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February 18, 2009


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My arguments have been utterly degraded by your constant babble.

No, no. I think this is worthwhile for discussion. And I do think that although we occasionally disagree, we all have to remember we're on the same team. And I don't just mean the blogging community, or people you get to have a beer with every once in a while. I mean all of us. I'm on the same team as a lot of people I've never met. We're all out there fighting the good fight, engaging in discussion, trying to make something we love a little bit better.

Do I sound too nice? Sometimes I probably am. But it's never done me a disservice to try to give people the benefit of the doubt, or be a little kind, or careful.

I've certainly have had very good friends tell me they thought my work was great, or very clearly politely NOT tell me so, or get good and whiskey'ed up and told me how far they'd throw one of my plays if they could (I'm looking at YOU Comtois!). It's all part of the journey.


I'd like to add, though, that not all criticism is a gift. Some of it is, expressly, not. There is a responsibility on the part of the person expressing their opinion to an artist; it's not just how the artist hears what's said. Being gracious is important, but there's no such thing as a one-sided conversation.


I definitely hear you on this. It's one of the more frustrating aspects of working in theatre. Part of it is the good frustrating, where you like a person, see what they're trying to do, but know it isn't working. You want to help them, but since the work we do is usually quite personal (even when it doesn't seem so), you have to tread lightly. We all have had projects that we cared about, or at least thought were interesting, and then got the wrong kind of feedback at the wrong time and it all evaporated. It's a difficult dance between being honest and clear and constructive and being harmful (even unintentionally).

Is there a line between the workshop space, the rehearsal hall and the theatosphere, though? I know that some folks open their writing process up to the world here, but mostly, we're talking about ideas, theories, opinions. Maybe we do bring that workshop sensibility to these conversations that could be meatier, or more pointed, because, in the end, we're talking about results. If I go see a play, any play, and it's unsuccessful, I think it's a worthy endeavour to try to figure out why. But, of course, that starts to butt against criticism (I know that I don't post thoughts about a play until it's officially "opened"...even though I don't consider myself a "reviewer.") Ezra and Andrew know that they're talking about ideas and they have a solid understanding of where those ideas are based in. Theatre artists, in general, don't always have that same basis.

To be honest, even blogging anonymously, the larger fear is fear of reprisals, not fear of hurting someone's feelings. If I don't like a friend's show, I think I can talk to them about what worked for me or didn't work, and they'll hear it in the spirit that it's given. If I trash a show at Playwrights or MTC, and wonder why it was produced, well, that certainly won't endear me to the people making decisions there. But it doesn't help the larger community. So...I use a pseudonym. Not so much so I can be not nice, but so I can be as honest as I can in a community that sometimes rejects honesty.

Jason Grote

Yes, definitely -- I think people, even good friends, used to argue much more passionately about this stuff, (and people still do, when it comes to TV, movies, and music).

Obviously part of the issue is that everyone knows everyone else, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fragility of peoples' careers and of the art form in general. For example, if I go off on Slumdog Millionare (which I haven't seen) or M. Ward (to whom I am pretty much indifferent), it's unlikely to make much of a difference. But if I go off on a show at, say, Playwrights' Horizons by a relatively unknown writer (or for that matter a first novel by a relatively unknown author), it's likely to do at least a little damage, or to cause reverberations that could potentially harm a production or even a career (or maybe it wouldn't, but that's a pretty risky experiment to attempt). Ditto with a more successful writer, like Neil LaBute -- things might get a little awkward if I ever met the guy, but honestly nothing I can say will ever make much of a difference to his actual working life.

I also think a lot of it had to do with the fact that, back in the day, more working artists and critics used to be rich. Nowadays most artists I know are from fairly humble backgrounds, and even the ones who I know come from money are trying to eke out expensive city rents and exorbitant student debt on a meager theater salary. I've got my Rutgers job to basically subsidize my career, *and* I've been more financially than artistically successful lately (as I measure both things), and I'm still swimming against the tide.


I have often been frustrated about not being able to speak my mind about theatre. I want the work I see to be great, and I want the work I'm in to be great. How can we improve the quality of our work without an honest discussion? I have been shushed in public when talking about a director I don't care for. And that's because as an actor I am low on the food chain, so I can't upset anyone.

As for my own work, when I take a class I often find that my favorite teachers are the ones everyone else calls "mean." They actually call me out on my shit and I actually learn something from them! But I have also paid them and asked for their criticism. It is different if it's unsolicited.

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