So Tboy talked to recently appointed Washington Post theater editor Michael Cavna late on Friday. (Sorry this didn't get posted earlier, but there were snowmen to be built.) Here's what Cavna, who's been on the job for about four months, had to say about the Tricia Olszewski business and how the Post came to its decision:
"I've enjoyed immensely working with her. I like her, and we like her, and we have nothing but praise for her work," Cavna said. T.O.'s reviews "are more than solid -- I feel that way, and it was my sense from Peter [Marks] and from [Arts Editor] John Pancake. We like her writing.... [T]hat's why she'll continue to do music and other things."
That said, Cavna acknowledged that T.O.'s blog bio "immediately raised a red flag." The trouble was twofold, he said:
- There was the obvious issue of the Post's difficult public position, "now that she publicly has given the perception that maybe being a theater critic isn't for her."
- But, Cavna said, there was also a certain amount of basic editorial flock-tending involved: How does this person feel covering theater? "It sparked a conversation," Cavna said, that eventually involved editorial panjandrums up to and including Style section chief Deb Heard.
In those conversations, Olszewski "expressed discomfort in her role," Cavna said. "As you know, it's different from writing about movies or music; it's insular, and you're frequently in contact with those youre criticizing."
With all of the above in mind, Cavna said, "We talked with her and decided it would be better for her to step back from theater and continue as a pop music critic. And what she expressed to me was relief."
Cavna said he'd "seen growth" in Olszewski's work, and spoke hopefully of her future as a critical writer. "She brings an intelligence to it," he said. "I've worked with numerous critics at large," and the non-discipline-specific gift the good ones have is "the ability to perceive...."
Cavna acknowledged that it's tough for any paper, even a paper with the Post's resources, "to maintain a top-notch freelance stable," but said the hassle of replacing T.O. was not a factor in the recent discussions. "We tried to remove that as a component.... I genuinely hope that this is the best thing for her, and the best thing all around."
As for who'll replace her, it's early going. No names yet, but "We're committed to finding another quality freelancer ... and not let it affect our coverage, and the amount of our coverage."
Note: Tboy's gonna leave comments open on this, at least for the moment, but let's try to stick to the topics of Cavna, the Post's position, and the Post's coverage, OK? There's been a fairly full airing of people's views on T.O. and her performance and her fate, so let's let that one rest.