller budget, and with less name recognition. (In fairness, this viewpoint is NOT shared by many of the fine actors, directors, marketing people, and technicians who work at PCS—from what I understand this came straight from Coleman and the PCS board.)
Soooo... congrats, other smaller theaters! A nice plump hole just opened up for you in the arts section of the Mercury. And as for our readers, you can continue to expect and read the tough, fair, trustworthy reviews that have made our Alison Hallett the most respected theater critic in town.
ORIGINAL POST BY ALISON HALLETT:
I just received an email informing me that the Mercury is no longer invited to review shows at Portland Center Stage. Or, technically, that I will no longer be offered press tickets to their shows, but if I want to purchase tickets to write about a production, I'm welcome to do so.
I can't say I'm hugely surprised by this—I'm often very critical of PCS' shows and of artistic director Chris Coleman, and it has long seemed a strange aspect of my job that I'm basically invited into peoples' homes in order to criticize the decor. Theater reviews potentially benefit companies in two ways: Publicity and promotional materials. PCS is presumably confident enough in their publicity apparatus at this point that they no longer feel they need the boost that coverage and listings in the Mercury provides, and there are enough websites these days that'll write glowing reviews in exchange for free tickets that sifting through my reviews to find the one sentence they can put on a flyer probably just doesn't make sense. The era of newspaper critics leveraging influence for access is over—companies no longer need to rely on a cranky critic to mediate their relationship with the public. At this point we're just very opinionated vestigial limbs.
It's a bummer, though. I've been seeing shows at PCS for a long time—I saw their Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead when l was 16, and it's pretty much why I became interested in theater in the first place. And for once in my life I was actually looking forward to a holiday show, as one of my favorite actors in town, Darius Pierce, is taking over in Santaland Diaries this year. But unless PCS changes their stance on "any press is good press," the two of you who actually read our theater coverage won't be seeing any coverage of Portland's biggest company any time soon.