Is he stepping down or being pushed out the window? Whichever way it’s gone, Ben Brantley is out as the New York Times chief theater critic on October 15th after 24 years.
He said in a statement: “This pandemic pause in the great, energizing party that is the theater seemed to me like a good moment to slip out the door. But when the theater returns, I hope to be there—as a writer, an audience member and, above all, the stark raving fan I have been since I was a child.”
Either the Times didn’t want to keep paying him for the next six months until Broadway returns, or they offered him an exit package that was too good to pass up. Yes, 24 years is a long time. but Brantley was mostly a benign presence, much less polarizing than predecessors Frank Rich or Clive Barnes. I didn’t always agree with him, but I was rarely outraged by his most extreme feelings about shows.
Will Brantley come back to the Times when Broadway does return? Maybe. Or maybe the paper will do what just about every media company is doing now and find a non-male, non-white entity to replace him. The world is changing fast in this regard. We’ll have to wait and see.
Broadway is still one of the big question marks left in this pandemic debacle. Will people go to theaters, where seats are closecloseclose? Can the theaters adapt themselves? Will everyone just get sick again? And what about those creating the shows? How will they maintain social distance? Will the players wear masks?
All I know is, someone had better get a grip on this fast. New York needs theater and live performance to return ASAP, with or without Ben Brantley.