HT: Newspapers collide with song and dance in Cardinal Stage musical
By Jenny Porter Tilley | Dec 8, 2019
Newspapers have changed drastically since the 1890s — but they’re still here.
They’re somewhat lighter-weight, as paper cost and quality has changed. And the pages have changed from the traditional broadsheet size to a smaller width. But, amazingly, there are still here, and we still have one in our community.
To that end, hearing that Cardinal Stage planned a production of “Disney’s Newsies” was exciting to me, both as a current newspaper journalist and a theater fan. I’m not writing this column for the purpose of advertising the benefits of print publications, however — rather, I want to underline the importance both news media and arts nonprofits have to a community, and to one another.
Cardinal Stage’s artistic director, Kate Galvin, said declines in the newspaper industry can greatly impact theater groups who rely on coverage to get the word out about their productions.
“For many theater companies, a review or feature in a paper can reach exponentially more people than the advertising a small nonprofit can afford,” she said. When she worked in theater in Philadelphia, she said, she experienced cuts in a newspaper’s staff, affecting coverage of arts and culture.
“It really hurt a lot of the small companies who relied on a review to help get the word out about their work,” she said. “Online coverage is not as helpful, because people really have to actively seek it out, whereas in a newspaper, someone reading the paper for other content might happen upon an article or review that sparked their interest in seeing a show they didn’t know anything about.”
I was somewhat surprised to hear this, assuming that theater coverage, especially reviews, might be more beneficial online. For print coverage, it’s hard to track what’s happening. We can find out whether you clicked the link in this story if you’re reading it online. We can’t find out what page you turned to next.
Maybe theater and newspapers have more in common than I thought. While I can watch a clip of a production on YouTube, where someone can track how many times it’s been watched, theater companies can’t track whether someone might get bored and leave, take extended bathroom breaks or only come to escort someone else. We can track newspaper and ticket sales, but we can’t track what readers and watchers do once they have a paper or sit in a seat.
Some aspects of both of our crafts are as elusive as the newsboys and -girls of the past. Vincent DiGirolamo, author of the 2019 book “Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys,” wrote about the enigma of these workers.
“With few exceptions, circulations did not keep track of the boys’ names and ages,” he wrote, nor were extensive records kept in the archives of workers’ unions. Advances in technology — including, ironically, in the newspaper industry itself — helped provide accounts and images of their activities.
Newspapers themselves, DiGirolamo said in a recent phone interview, brought attention to the news carriers, called newsies, in a way that also benefited their business. Instead of seeing them as children on the streets being exploited, those stories would further their image as a symbol of the American dream.
“Those stories were part of what gave the newsies such a positive reputation,” DiGirolamo said. “It was comfortable to people the idea that there really was nothing wrong with these kids doing that.”
Instead of the kids being seen as victims or living a dangerous life by working on the streets at a young age, he said, newspapers had an interest in portraying the newsies in a different light — for example, a young boy as a sole supporter of his widowed mother, and other ways of playing up their neediness and poverty. Then, the author said, “to buy a paper from a kid was also a charitable act. You could have a machine do it, have adults do it. But that didn’t have the appeal that these kids had. (The customers) saw themselves as part of the solution.”
“Newsies” brings some of those people to life who might have otherwise been forgotten by history. And although they sing and dance, they still echo those images of child news carriers. That’s why Galvin said the company chose to cast a wide range of ages for its youth ensemble, from about age 6 up into the teens, similar to the range of actual newsies from that era.
“It’s more of an impact emotionally,” she said. “I get chills when the kids sing ‘The World Will Know.’ It’s a huge turning point in the show, and it’s really thrilling to see young people stand up for themselves and sing these big songs.”
Galvin, who began her position with Cardinal Stage in late 2017, said the singing, dancing and youthful spirit of the show all make it perfect for the annual holiday musical.
“It really delivers everything that our audiences love about the holiday show at Cardinal Stage,” she said. “It’s really uplifting, it’s got great songs, it’s really entertaining.”
And, she said, “there is so much dancing.” Last year’s holiday show was another Disney-movie-turned-musical, “Beauty and the Beast.” It had some dancing, but she said “Newsies” is at a whole other level in that regard. “It’s a different animal, in a really exciting way,” she said. “It’s everything you love about a great Disney musical, and then some.”
For more on the plot of “Newsies,” check out Joel Pierson’s weekly theater column. And if you skipped straight to Attractions in your print edition, go back to the front section — you’ll find some additional historical context of the show and more photos of its lead cast in the local production.