97th: Put not another bit into your mouth till the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big.
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30 November 2004
When I took the job of theatre critic, my editor told me that I'd have to develop a thick skin.
So far, actually, there have been few comments--positive or negative--in the four years I've been reviewing. There was a flurry of activity when some journal entries I'd written were discovered by some folks who took exception to them. It caused some serious problems which were able to be smoothed over...and in retrospect, when I went back and re-read the "objectionable" entries, I could see that. with one very ill-advised exception (which I regret to this day), the entries really had been misunderstood. What the readers interpreted as something negative was actually my trying to be very positive and only expressing my frustrations on line for how hard I was trying to say something positive and not hurt the feelings of non-professional actors who were performing with a lot of heart.
But we got past that.
I don't discuss specifics in this journal any more (hence being somewhat obtuse above) and whether I think positively or negatively about a non-professional production remains secret, while I try to be as honest as I can be in a review.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I was sent a copy of a letter sent to the editor. I was unable to attend a recent performance and someone filled in for me. In response to the substitute reviewer, the writer had written:
(Of course I wonder how discerning a person who thinks the plural of show is "show's" can be, who uses commas instead of periods, and who calls the person who reviews a show a "review" rather than a "reviewer.")
Intellectually, I know that the writer is wrong. I don't hate my job. I have tried to adhere to the philosophy that the function of a reviewer, when it comes to community theatre, is to be supportive, to criticize gently, and to try to encourage the theatre group to do better. Still, you can't lie to would-be patrons, who will be forking over hard-earned money to see a show, or your reputation is worthless. If something is not good, you can't praise it and say it's good, not matter how much people would like you to do that.
I reviewed a show this year where there were abominable performances, but the performers in question were town favorites and while I could have easily (and justifiably) torn apart their performances, I soft-pedaled it as much as possible. But I couldn't ignore a downright terrible performance.
If it had been a professional production, I would have had no compunction about tearing it apart. I once gave one star to a professional production that the other newspapers praised to the skies because the name star appeared to either be drunk or unable to remember his lines, the blocking of the show prevented me from seeing the final scene, and while there were good things about the show, people were going to be paying top dollar to see it, and I felt that they needed to know that there were serious problems with the production.
But you don't do that with community theatre--at least I don't . You don't let slipshod performances, or productions, off scott free, but you try not to be cruel. You can't hold people who work 8-5 in their "real" jobs and then rehearse nights for the love of it to the same standards as people who are professional actors.
Knowing that I've followed that philosophy pretty consistently, I still felt my stomach churn on reading this criticism of my reviews.
It got me to go to my file of reviews and pull up all the reviews I'd written about XXX and read them over again.
I should have just shrugged it off, but I was trying to figure out what the writer found so objectionable about them--or whatever could have led the writer to suggest that it appears I hated my job.
Does it sound like you hate your job if you point out shortcomings in a production? Should bad diction, inaudible dialog, faulty pitch, and downright bad performances be glossed over?
The interesting thing about the writer's note is that the person who filled in for me when I was unable to attend a performance actually wrote a more critical review than I would write. Only he has a better background in theatre so perhaps someone who thinks that the plural of "show" is "show's" didn't understand that in the middle of all that very knowledgable information was the clear message that this show was not up to professional--or even good community theatre--standards.
I'd like to be able to just toss stuff like this off without dwelling on it, but my father always told me that my problem is being "too sensitive." I resisted the temptation to fire off a note to the writer, and instead internalized it--and feel my stomach churning that someone could dare to think I'm less than perfect!
This letter came on the heels of Sheila's day of being the park bully, and my feeling reluctant to take her back again, for fear we'll encounter the same guy who thinks she's aggressive.
My father's right--I am too sensitive.
Website of the Day
I looked for an appropriate website to go along with this entry, and found this delightful article which I could relate to SO much!
Plus these are truly extraordinary!
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Just a cute picture of my cousin's granddaughter's dog.