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Assessing the Demise of Drama-Logue

THEATER | THEATER NOTES

May 24, 1998|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Drama-Logue is about to die. The weekly trade newspaper will be swallowed by its young competitor, Back Stage West, next month. The L.A. theater community is talking about what that will mean.

For years, Drama-Logue was the unofficial newsletter of the L.A. theater scene--"an icon for the theater community," in the words of one producer. The publication was never exclusively about theater--it carried casting information for films and other media as well as theater, career advice and ads related to actors in general, and reviews of movies as well as plays. But its presence was far more significant in the theater community than in the movie community.

As publisher Bill Bordy said last week, the more well-known Hollywood-based trade publications--Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter--concentrated on movies and TV, not theater, and Drama-Logue "filled that void."

The annual Drama-Logue Awards ceremony--given only for theater achievement, not for movies or TV shows--were, in his words, "wonderful love-ins" for the theater community. There was no cap on the number of awards a Drama-Logue critic could give, and no second opinion was required. As a result, 914 awards were presented this year alone. The annual ceremony was a congenial pat on the back for many theater workers who were otherwise, in most cases, poorly compensated.

Back Stage West began its own theater awards program this year, the Garland Awards, but its awards required a concurring opinion from at least two of the Back Stage critics, so a mere 110 Garlands were presented.

The new Back Stage West/Drama-Logue will resemble Back Stage West more than Drama-Logue, for it will be run by the current Back Stage West staff. However, editor Rob Kendt said it would expand and use some of the Drama-Logue personnel. Because Drama-Logue carried more theater reviews from L.A. (in contrast to other West Coast cities, which Back Stage West sought to cover more thoroughly), Kendt said the newly expanded publication will increase its L.A. coverage.

Nonetheless, many productions formerly received reviews in both publications, and many were reviewed only in Drama-Logue. Theater producers "are concerned about losing any media outlet that offers publicity," said Theatre LA executive director Alisa Fishbach.

The death of Drama-Logue isn't the only such loss. The relatively recent alternative weekly New Times reviews only one or two theatrical productions each week, in contrast to the five to 10 shows that were reviewed each week by the newspapers it swallowed, the Reader and Village View. Another source of theater listings and capsule reviews died recently with Buzz Weekly.

However, the trade paper merger offers advantages too, said several observers. As Back Stage West's Kendt said, both publications had "hitched their wagons to a poor market"--struggling actors are not the wealthiest of individuals. The market couldn't support two similar newspapers, he said.

"It's great that information will be consolidated into one source," Fishbach said.

Drama-Logue had its detractors. One producer, who declined to be quoted, said Back Stage West has been more supportive of theater than Drama-Logue in recent years, putting theater subjects on its cover more often. "I don't think Drama-Logue understood their readership. Because they were the only game in town for so many years, they didn't feel they had to."

Drama-Logue was created in 1969 as a daily telephone recording with casting information. Founder Lee Ross lost interest after a month, and struggling actor Bordy took over the telephone equipment and the service.

Bordy began publication of the Drama-Logue Casting Sheet in 1972. As it grew, the "Casting Sheet" in the title became "Casting News," and then just "Drama-Logue." Editorial copy and ads gradually were added.

"It came along at the same time as the Equity Waiver movement," Bordy said, referring to Actors' Equity policies that allowed members of the union to work for nothing in approved 99-seat theaters. This movement, which was transformed in 1988 into the current and more restrictive 99-Seat Theater Plan, led to the burgeoning of L.A.'s many sub-100-seat theaters, and "as those theaters started flourishing, we started reviewing them."

Bordy was partially inspired by the success of the original Back Stage in New York, and Back Stage's owners came courting as Drama-Logue grew, Bordy said: "We were romancing for 25 years, and finally it was time to get married." He refused to discuss financial terms of the dowry; two sources said that several years ago Bordy was offered $3 million for Drama-Logue.

Bordy denied that the market is too big to support both publications. Competition from the 4-year-old Back Stage West "didn't hurt that much," he said. "But I'm tired," he said. At age 68, "I don't need the hassle."

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