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Stage & Screen Book Club to Cease Operations in July

By New York City
The Stage & Screen Book Club, which has been in existence for more than half a century, will call it quits after a July mailing to its approximately 15,000 current members. The outfit started as The Fireside Theatre in 1950.

Spokesperson Kevin Goldman, communications director for the club's parent company, Bookspan, has told TheaterMania.com that the reason for Stage & Screen's shuttering is its lack of growth recently -- then added that the club has done no new recruitment for the past three years. Goldman noted that, at its peak, club membership was somewhere around 25,000, though others in the book field say that the all-time-high figure may have been almost 50,000. However, even that number pales next to the roster of, say, the Bookspan-owned Book of the Month Club.

As unofficial word has gotten around that Stage & Screen is gasping its last breaths, various supporters have been expressing dismay. Horton Foote, for one, said that he is "distressed" by the news. He was speaking both as a club member since the mid-1980s and as a club author; Foote's nine-play Orphans' Home Cycle, for instance, was offered as a one-volume special edition by Stage & Screen. "Living in a provincial town," he said, in reference to his Texas base, "you could get plays through the club." (Bookspan demographics indicate that many Stage & Screen members live outside of large metropolitan areas.)

At several publishing houses that include theater-related titles among their product, reaction to the revelation was similar to Foote's. Denise Oswald, an editor at Faber and Faber, called the closing "crushing news, because they're the only book club that actively supports theater and film books." She speculated, however, that the club's demise "will not affect our decisions [on what to publish] in the long run." Thinking over possible repercussions, she did foresee that back list reprints might be discouraged without the promise of club support.

Arnold Dolin, who acquires plays for Overlook, described the end of the club as "a significant loss." Esther Margolis, who has been selling screen-related titles for some time now, rated the news as "a huge disappointment" but noted that "the quantities of books [the club was] purchasing in the past few years had dropped radically." For that reason, she doesn't think the closing will affect her future decisions in regard to acquisitions.

That sentiment was echoed by Marisa Smith at Smith and Kraus, which publishes the annual Humana Festival plays among its releases. Stating that she was disappointed but not surprised by the news, Smith suggested that Stage & Screen's emphasis on film books over the past few years had shifted focus away from her list. She mentioned that past club attention had enabled Smith and Kraus to publish the occasional hard cover book, something she and husband Eric Kraus don't regularly do.

Terry Nemeth of TCG publications said that the club's advances "aren't earth-shaking but they benefit the writers, which is important." And Nemeth averred that he didn't balk at the frequent main selection spotlight his company's books received, helping them to amass sales in the 3,000 to 5,000 range.

Mark Glubke, who ran the foundering club for four years through August of 2001 and who is now at Back Stage Books, joined the lamenting chorus and also remarked that he was unaware of any attempt on Bookspan's part to sell the club. He pointed out that, while Stage & Screen's membership never added up to the hefty (but nowadays shrinking) numbers at bigger clubs, the members were loyal. As to the out-of-business sign going up on the club's door, he said, "It's short-sighted on behalf of the company."

No other organization seems eager to start its own theater- and film-oriented book club. Allen Hubby, co-owner of Manhattan's Drama Book Shop, is sorry to see Stage & Screen go but doesn't foresee rushing in where the club is easing out. "Frankly, we sell mostly acting editions anyway," he confided. Hubby also noted that the book shop did try a club once and that "success was spotty. Some months, we would sell 200 books; some months, we would sell eight."

As if to demonstrate just what is being lost, Elizabeth Adams, the present and final editor of Stage & Screen, is offering as the club's last, dual selection a boxed set of Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia and an anthology of six new plays from New Dramatists, including Deborah Brevoort's Women of Lockerbie.


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