U.S. theatrical premiere, Madeleine Albright and what it means for local journalism

Madeline Albright, at left sipping a drink, alongside Vaclav Havel, with his back to the camera, at the Wilma Theater on May 26, 2010.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright seemed to enjoy the production just fine.

That was the lede I submitted to Philadelphia events blog uwishunu in my review of last month’s U.S. premiere of ‘Leaving,’ the first piece in a generation from acclaimed playwright and former Czech President Vaclav Havel, at the Wilma Theater on the Avenue of the Arts in Center City Philadelphia.

Both after leaving the bathroom before the show and sitting in my third-row seat as the curtain opened, I eyed the tiny, graying lady sitting to the right and chatting with Havel, the revolutionary who was on hand to watch the premiere. Both times I gave second glances. The first time, I just thought I recognized her and dismissed it as some Philadelphia notable.

The second time, my guess was clear: that woman was the first female Secretary of State and President Bill Clinton top adviser. I dismissed it again — no security, no commotion, no press. Turns out I was right, and, boy, that has to mean something for the future of news, doesn’t it?

A friend handles some of the promotional work for the theater and confirmed my guess, aside from her, my next best assurance was another journalist there to review the opening — from online-only startup Broad Street Review.

Turns out the premiere was indeed covered by The Wall Street Journal and the Prague Daily Monitor, and NPR’s All Things Considered rushed down to get in front of Havel. The eminent Inquirer Worldview columnist Trudy Rubin was on hand to interview Havel and filed something the following Sunday and something ran a week later ran in the local paper’s social column.

That’s heavy coverage from legacy media, but it just seemed to smack of the type of exclusionary journalism that the web has started to break. By my count, the first (remotely) official report that a major head of state was chatting with a former lead liaison on U.S. foreign policy was an unsure tweet of mine (with an admitted misspelling of Albright’s first name).

It’s important to note here just what a big deal Havel is considered in many circles –an internationally-acclaimed playwright, a revolutionary, dissident Liberty Medal Award winner and former head of state.

This was a major U.S. premiere of his latest play at a glitzy Center City theater and the only established local game in town there was a foreign columnist.

Both of the city’s largest alternative-weeklies, CityPaper and Philly Weekly, checked their reviews in early.

The rest came from two online sources — one self-funded and the other, for which I was there, a project of the region’s tourism board.

We continue to be the media.

[My ‘Leaving’ Review]

Below, watch Havel talk in 2007 about the Communist regime in Cuba.