Anyone who reads New York Times theater coverage is familiar with the small box at the end of each review which lists the cast, author, director and designers of each production.
But in recent weeks the paper changed course, removing the names of set, costume, lighting and sound designers from both print and online reviews.
A group of 80 playwrights, including Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally and Sarah Ruhl, sent an open letter to Times theatre editor Scott Heller last week urging the paper to reverse its decision.
“We need talented artists in New York City to continue to want to pursue these fields,” the playwrights wrote. “And if they’re unnamed and uncredited in the Times it’s bad for all of us.”
Several writers who signed the petition expanded on their positions for the Observer.
“Designers never get enough credit,” Off Broadway playwright Adam Rapp told the Observer in an email. “They create the world of the play, and if the world isn’t right then the play will never even get close to reaching its potential impact.”
“Omitting the space for production credits feels a little ‘penny wise, pound foolish,'” Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose The Motherfucker with the Hat played on Broadway in 2011, said in an email. “Reviews are marketing, it’s money for the producers and then more money coming back to the newspaper via advertising. It’s a co-dependent relationship, so why mess with something integral just to save an inch or two?”
The playwright protest follows an outcry from United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, the labor union for theater designers. Two weeks ago, soon after the change to Times reviews went into effect, the union posted a sample letter for members to send to Mr. Heller.
“The vast majority of people who contribute to any production work behind the scenes, and by eliminating their credits you have taken away the minimal recognition that these important workers receive,” the sample letter read. “In other areas the NY Times seems to adhere to the philosophy ‘give credit where credit is due,’ but abandon it here.”
Despite the prolonged protest, the Times has not commented on when or if it will reverse its decision.
The Observer reached out to the Times, along with several playwrights who signed the petition, but they did not reply to requests for comment.