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August 05, 2009

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Travis Bedard

Lord above.

As perhaps the softest touch in the rahrah theatrosphere 2.0 I am of course going to support your position. But I remain confused why the people who have the status to attack don't see the fundamental difference. I cover a part of the Austin theatre scene that the gatekeepers don't have space (or time) to get to, and try to do some analysis. If there's a deep underlying problem in the 'scene' it's not my job to sit back and take potshots, it's my job to get down to the fire and grab a bucket.

And in my case I work in a theatre community of perhaps 500. The first human's work that I truly slag to someone other than that person loses whatever trust they have in me.

In your case, you are very open and transparent. I trust what you write is what you are really feeling at that moment, and I believe that there are things you simply don't write about - that you yell at a friend-as-proxy in a bar somewhere...

Lucas Krech

I actually don't fully understand your reticence. I'm not criticizing, just curious. Put simply, what sort of "career" are you looking to have, where the very places you are trying to get work do not hold up to your artistic standards?

I'm largely playing devil's advocate here and I used to hold the same position as you and as such opted out of participating in "bloggers nights" as a critic.

That said, my own thinking around this is changing. The institutional problems will never end if young theater artists are silencing their own critique in order to get a job working on "art" they are uninterested in seeing on stage.

Food for thought.

Josh

Theater is boring and so is blogging about it.

More hair posts! Screw Tuesday hair blogging. I want Monday through Sunday hair blogging!

Elizabeth

I've been reading this blog since 2006 and you're right, you've built up a trust over time. Which is all the more reason why it's disappointing when I read that both you and Freeman feel you have to hold back to avoid offending people who directly affect your careers. Even though I understand your reasoning, it saddens me to see it (but better than not saying anything and filtering, you'd lose all claim to transparency then).

But I'd be lying if I said it doesn't change the the way I perceive the commentary going forward. I wish it didn't. That said, it doesn't mean that I expect you to be laying yourself on the line and compromising your livelihood every day for my entertainment, nor should you have to. I would like to think it's possible to find a way to say what you need to say and still be employable. I trust that you will.

But this does bring up a larger issue. This happens all the time, not just in this community of blogs. Theater artists are constantly holding themselves back and sucking it up to get work. It's a *fact*. I understand it, but I personally feel it does damage to the art form and at the very least maintains a status quo that we acknowledge has serious flaws.

Sean

I don't imagine that any of us hold back that much. There's just too much stuff happening, too many plays, too many people. If something sucks, we can just not say anything... it's the nature of theater that withing two months the entire production will have evaporated and nobody will even know what you're talking about.

Perfect point - I loved Atheist. I loved it so much that I developed a rather overt man crush on Abe Goldfarb. I laughed all the way through it... but on my blog I had other shit to talk about, and by the time I got around to it, not only were you guys already in DC, you were already done and back. It's really rather easy to just not say anything, even when everything you have to say is nice.

I understand that you and Freeman don't jump all over someone who might one day help your career, but it's not like you're slobbing all over people who totally suck. It's theater, it's the easiest thing in the world to just let a production go by un-commented on. Our life's work disappears when the light go down. Blogging about theater isn't exactly dancing about architecture, or whatever the old saw is, but if you see as much theater as we all see, and you only ever support the stuff you think is fantastic, and the stuff you hate just gets ignored, you'd still be able to keep these pages filled.

Those of us who are working inside the industry don't have a responsibility to call out our peers' failures, especially if we are taking the time to celebrate our peers' successes. We can focus on critiquing the good work within our community and still be responsible bloggers/theater people.

Alison Croggon

Gosh, I just don't have these problems. It's my job to talk honestly about theatre, and so I do my best to do just that. Other bloggers do just that, as well, and we often disagree passionately, without descending to flame wars or sniping. (We all like each other, even though we might disagree). Maybe it's because in Australia arts commentary has been so bad that everyone knows how crucial honest, thoughtful critical responses are in creating a culture where everyone feels they have a stake. Maybe it's because Australians are less polite, or more robust, or less respectful of hierarchy. I don't know. Certainly there's a pretty passionate blogosphere in Melbourne that pulls no punches in saying what it thinks about anything. And newspapers are sourcing news from us.

And yes, I work in the "industry" as well, in my other lives. Honesty doesn't seem to put people off.

freeman

I've always thought of Australians as more robust and thoughtful than Americans.

Mike Daisey

"Maybe it's because Australians are less polite, or more robust, or less respectful of hierarchy."

No. It's the increased resources in Australian arts, which makes it less freaked out and less devastatingly self-cannabilizing. This makes it easier to speak.

Sean

Mike has a really interesting point. Because the resources are so tight, and because the ultimate reward is so small, maybe it actually makes criticism *very* hard to hear. We can't just be people who create and produce theater, we can't even just be advocates... we have to be evangelicals. We aren't just salesmen, we're the parents of ghetto children, fighting just to get them graduated.

It's extremely difficult to go through the process of screaming, red-cheeked, about why your show, out of thousands, is important (to the tiny subset of Americans who pay attention), and then have someone slight it.

isaac

it seems to me that there are a number of dynamics at work here.

The first is the idea of resources and threat, that Mike brings up.

Another is the idea of Power and Independence. Alison Croggan is married to a prominent Australian playwright and has a successful career outside of theatre as a novelist and has her own position in the industry attained prior to beginning blogging. Mike Daisey is one of the premiere solo performers in the country. David Cote is the theatre editor of the main night life magazine in New York. When I started this blog, I was nobody. Now I'm not "nobody" anymore, but I certainly have more friends in this industry than I have power within it, and that creates certain dynamics. To pretend that Alison and I are existing on the same playing field, or that somehow this means something different about American thin skinnedness is silly. On the other end of the spectrum are bloggers with no skin in the game at all, they aren't members of the industry either in terms of paid press or the theatre world, nor do they have hope to be, so they can be complete douchebags to their hearts' content. This dynamic has ruined the book blogosphere and infects the music sphere as well.

The next point I'd bring up is the idea of Community. This relates to Darcy's point about "punching up, not down". I'm far more likely to criticize the Roundabout than I am the Brick. And you'll see a lot more critiques of institutional theaters on this blog than you will the indie theatre scene. Part of it is that I don't know what airing a lot of negative criticisms of the indie theatre scene would accomplish... what, ultimately, is the net benefit of attacking the most vulnerable members of our community? If I'm going to be criticizing a peer, there has to be a really good reason for it. Whereas I think that theatre companies like Roundabout and 2nd Stage are actively ruining American theatre, and I don't need much reason to criticize them (I also, to answer Lucas' question, have no desire to work for them, which differentiates them from companies that I generally like that are also worthy of criticism like NYTW, The Public etc.)

And then there is also miscellaneous crap like not posting something because I want to get the language of it right and then before i know it, I've kind of lost track of it. This happened with the whole Primary Stages things. I was-- and remain-- confident that the people claiming that there was some mass movement of subscribers who were canceling subscriptions because of the all-female season were, basically, lying and that the bloggers continuing the story were gullibly signing on to an unverifiable urban legend because it connected with an issue we care about (gender discrimination). I said as much in 99Seats' comments, meant to expand it into a larger post, and then life got in the way. I have at most 1-2 hours a day (generally) to blog if I'm lucky, sometimes "holding back" is literally just a matter of priorities.

Finally, I just wanted to say that no one seems to have minded that I don't review work on this site. I declared in my first year writing for Parabasis that I wasn't going to review work because the conflicts of interest were too great, and it would likely end up with my negatively affecting my career or hurting a friend and a website I do as a hobby is not really worth either of those things. I see in general 1-3 shows a week. I- with rare exceptions- do not write about them period for this reason. And it was mainly that sort of thing that I was talking about when I was talking about exercising discretion.

Alison Croggon

(CroggOn. It's CroggOn! But I forgive you, everybody does it.)

I do think the real reason for the robustness of the Australian blogosphere is the first one I gave - the almost absolute vacuum of debate that preceded it. I knew how bad it was when I first started blogging: maybe half a dozen times, I would give a stern and negative review of a show, and a director would write thanking me, because at least someone was taking their work seriously. People were starving for feedback, conversation, debate, even if it wasn't flattering.

You do seem to think that it's dead easy to get work on here. It's not easy anywhere, and while we do have subsidies, they're tiny compared to those in Europe or Britain, and private sponsorship is much smaller than compared with the US. And Australian culture is, in many ways, at worst hostile and at best indifferent to the arts. It makes artists tough to put stuff on in an atmosphere of indifference, but it can be a question of diminishing returns... We have the peculiar challenges of putting on work in a small culture (20 million) spread over a continent around the size of the US. And of course people invest everything into their work and get upset when it doesn't get the reaction they hoped. Everybody struggles.

I can understand the need to support a community. Maybe the point is that if you can't say anything negative, what can the positive mean?

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