Friday, September 9, 2011

Becoming a YES man

Late last week I received an invitation by e-mail I had never thought would ever be extended to the likes of moi. The simply worded explanation told me that David Cuthbert, the retired theatre critic for the Times-Picayune had elected to retire from "Steppin' Out," the weekly arts review show seen for most of the last two decades over PBS affiliate WYES-TV. The note asked me to join them as the local theatre reviewer and to add my picks for best bets on the scene. I've known WYES for years before they became known as the home of "Sesame Street." It is one of the oldest PBS stations in the country and I remember it changed its original call number from Channel 8 to its present Channel 12 sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s. That switch was made to accommodate the then-ABC affiliate to occupy the more coveted VHS position in the market. With cable and satellite television today such swaps are hardly necessary. WYES-TV is a member-supported PBS station, but does require and receives a good amount of local support as well from area businesses, most notably through the very successful art and other auctions it stages every year. A number of local productions are financed through The Producers Circle, a group dedicated toward the creation and proliferation of local programming at the station. "Steppin' Out" is hosted by Peggy Scott Laborde, a well-known and respected TV journalist, whose local productions on a number of themes of local interest have been acknowledged as having set high industry standards and worthy of numerous citations and awards. As the host of "Steppin' Out," Laborde lords over various authorities and gets their take on the local arts scene. When the program first began, the late Al Shea, a longtime fixture in New Orleans TV and on the local theatre scene, was called upon to give his take on local theatre as well as to opine about the various actors, producers, choreographers and directors whose work was essential and important. After Shea passed away two years ago, Cuthbert was the logical person to take over the theatre reviews on "Steppin' Out" insofar as he had just retired from the newspaper and was (and still is) considered one of the most informed authorities on theatre in New Orleans. There is no doubt that I love and have loved theatre for most of my life. The love of music was probably bred in me in vitro. I sold classical, opera and musical theatre recordings at my family record store for decades, but also became a local radio broadcaster out of college. Because of that, I probably know more about musical theatre than most, but admit I still have a lot to learn in many areas and am in fact still learning. I have been a member of the Big Easy Theatre Committee for 12 years and have written extensively on the local theatre scene in print and online at Yet, to have an invitation extended to me to take over this slot after such an outstanding legacy by these two gentlemen I have so admired and respected, most assuredly makes me feel unworthy and unsure. I accepted because I really do believe I can do this job, but I do so humbly and with respect knowing that the path I follow has been so expertly laid before me that I must take care not to undo what they have done or upset the delicate balance they have set. Today is my first day and I hope I am up to this challenge. The broadcast is shown on Friday nights at 6:30 p.m. and re-broadcast at 11:00 p.m. I say yes to WYES and I hope the staff there and others who watch say the same right back to me.


Stuart said...

Congratulations! Big chair to fill, and you are the logical choice.

Arlene Wieder said...

Your family is proud!