Open Letter to The Boston Globe’s Alex Beam regarding “Downturn’s upside”

Dear Mr. Beam:

Your March 31, 2008 column, “Downturn’s upside” was disappointing.  It was clever, but it wasn’t funny and it misses the mark.

In your first paragraph, you aim directly at the Huntington Theatre Company and, by proxy, the entire Boston arts community by suggesting that attending the arts is an “obligation from which the recession has officially freed us”.   There are many among us who would, not so cleverly, disagree.  Theatre enriches our lives, brings us joy, pushes us to examine life’s dilemmas, and sustains us through difficult times.

What you’ve done in that paragraph is what marketing staffs for any arts organization do: Find pull quotes to promote the performance.  In the very same sentence that you claim to love the Huntington, you tip the scales by highlighting negative quotes from reviews:

The Huntington Theatre called the other day, trying to interest me in Richard Goodwin’s fabulous new play, “Two Men of Florence.” (“Dense speeches, stock characters, and heavy-handed displays of stagecraft” – Globe reviewer Louise Kennedy.) I love the Huntington, and who doesn’t want to spend a couple of hours watching “good actors . . . wasted on caricatured cameos” (Carolyn Clay in the Phoenix). But I had to say no. It’s the recession, you see.

Curiously, the online version of your article has no links to the reviews which would provide easy access to the whole story, or more importantly the context.  In this world of abbreviated thoughts and truncated communication, context still counts for something.

We are in a recession; individuals, families, and nonprofit organizations are hurting.  Theatre Communications Group recently released the results of a phone survey (“The New Normal” pdf) reporting that “[v]irtually every” one of the 495 theatres questioned will be cutting their operating budgets by between 5 and 30 percent.  Furthermore, theatres with an endowment or an invested cash reserve are reporting losses of between 15 and 30 percent.  This is not an easy time for any nonprofit theatre company.  Everyone is sacrificing; some of necessity more than others.  Theatre may be a luxury in hard times.  And all theatre is not created equal, or as Hamlet said of the players “they imitated humanity so abominably.”  But even with shortcomings, as every school child knows, “the play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

The recession has not “freed” anyone from their “obligation to attend the theatre”; it has made it more relevant to go, to explore the human experience from the safety of a dark room in a cushy chair, occasionally not so comfortable.

Leave the reviews for those who actually saw the performance.  Reading the New York Review of Books, instead of the book only counts at cocktail parties.


Nicholas Peterson
Somerville, MA

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8 Responses to “Open Letter to The Boston Globe’s Alex Beam regarding “Downturn’s upside””

  1. Jeff P April 1, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    LOVE your thoughtful response! PLEASE tell me you actually emailed this to the Globe, too. IF not, you must. Plus, cc Scott Heller…

  2. Nicholas Peterson April 1, 2009 at 7:49 pm #


    Thanks for your comment! I sent it to both the Globe letters email address and to Alex Beam. I’ll send it along to Scott Heller as well.

    Thanks, again for your comment.


  3. Brian April 2, 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    I’d be interested to hear if you get a response. I have emailed CHB in the past when he makes some of his typical asinine comments and he would write back. As would Eric Wilbur.

  4. Nicholas Peterson April 2, 2009 at 10:57 pm #


    Thanks for the comment! I actually received a response from him within minutes of sending letter. Since he chose not to post it on the blog, I don’t feel it would be appropriate to post publicly without his permission.

    We will see if the letter makes it into the Globe!

    Thanks, again.


  5. Scott Laughlin April 8, 2009 at 11:24 am #

    Nice job Nick. Beam manages to selectively trash most things I do or enjoy. Interesting that as the Globe sits on a precipice, he chooses to trash the arts, environmental responsibility and of all things, buying reading materials (that’s irony). So the upside might be canceling our Globe subscription, because “it’s the recession, you see”.

  6. Nicholas Peterson April 8, 2009 at 12:03 pm #

    Thanks for the comment and feedback, Scott.

    I agree. It is interesting to me the choices the Globe makes. It appears Beam gets to write about whatever he wants (which isn’t wise). Given the quality of the articles (today has an article about whether Paula Abdul appears to be smarter on this season of American Idol, complete with an online chat today!), I wonder if the Globe shouldn’t be doing some self-reflection about their mission and purpose. Responsible journalism and serving the community would be really useful during the recession.

    Thanks, again.


  7. Celeste Wilson April 28, 2009 at 10:24 am #

    Way to go, Nick! On many different levels Alex Beam is off the mark. Pot shots at a theatre company when swindling, greed and injustice are abound is incredibly irrelevant and out of touch.

  8. Nicholas Peterson April 28, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

    Thanks, Celeste!

    I agree. It’s disappointing that The Boston Globe wouldn’t wish to address more pressing problems. Doing so may improve their own situation, too.

    Thanks, again.


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