By Isaac Butler
I'd like to urge folks who are interested in the kinds of things that Parabasis talks about to check out this review of CalShakes' "American Night" (published as part of Howlround's NewCrit venture), the comments appended to the article and editor Polly Carl's e eventual apology for the review here. I'd excerpt, but they're both worth reading in full.
Basicaly, Lily Janiak wrote a piece about a CalShakes production in which she diagnosed some of the contradictions at the heart of its mission, audience culture, and performance practice. Some people weighed in saying it was snarky and not in the spirit of NewCrit's "positive inquiry." Polly eventually agreed with them:
On Tuesday we published a NewCrit piece by Lily Janiak. It covered her experience seeing a new piece of theater at Cal Shakes. Lily has been a terrific critic for HowlRound whose work and voice I completely support. When I edited this piece I read it in that context and saw immediately her keen observations of a common dissonance in our field—an institution working with one set of intentions and the audience perceiving something else. This felt like an important piece of criticism to me. What I missed in my editing was a tone that I don't think properly reflects what I hope to be the tone of HowlRound. Brad Erickson's comments on the post address this well. There is a way that the tone of Lily's piece can be read as disrespectful. This is not a tone we want to promote on HowlRound.
When we announced this initiative it was controversial and we received a lot of negative feedback for suggesting that criticism could come from a place of "positive inquiry." And I'll admit finding that tone of positive inquiry without censoring the emotion and opinions of the contributors to HowlRound has been the most difficult work I've undertaken in the theater. And I think in this instance I failed in my role as editor to set a proper tone.
This apology and the flap that caused it are just steps in a process, a process not unlike an ongoing and endless rehearsal in which every night is press night. A process that none of us who have ever put up a show envy. So in that spirit, I just wish people could chill the fuck out and treat this whole michegas (including the apology, which is causing some fairly hysterical rhetoric here and there) as a collective attempt to figure out a way of working that's constructive to the field rather than a moral issue. Nothing is perfect right out of the gate and it takes some adjustment to figure things out. Not that there shouldn't be criticism, but jesus christ, some people treat HowlRound like its every minor misstep is some apocalyptic event.
In that spirit, I'd like to say that I don't think Polly or Janiak have anything to apologize for. I don't think Janiak's writing was snarky. Snark is about using sarcasm to move *away* from the object of inquiry, mocking rather than engaging. The CalShakes review instead uses wit to engage the problem, and to get closer to it. The telemundo/metamucil line is great, funny, and really encapsulates the experience in a way that cements itself in the mind. Tomorrow, I'll remember that line and remember the contradictions that it contains, and remember what Janiak was trying to say about CalShakes. I can't help but think that it is this effectiveness, and not its supposed snark, that was so troubling to representatives of the theater. (There's a separate debate about whether the comparison to telemundo was culturally insensitive, that's a separate issue I'm just gonna leave alone for now at least).