Editor’s Note: Twice each year, members of The American Theater Critics Association (ATCA) visit a city for several days of theatergoing and soaking in the local culture. In March 2013, ATCA held its annual mini-meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Charles Giuliano was able to interview Indy theater critic Melissa Hall.

Charles Giuliano: Since you participated in a part of the American Theater Critics Association (ATCA) programming in Indianapolis, do you think it provided a fair and accurate overview of the range and depth of the arts in the city?
MELISSA HALL: I absolutely do. I’m continually amazed by the diverse offerings in our city. We do have multiple theaters, but each one tends to have a specific focus. One does mainly off-Broadway and world-premiere plays, another does classic musicals, yet another finds intense dramatic pieces, etc. The ATCA conference was an opportunity to show a small example of what is available at any given time in Indianapolis. The shows themselves will change, but there’s always something new.

CG: With your longer view, what is the balance between re-staging Broadway and Off Broadway shows and fresh, original work? How would you describe the mix?
HALL: I think that Indianapolis audiences expect to see many of the old standards and local theatres understand that. It seems like there’s always one or two productions of a Rogers and Hammerstein show being produced. At the same time there are many theaters that focus exclusively on newer material. The IndyFringe Theatre has a year-round stream of new work, including a Fringe Festival each August. I would say the majority of the productions in Indianapolis have been produced before, but they are usually new to Midwestern audiences.

CG: Just how many smaller, Fringe companies do you get to cover? How often do you get to see the performing arts and travel in the region?
HALL: I try to cover everything I can. I go to about one show a week. I have a full-time job outside of the arts, and so I’m sure there are many things I miss out on, but it’s wonderful there are so many options. I try to cover an equal number of small and large theaters; it usually just depends on when shows are opening and who contacts me first. I also travel to Wisconsin, Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio whenever possible to see other regional performances.

CG: You started covering theater six years ago. Discuss the reasons behind launching your own blog?
HALL: I actually started covering theater eight years ago for a daily newspaper. The newspaper was struggling and eventually closed. I decided to continuing reviewing theater, so I launched Stage Write as a blog instead of a weekly newspaper column.

CG: One would imagine that there are a limited number of critics for Indianapolis theatre openings. How do you see yourself in that mix?
HALL: There aren’t many people covering the arts in Indianapolis, and because of that, I try to cover as much as I can. I also try to cover a wide range of theaters, so the “big names” aren’t the only ones getting covered. I see myself as an impartial voice for the cultural world in Indianapolis.

CG: Who is setting the standard for criticism in your community?
HALL: I don’t think there is one person setting the standard. Many of the critics in our community are either freelance or blogging out of their love for the arts. Our local media doesn’t support a large group of full-time writers, which makes comprehensive coverage of the arts nearly impossible.

CG: What is the level of critical writing in your community compared to say, big-market cities?
HALL: I think that in larger cities, people have a wide range of productions available at any given time and are mainly looking to reviews to decide which show to go to. In Indianapolis, we have multiple shows onstage at once, but there’s a smaller selection. I think readers are looking at reviews more to decide if they should go to the theater at all. Because of that. I think it’s important to point out aspects of the shows that I enjoy instead of just the flaws. I don’t think people need an excuse to stay home and watch TV.

CG: Do you read and learn from other writers particularly for shows you cover?
HALL: I read many other blogs and review columns because I enjoy seeing others’ coverage. I do make it a point not to read any other reviews of a show until I’ve written my own review, so I’m not swayed by anyone else’s opinion.

CG: Who do you see as your target audience of readers, and what kind of information do you convey to them?
HALL: My readers are central-Indiana residents who want to know what theater events are available in the area. I want to let them know about the shows that are currently on stage and some of the highlights of the shows. I try to always let them know whom the show would particularly appeal to, such as families, groups of women, etc.

CG: How has the site grown and what are the incentives and challenges?
HALL: My readership has grown over the years, but my coverage of smaller theaters has grown at the same time. I try to stay on top of the changes in Indiana theater and check out new groups as soon as I can. I also review theater out of town whenever I can to give my readers a wide variety of options.


Key Subjects: 
Melissa Hall, Indianapolis, American Theater Critics Association, theater, critics.
Charles Giuliano
April 2013