Parting words for both sides of stage

Welcome to my first Beat column.

It's also my last.

I'll be leaving the Observer in June and moving back to my hometown of Cincinnati. There, I'll be a senior editor at Dramatics magazine, a great little monthly published by the nonprofit Educational Theatre Association, where I started my career back in 1990-something. (I also wrote their May cover piece, on hip-hop artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph; check it out at www.edta.org.)

Taking my aisle seat will be Lawrence Toppman, who's agreed to divide his time between live theater and the filmed variety. So much for any worries about being a tough act to follow.

I hate long curtain calls, but if you'll indulge me: Thank you, readers – and I know you're still out there, contrary to the views of newspaper industry analysts – for being such a gracious audience over these four years. You've applauded when I've performed well, and when I haven't pleased you … well, you put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Bless your heart.”

I only wish I'd seen you at the theater more often.

As I've been talking to local players, breaking the sad (for some) news of my departure, I hear a troubling sense of resignation. Children's Theatre and the Blumenthal PAC still enjoy busy box offices, but there and across the scene, lesser-known titles seem to be an ever-tougher sell. One director cited a general “lack of intellectual curiosity.”

Maybe. But I think Charlotte stage artists could do more to make us curious.

In tough economic times, theater has to be as necessary an expense as, say, gas at $4 a gallon. A good critic can make audiences more informed and appreciative, but she can't make them hungry. Only art can do that.