Tuesday, January 26, 2010
OK, about that *Curtains* review ...
Posting a cryptic blog note two days beforehand absolutely was self-promotion. But the details of presentation on the page: photos, headlines, subheads, captions, lede, even placement within the paper and whether the eye falls on what comes right after the second or third drop cap in an article -- all those aspect of "sell" are often extensively debated here at Inlander HQ.
My point being: For any theater article, the point is not to appeal to my fellow theater ho's on the one hand — or to theater-haters on the other — but always to middle-of-the-road, lukewarm-about-theater readers.
The "sell" in this case is that great close-up of Maureen Kumakura, splashed large-size on the page ... the three footer photos with the whodunit? captions were the idea of our art director, Chris Bovey (himself a thesp) ... and the headline was my alternate choice ... and the subhed was mine ("an insult to critics everywhere ... out for revenge"), which is cheeky but chosen precisely because I get the most feedback on reviews ("really liked your review") when they're _negative_.
Not the most comfortable thing about human nature — do we REALLY watch auto racing mostly to see someone crash? — but still the truth.
The review has two weaknesses (others will find plenty more, I'm sure): It's a curve ball, and it's all about me. It's a curve ball because it _seems_ to be entirely negative — until the end. And it commits the error of being more about the writer than what he's writing about.
I decided beforehand that in this special instance (a murder-mystery musical), those weaknesses could be compensated for.
Of course I knew that "What Kind of Man?" pokes fun more at the onstage characters than it does at critics. The four of them sing about how critics are morons and idiots, until just one of the critics says a teensy little positive thing about their show — and suddenly all critics are geniuses.
The satire is aimed at them.
Of _course_ I wasn't offended by the song — I just used the lyrics as an excuse to have some trumped-up "motive" for wanting "revenge" against each and every cast member. It was just a comic set-up.
But the real question here is: Why do we allow critics to have so much power over us? (In a bloggy, tweety era, it's a bit silly, really.)
That is, if the one poster is right, and it was "borderline cruel" to make the poor actors wait two days to find out what the Big Bad Critic had to say, then actors are way too concerned with one guy's opinion.
Yes, Bobo gets to splash his opinion in 50,000 copies. (It's a responsibility and a privilege; I don't forget that.)
And yes, I've been a theatergoer in Spokane for nearly 20 years, a critic here for more than nine years, and I wrote a dissertation that was (partly) on Shakespeare, and I've acted and directed a few shows. So my opinion ought to carry some weight. But it's not definitive. Far from it.
What I want to say to local actors and directors is: If you've worked hard and _you_ know that you've developed a good performance, really what difference does it make what I say? It's a factor, but only one out of many — chief of which ought to be the joy of working with others, the pleasure of perpetuating a theatrical tradition, the fun of collaborating in a work of art, and so on.
I think reviews are worth reading — I love reading old ones, even of production I could never have seen — but they aren't the last word.
I've had some recent opportunities to observe rehearsals, be a part of rehearsals. And every time, it reminds me how much good and intelligent work goes into "just a little comedy" or "just a community-theater musical" around here.
I mean, Yvonne Johnson and Troy Nickerson — how they corral 30 people into a work of entertaining art, I don't know how they do it. I sure couldn't.
Read the reviews, maybe even ponder them a bit. But take satisfaction in your own work. Forget the damn critics. Everybody knows they're all morons anyway.
[ image: from Broadway.com; the poster from the original L.A. production ]