Artist/Critic Controversy circa 1996

Artist/Critic Controversy circa 1996

Weigh In on Cultural Power

The August Wilson/Robert Brustein Debate
Moderated by Anna Deavere Smith

John Weidman and the Guild should have taken lessons from August Wilson and TCG before they tried to pick a fight with a critic. In a very methodical manner, TCG along with its magazine American Theatre, engendered and nurtured the smoldering feud between the playwright and the critic into a convoluted but interesting cultural polemic. The apotheosis was a public debate that sold out Town Hall’s 1,500 seats at $20 a piece.

Six months in the making, after gallons of press ink, much anticipation and a last-minute crush for entry more typical of rock concerts than high-minded debates, “On Cultural Power: The August Wilson/Robert Brustein Discussion” certainly was one of the more left-field events of the winter theater season. Variety, January 29, 1997

Responding to the hype we posted the above cartoon late in the year in1996 on the ratconference web site. Ten years ago there was no Google and many different search engines were competing with one another. They would become some of the brightest stars in the Internet investing frenzy of the late ’90’s. If memory serves, altavista and LookSmart were the most popular search engines then. What I do remember for sure was that this Wilson/Brustein cartoon was generating an enormous amount of “traffic” to the ratconference site. No doubt this was not due to the cartoon itself, but to the actual sustained promotional campaign that the cartoon was parodying.

Despite the hype, or maybe because of it, the culture did partially engage Wilson and Brustein in their debate. As response Henry Louis Gates expanded the discussion by writing an informative essay in The New Yorker titled The Chitlin Circuit. The ratconference and many others in theatre connected to the playwright and the critic in their debate.

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