UPDATED THROUGHOUT: The New York Times is seeking a full-time theater critic to replace Charles Isherwood.
Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy confirmed Isherwood’s departure as the No. 2 theater critic, but said the paper doesn’t discuss personnel matters. Isherwood joined the Times from Variety in 2004. He declined to comment.
The position has been one of the most influential in theater journalism. Its current minimum salary is $2,075 a week, said Grant Glickson, the president of the NewsGuild of New York and a staff assistant and head of the bargaining unit at the Times. That’s just above the Broadway performer minimum of $1,974, according to Actors’ Equity.
Isherwood advocated for composers who pushed musicals in new directions. Off-Broadway he championed In the Heights (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Spring Awakening (Duncan Sheik) and Passing Strange (Stew). More recently, he praised Dear Evan Hansen during its development at Arena Stage in Washington and at off-Broadway’s Second Stage before giving it a rave on Broadway.
Tracy Letts, Sarah Ruhl, Josh Harmon, Will Eno and Stephen Karam are among the playwrights he’s gone to bat for. “He has always been astute about emerging writers and helped their careers along,” said Robyn Goodman, a commercial producer and artistic consultant at the Roundabout Theatre Co.
In a recent rave snubbing theater orthodoxy, he called Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 “the most innovative and the best new musical to open on Broadway since Hamilton.” He added: “Heresy alert: I prefer this show to that one.”
Ben Brantley remains chief theater critic, a position he’s held since 1996. Isherwood is the latest in a wave of experienced critics who’ve left their jobs. In some other cases, they’ve been replaced by freelancers or not at all. The predominance of advertising online hurts many news organizations because it’s less profitable than print advertising. A few months ago, the Times discontinued regional reviews in the tri-state area. At about the same time, Isherwood discussed changes in arts coverage on Ken Davenport’s Producer’s Perspective podcast.
“The more voices the better,” he said, referring to critics getting laid off outside the Times. “It’s not the cheeriest moment to be a theater critic.”
On Jan. 17, the two top editors of the Times said there will be budget cuts but added that they’ll be focused on editing and production systems. Separately, critics and reporters need to include more video and photography and get training in how to “embed visuals contextually,” a Times report recommended that day. Isherwood had expressed reservations generally about contemporary journalism’s demands.
“It’s a challenge for all of us because it’s a lot more work,” he told Matt Windman in the 2016 book The Critics Say: 57 Theater Reviewers in New York and Beyond Discuss Their Craft and Its Future. “In addition to writing reviews (which takes a considerable amount of thought and research), you have to think about ways of promoting your work and connecting with readers. For people just starting out in journalism, these things come quite easily to them. For people who have been working in more traditional models for many years, it’s a whole new ballgame—and one that many of us don’t really want to play.”
Isherwood also said he had wished he’d done something else with his life, given the depression in traditional media. “If I had seen that the rise of the Internet was going to undermine the economic model of journalism, I certainly would have done my very best to switch tracks 20 years ago,” he said.
In the Broadway League’s latest survey of the Broadway audience, the Times was cited as the most important newspaper or magazine for theater information. But as an online source, it ranked behind Broadway.com, Ticketmaster.com and Playbill.com.
The posting for the job, which includes benefits, is below:
The New York Times is seeking a critic to review and write about the vitally important world of theater. From Broadway to Off Off Broadway, Steppenwolf to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to the West End, theater has never been so creative, so wide-reaching and so necessary.
We are seeking a critic with a deep appreciation for plays, musicals and theater history, but it is equally important that this person is able to connect the themes and issues on stage to those of the wider world. The writer must be gifted at assessing performances and stagecraft, but also eager to help readers understand the ideas that drive the work. While a background writing about theater is a plus, it is not a prerequisite.
Discovery, too, will be a crucial part of the job. The New York Times has a rich tradition of identifying, spotlighting, and championing young actors, writers, directors, and other theater artists. We are committed to that mission now more than ever and are looking for someone who will be curious, discerning, open-minded and energetic about seeking out the emerging voices and talents who are narrating and challenging life as we know it.
As The Times expands its audience around the the globe, the critic must be open to experimenting with new story forms, be willing to collaborate with a large staff of editors, reporters and fellow critics, and be open to engaging with readers when appropriate. Most important, this critic must be able to convey with wit and emotion what makes plays and musicals important, irreplaceable and often unmissable.
This is a Guild position open to internal and external candidates.
To apply, please send a one-page summary describing how you would approach the job, along with writing samples of published work to firstname.lastname@example.org.