In a Shifting World, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist Tackles the Past

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By TYLER MARTINS
Arts & Culture Co-Editor
Published: January 29, 21014

Acclaimed dramatic critic Michael Feingold has joined the ranks of the faculty at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). After a prolific career of reviewing Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theater, Feingold will tackle stage history.

Feingold’s course, Theater History II, will focus on plays and dramatic literature from the 18th century through 1950.Students in the course can expect to understand the significance of history. “It’s important for everybody in the world to be aware of history,” Feingold said. “It’s where we came from, and it’s going to repeat, whether we like it or not.”

Feingold is most well known for “the erudition and understanding of theatre history, both ancient and modern, and how current plays fit in with that continuum,” according to a Playbill news story on his dismissal. Feingold has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism twice, in 1992 and 2010, for his theater reviews in the Village Voice and has been awarded the George Jean Nathan Award, an honor in dramatic criticism.

A graduate of Columbia University and the Yale School of Drama, Feingold’s turn to academia comes on the heels of being let go from the Village Voice, after more than forty years of employment. “I sent out an alarm when I was laid off by the [Village] Voice,” Feingold said. “One of the people who responded to the alarm was the Department Chair Matthew Maguire, who is an old friend.”

Feingold and Maguire, the Fordham Theatre director, knew each other the “way people who review theater know people who make theater,” Feingold said.

Though hesitant to call himself a “history buff,” Feingold is “fascinated by the parallels, fascinated by the similarities and the differences between the past and now.” For him, “history is really a way of informing yourself about the present.”

For students in Feingold’s class, he hopes they take away a “love of the great plays of the past, because they should be loved alongside the great plays of the present and a respect for the idea that they live in a continuity,” Feingold said.

In May of 2013, Feingold was let go from the Village Voice, one of the first urban tabloid newspapers in the United States, along with respected restaurant critic Robert Sietsema and gossip columnist Michael Musto. Turmoil at the Village Voice had begun a few weeks earlier when Editors Will Bourne and Jessica Lustig walked out rather than meet demands to cut the 20-person staff by 25 percent. Feingold’s dissmissal caused a ripple of outrage in the arts community, making headlines in the New York Times, Playbill and The Daily Beast.

Feingold’s dismissal followed a pattern in the world of arts journalism. Sandwiched between Backstage magazine eliminating its review section and the Associated Press announcing it would no longer review off-Broadway, classical music and opera, these trimmings suggest that they are part of media companies’ attempts to curb costs as they transition from print to online.
On the future of arts criticism, Feingold believes it is “vested in the internet and what is going to happen to the human conscience as a result.”

“The way people respond to things and the timeframe in which they respond is changing very rapidly because of the Internet,” Feingold said. Online audiences expect immediate reactions: when a play opens, reviews are published immediately. During the time before the Internet, critics would attend opening performances, run to the newspaper offices and have reviews printed the following day.

Feingold is certain that there will always be “a place for people to sit down and write seriously or to engage in serious thinking and discussion of the arts.” Currently, however, there is no medium for that discussion. “The Internet is going to evolve that medium, but right now, it cannot make it pay.”

These technological changes aren’t negative or positive in Feingold’s views. “Change is change. Negative or positive is what you do with it,” Feingold said. “It happens to have affected a lot of people in my position negatively because their longer term thoughts are no longer desired by the websites that used to be periodicals that now publish primarily on the web. They want immediate reaction like everyone else.”

“It’s going to, undoubtedly, evolve and people are going to figure out a way to make it pay, to give it survival value,” Feingold said.

For now, though, Feingold’s focus will be in the classroom and what he can learn from teaching. “I expect to learn a lot from the students because that’s how these things really work,” Feingold said.

“You know, teaching is just an excuse to find out what is going on in the minds of people younger than yourself and to be illuminated by that.”