My very first contribution to the River Cities' Reader landed with issue 19 in March of 1995. This was back when I was a freelance contributor and the print edition was a monthly, before it became a weekly, before it became a bi-weekly, before it became a monthly again. (Our online version, if memory serves, didn't yet exist.) For my debut, I attempted to predict the winners of the “big six” categories at the impending Academy Awards: Best Picture, Directing, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress. And because it was either an insanely easy year for guessing – this was Forrest Gump time, after all – or I was particularly on fire in my prognostication, I somehow got all six correct.
Considering I've managed that same feat only three additional times over 27 subsequent attempts, I suppose you could say that my Reader tenure has been mostly downhill from there. Except that wouldn't be at all true.
I'll be honest: Even though I was an early proponent for our team delivering a few Memory Lane reminiscences in celebration of the River Cities' Reader's 1,000th (!!!) issue, when it came time to actually compose something, I balked. It's not that I couldn't think of things to say. It's that I couldn't think of things to say that didn't inherently make the assignment all about me. “Here are my favorite movies from more than a quarter-century of reviewing!” “Here are my favorite area-theatre experiences from 17 years of coverage and occasional participation!” “Here are my favorite local or visiting artists who were kind enough to talk to me!”
Every idea I had felt grossly self-serving, and while regular readers will know that I'm hardly shy about referencing myself (and family members, and friends, and random folks I've been in contact with) in articles, I felt that my already abundantly stoked ego needed to chill on this one. That this independent newspaper has been able to survive in print – to survive at all – while so many other, similar publications didn't; that it managed to weather significant staff changes and the 2008 financial crisis and COVID; that it successfully engaged readers and sparked debates and pissed people off 999 previous times … . Well, that's something way bigger than me. Love us or don't, it's an accomplishment. And, I'm proud to say, a laudable one.
So while the remainder of this piece will kind of forced to be All About Me, allow me to raise a figurative champagne flute – figurative because it's actually a glass of chillable red I'll be raising – in acknowledgment of others.
Thank you, Todd and Kathleen, and my dear college friend Jeff Wichmann, for envisioning and creating the River Cities' Reader, and for the opportunity to write for you 27 very long yet strangely swift years ago. I've now been working for the paper, either in part- or full-time capacity, for exactly half my life, and a better gig for more passionate individuals I can hardly imagine. I love you guys, and wouldn't have the life I have without you. You're allowed to take both credit and blame for that.
Thank you, Jeff Ignatius – a world-class editor and somehow-even-better friend whom I was fortunate to work either in person or across a river with for the better part of 17 years. Jeff still lets me know whenever I've accidentally misspelled something or have totally misconstrued the plot to, say, Everything Everywhere All at Once. I adore/loathe him for that.
Thank you to everyone I've been lucky enough to work with in the Reader offices over so many hundreds of issues. I'm absolutely, unintentionally, embarrassingly going to leave several important someones off the list. But as soon as I stop typing, I'm raising my glass of chillable red to Rick, Nathan, Max, Shawn, Larrrrrrs, Peggy, Rosie, Lou Ann, Chris, Jeremy, Stephanie, De Leon, Mike, Jason, Beth, Jay, Cheryl, my beloved pal Jonathan, and the ever-divine Miss Lib. Many of you were there back when I was still wearing ties and button-down shirts to the office. Boy, those were some crazy times, huh?
Thank you, Hollywood and not-Hollywood. You've given me something new to write about pretty much every week for more than 1,400 weeks running. Except for that understandable period of a few months in 2020. I made do.
Thank you, area-theatre community. You cautiously welcomed me as an opinionated outsider in 2005 and gradually accepted me as a member of the family … if, sometimes, that member of the family no one wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving dinner. In every conceivable way – as a reviewer, a patron, an actor, a director, a producer, a human being with curiosity and empathy and affection – you've made me a better person than I was before my Reader tenure began.
Thank you, fellow Reader theatre reviewers. As tough as it was to stand down from full-time critiquing duties at the end of 2009, it's been nothing but pleasure to work with – and enjoy the talents of – Rochelle Arnold, Jeff Ashcraft, Dee Canfield, Heather Herkelman, Victoria Navarro, Mark Ruebling, Brent Tubbs, Jill Walsh, Thom White (who wound up reviewing longer than I did), and our current team of Pamela Briggs, Madeline Dudziak, and Roger Pavey Jr. I am so ridiculously proud of the hopefully positive impact the Reader has had on the coverage of local or local-ish stage productions. A collective thanks, too, for only saying occasional negative things about me despite my totally deserving more.
Thank you to all of the artists who've suffered through my rambling, stuttering interview techniques. Whether you're frequent targets such as Ballet Quad Cities' Courtney Lyon and the Haus of Ruckus duo of T. Green and Calvin Vo or the sublimely Christ-like Ted Neely, your openness and patience have been hugely appreciated. And a special thanks to the late Olympia Dukakis, the Oscar winner who ended our mandated 20-minute interview by saying, “I gave you 27 minutes, honey … that's how much I enjoyed talking with you!”
Thank you to all of the TV and radio hosts who've booked me, and have helped promote this 1,000-issue-old paper, solely on the basis of my Reader employment, with special shout-outs going to Herb Trix, Mindy Heusel, Jim Mertens, the WHBF team I've been visiting weekly for close to five years, and the Dave & Darren team whose studio(s) I've been visiting – and I can't believe I'm typing this – for going on 20 years. The added brand awareness has been invaluable. And I've made a lot of good friends, to boot.
Thank you to everyone who has written me over the years, whether they were moved by my 2006 Brokeback Mountain review, or incensed by my 2004 Passion of the Christ review, or delightedly surprised that I named 21 Jump Street my second-favorite movie of 2012. (It still is!) I've always appreciated the feedback. Even from the person or persons who voiced their displeasure at my 2008 Hellboy review from the e-mail address “email@example.com.” As you perhaps intended, I've never forgotten you. And at least you spelled my name correctly.
Finally, thank you, you – whomever you are. That you're reading this at all is proof that someone, somewhere, is, and there would be no point to our doing what we do – and loving doing what we do – without you. While this celebratory article might read as a farewell, it's anything but; I hope I speak for my bosses when I say that we look forward to many more years of engagement and debate and pissing people off. But it's my distinct honor to praise those responsible for making this 1,000th issue possible, and you, beyond all others, are responsible.
Keep reading. Tell your friends about us. And seriously, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you.
[Author's mea culpa: I knew I'd forget people, and for the print version of this article, I very much did. Huge apologies for not previously mentioning my office-mates Mike and Peggy, both of whom I shared an office and many laughs with for many months, and our tireless theatre reviewer Rochelle Arnold, who was with the Reader for years and writing for us as recently as December. So sorry, friends -- clearly, when writing this article, my mind was on the faraway past more than the very recent past. And I hadn't even opened the chillable red yet!]