How to Write About Theatre 5 January 2021

Two books by the New York Post columnist reveal a Broadway run by charlatans, cheats and chancers, finds Mark Fisher

It’s the dawn of the 20th century and the competition between US theatre producers is hotting up. The established brand is the Syndicate, a conglomeration of five theatre managers who between them have cornered the Broadway market and sewn up the touring circuit. Across the country, it has the fanciest theatres and can insist on the most stringent terms.

From Syracuse in upstate New York, the Shubert brothers are the new kids on the block. They’re stuck with the second-best theatres but hungry enough to take risks. Sometimes they pay off.

The Syndicate is keen to see off this new competitor and knows exactly how to do it. As it pays vast amounts to advertise its shows in the newspapers, all it takes is a gentle word to the editors and any rival production will be trounced. Immediately come the negative headlines for Shubert shows – and indeed for the Shuberts themselves.

But that’s not the end of the story. The Shubert pockets are deep. The brothers decide to play the Syndicate at its own game. They do so not by paying off the odd journalist, but by launching a whole newspaper. With the New York Review on their side, the Shuberts have all the good publicity they could want. In time, they will see off the Syndicate and come to dominate Broadway. [READ MORE]

By Mark Fisher

MARK FISHER is a freelance theatre critic and feature writer based in Edinburgh and has written about theatre in Scotland since the late-1980s. He is a theatre critic for The Guardian, a former editor of The List magazine and a frequent contributor to the Scotsman and other publications. He is the co-editor of the play anthology Made in Scotland (1995), and the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide (2012) and How to Write About Theatre (2015) – all Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. He is also the editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls and What Do You Call That Noise? An XTC Discovery Book (both Mark Fisher Ltd).