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I Want Terry Teachout's Job

June 20, 2007

Terry Teachout has the best job in the world as far as I can tell. The Wall Street Journal's theater critic covers theater on and off Broadway but also spends quite a bit of time on the road, traversing this massive country in pursuit of performing arts gems in communities large and small.

This week, Teachout went to Greensboro, North Carolina to review Triad Stage's revival of Tobacco Road, which, Terry writes in his blog, hasn't been performed anywhere in America for the past 25 years. Then he headed for to Roanoke Island to review The Lost Colony, Paul Green's 1937 outdoor drama about the colonists. Then off he went to the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. for a production of Hamlet. He's now going to Gatlinburg Tennessee to catch another outdoor drama, Unto These Hills. Then it's back to New York with him to write up his reviews and see more plays in his home town.

The reason I have so much admiration for Terry and what he's doing at The Journal is because he's one of the very few theater critics in this country who's willing to get out of the claustrophobic preening bubble that is New York and experience the full vista of this country's kaleidoscopic culture. I don't think there's a lot of glamor in his job: As someone who travels quite a bit myself, I imagine all the plane journeys and rental car rides and roadside diners and drab hotels must wear thin pretty quickly. But Terry delights in all the places he visits and offers us a glimpse of the creativity that's going on everywhere with humility, good humor, and a sharp critical eye.

As mass culture becomes more an more homogenized in people's eyes, it's important that we understand that this isn't really the case -- that individual communities are expressing themselves in very different ways all over the place. It's not all about Paris Hilton and YouTube and Shakespeare and Beethoven. Terry's work reflects the diversity that this country so easily forgets because it's mostly ignored outside of the local press.

The French writer Frederic Martel wrote a book earlier this year entitled De la Culture en Amerique. Martel traveled all over the country for several years documenting cultural policy, and what's going on in the arts in communities of all sizes. His conclusions surprised most people in the U.S and elsewhere. People abroad think they know American culture because the U.S. exports the same homogenous products everywhere from Coca-Cola to J. Lo. But Martel showed that at home, U.S. culture is much more diverse than the domestic culture of many other countries, including his native France.

Teachout and Martel are basically proving the same thesis. It's a powerful one. When more people in this country grasp their ideas, this country's culture will be in safer hands.

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