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Today in My History

2000:  I Finally Crashed
2001:  Clan of the Cave Girl
2002:  Blank Out
2003:  It's All in How You Look at It
2004:  Me and My Millions
2005:  Hair-Raising Tale

2006:  All the Monkeys Aren't in the Zoo
2007: An Update
2008:  "What Are You Writing?"

Fits and Parts

Books Read in 2009
Updated: 4/23
"A Thousand Splendid Suns" 

Recipes for Cousins Day Drinks

Home Remedies


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30 April 2009

Professionalism is displayed in the way one handles compliments and especially in the way one handles criticism.

I remember when I was working for The Lamplighters all those years.  It was very frustrating to get bad reviews because one of the San Francisco Chronicle reviewers really had it in for the company.  He didn't like Gilbert & Sullivan, really didn't like a couple of the leading actors in the company, and I remember overhearing him say, on arriving at the theatre one night, "Oh God, I suppose I have to see XX and YY again..." 

When the review came out he gave XX and YY bad reviews because he just didn't like them.

We in the company, of course, felt it was terribly unfair.   XX and YY were terrific talents (still are), but the Chronicle critic just saw something in them that he didn't like. But we never took him to task for it because to do so would be unprofessional and would accomplish nothing.  It would seem like sour grapes.  Whether we agreed with the assessment or not, we had to realize he was just one person and while yes, his review could influence potential ticket buyers, to write and complain about what we considered an unfair review would accomplish nothing.  We realized we were not the center of the theatrical world in San Francisco, even if the theatrical world in San Francisco was our whole world.

I review about 7 or 8 different theatres in this area.   I always try to be fair in reviews, but if something is just bad...bad...bad, I can't say it's good or I lose all credibility as a critic.  I can't whitewash a bad performance to support a theatre that may be struggling financially. 

Would anybody believe anything I said again if I wrote a glowing review and the performance was horrible?

There is only one group in all of the theatres where I review whose members or fans consistently write complaints if a negative review is written.  I remember years and years ago, long before I took this job, where the then-reviewer gave a production a bad review.  A long letter was written to the editor blasting the review because the writer said they were all working people and worked all week and were tired on Friday night and couldn't be expected to give a great performance when they were tired.

Even then I couldn't let the sentiments expressed pass.   I wrote a follow-up letter to the editor asking if the company charged less for opening night tickets, knowing that the actors weren't going to be giving their all; did they inform the audience not to expect too much because the actors would be tired?   Of course not.  It's ridiculous. (If you are expected to be tired on a Friday night, then have a preview on Friday night, where people can see the show for a cheaper price while critics are invited to come to the Saturday "opening," when all the kinks have been worked out.)

I can count on at least one (if not more) negative responses if I write anything negative about this theatre company (and yes, I know some of you are reading this).  It is the only theatre company from which I have had complaints in nearly 10 years of reviewing...and I have written my share of negative things about all the theatres which I review.

I gave a particularly bad review recently.  Actually I tried very hard not to make it a "particularly bad" review, by concentrating on all the positive things about the show before turning to the really serious problem.

The main problem was one of the principals.  He sang the opening number and it was so bad that if he hit one right note, I must have missed it.  Both Walt and I turned to each other and winced.  The guy's acting was OK, but his singing was excruciating.  I truly don't know what the problem was, but the first message that came (from "Anonymous," my most consistent writer) said "Opening night is never an actor's best show, and he deserves another chance. If you had come Sunday, it would have been a better show. Give them some time to work the kinks out."

I repeat the comment I made in the newspaper those many years ago.   Did they charge less on opening night? Did they warn the audience that people weren't going to be good, but if they came back two days later they'd be great?  Did they stand on the stage after the show and apologize to the audience for being too tired to give it their best performance? ("Anonymous" later wrote that the mere fact that I would ask that question makes me lose credibility.  S/he later admitted that s/he had not seen the show yet.)

The actor in question took it as a personal attack and offered me free tickets to return for another performance and give him another chance.  For what?  Is the newspaper supposed to run a second review?  ("Sorry--but the guy I talked about was out of sorts on opening night, but he's really good now...")

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Someone else wrote to say he thought the show was great and that the actor in question was excellent.  (" I really felt like this actor nailed it. I'm actually quite confused as to why you thought he was so bad.") I dunno.  Maybe it was the acoustics.  But I didn't hear one song where he wasn't off key throughout.   Either he was off key or the entire orchestra was off key.

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I even went to the original cast recording of the show to see if maybe I was missing something, but the singer on the recording was instense, but also on pitch, unlike the actor in my review on the night I saw the show.

The actor demanded to know what precisely I found objectionable and I told him that he was off key consistently throughout the night.  My ever-faithful critic "Anonymous" replied "...once again, in your opinion," a comment which is so ludicrous it doesn't even warrant a reply.

A review is a critic's personal interpretation about what he or she saw on stage.  I never take other critics' reviews at face value because I've seen a lot of shows where I disagree with the reviewer.  Everybody has his or her own opinion.  (In fact, I got into trouble with the Sacramento Bee critic in the first year I was reviewing shows because the show I saw had SO many problems and he gave it 5 stars.  I was hoping to learn from him about what he saw that I had not.  Instead he felt I was attacking him.)

I do my job.  I think I sometimes bend over backwards more than other critics to be positive because I feel strongly about supporting community theatre.  I feel community theatre is great for the community. Our own family has certainly benefitted from it.  People who aren't likely to go to a big city to see a musical benefit from having devoted people who perform locally. 

But the bottom line is that I am paid to give my opinion and I always know that if it is a negative opinion about this particular company, I am going to hear about it afterwards.  (By the way, not that I ever expect it, but when I give a really good review, I never, ever hear any positive feedback.) 

I once wrote a glowing review about a show only to have one of the actors take exception with one minor comment I made and write a letter to the editor about it.   It had the result of making it sound like I'd written a negative review, when in fact, I actually liked the show very much, but felt they'd made one big mistake in it.   (More people in this town read the letters to the editor than read theatre reviews, so I'm sure this actor did the show more harm than good, which is a shame because it was an otherwise excellent show.)

In my opinion this constant complaining on the part of some members of this one company only shows a lack of true professionalism and does nothing but make me wonder why I try to be as positive as possible in the first place.

Someone in the company once wrote "nobody pays any attention to her anyway."  If that's the case, it makes me wonder why there is such a firestorm when I write something negative.


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