A few weeks ago, the Las Vegas Review-Journal decided it would no longer run theatre reviews from freelancers.
This effectively meant that it was cutting reviews of small theatres, which make up a tiny but active community in Las Vegas.
There was much outcry, as there often is in the tug of war between art and media coverage. For the last decade or so, news organizations have been cutting arts coverage. And for the last decade or so, arts organizations have been devising creative ways to get the word out.
That seems to be what’s happening in this case. Sarah O’Connell is the Asylum Theatre producer. She launched a new website, eatmoreartvegas.com dedicated solely to independent Las Vegas theatre.
"It was a major impact on the size of our audience, if something ran in the RJ" O'Connell told KNPR's State of Nevada. "Positive or negative the print audience for the RJ was our audience as well."
O'Connell said the theatre community felt cut off from their most loyal fan base.
She said there are 15 strong theatre companies in town and in December alone they're putting on nine productions but finding out that information in one place has always been a struggle.
"We're small, semi-professional non-profit companies and we don't have that purchasing power," she explained, "We put that into the work that we offer the public. We would rather give them high-quality theater rather than a high-quality print ad."
The site features some of the very critics who were cut loose from the Review-Journal. It also allows audience members to give their own reviews.
"The important thing for an artist to complete their process is to get that feedback and reflection," O'Connell said, "And without the audiences' response to the artist, the artist can't make sure they're doing good work."
O'Connell said it was the "perfect worst time" for the Review-Journal to stop its theatre criticism because the theatre community in Las Vegas is enjoying what she called a "renaissance."
"I've just never seen such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the quality of auditions, the quality of actor, the level of cooperation among the companies, the visibility thanks to having the Arts Square Theater space downtown, and the heavy activity at the Onyx which is constantly offering new stuff," she said, "Now is the time to be celebrating it not forgetting to talk about it."
She said when people see what theatres in Las Vegas are doing they come back for more and become regular theatre-goers but getting them through the door can be a challenge.
"Once you get them in the door, they keep coming back for more," O'Connell said, "The awareness factor is huge."
As for the funny name of the website, O'Connell said it refers to a phrase she often uses: "You are what you eat, so you need to eat more art."
Sarah O'Connell, Asylum Theatre
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