Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who The Hell Are We?

The blogosphere has been talking of how to handle criticism of the work of fellow bloggers.

Parabasis had thrown the question out on his blog this past week with regards to a production he currently has running: In Public, which is written by another blogger, George Hunka of Superfluities.

What i'm thinking about lately is how reluctant we are to criticize each other's work. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. But I've got a show open right now, and a lot of bloggers have come to see it, and they have said amazingly positive things about it. I am incredibly greatful for all the wonderful things people are saying. I also know (not because they've told me, but because it just makes sense) that at the same time they are withholding criticism of the play.

Scott Walters of Theatre Ideas points out that we are very quick to criticize the ideas of others, why are we reluctant to turn the searchlights on our own community.

All of this talk came home when I received a comment on a brief post I wrote about my wedding anniversary.

The commenter, one Neil Labute, posted a comment on my blog and another blog. (I am not sure if it really is the Neil Labute, in fact, I should assume it is not, but the idea that it could be Mr. Labute is interesting.)

Well, Mr. Labute seemed offended that James Comtois and I would spend time discussing his work. In both cases he said that he couldn't wait to see our next productions, so that he could see how it is supposed to be done.

This made me think about the questions of blogging criticism. I don't know Neil Labute and I have never been shy about writing criticism of his work. But it is out there. And he very well could be reading it.

At first my reaction to Mr. Labute's jab about us spending time discussing his work was anger. (His intended response, I am sure.)

I mean I can't speak for James, but I have spent money on tickets to Mr. Labute's movies and plays, and I have purchased several of his playscripts. I don't mind if he has disagreements with critical assessments, but the insinuation that people who have spent time and money watching and reading his work have no place to be discussing it is absurd.

However, that being said, Mr. Labute's comment about our next plays, which basically challenges us to do better, is well put.

Who the hell are we, theater artists, to proclaim what we think is the right way to do it, or the wrong way to do it, or what is wrong with American theatre or playwriting anyway?

Should playwrights be openly slamming the works of other playwrights? (Whether they are famous or not.)

Are we all part of the theatrical community, whether we are David Hare or a playwright producing his own play in a 40 seat theater in Seattle?

Do we circle the wagons, or so we throw each other under the bus?

Scott Walters makes sense when he says the following:

Blogging has the potential to spread ideas beyond a small circle of friends and acquaintances to the theatre world as a whole. A playwright reading a serious discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of In Public might be able to strengthen the play he or she is working on right now. The same is true of a
discussion of directing, or designing. As theatre bloggers, we have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the development of other theatre artists, and I think one of the things we need to model is a rigorous form of critical thinking and self-assessment. I'm not talking the spilling of blood, I
am talking the granting of the ultimate artistic compliment: taking something seriously.

With the decline of Arts Coverage, even in the alternative weekly press, (our own Boston Phoenix now has the lead critic sandwiching three weekly reviews into one column,) can blogs actually be considered a replacement? Probably not. Can blogs provide the positive impact that Scott is talking about? It seems more likely.

I always remember Michael Lewis' great book Next; the Future Just Happened. He presented a picture of how many massive changes happened during the explosion of the Internet. However, we were kind of oblivious to these shifts because they happened so fast and we were all right in the middle of them.

My last post was really more akin to something one would put in a greeting card I guess. A nice memory of my wedding day.

Ten years ago, who would have thought I would be interactively sharing it with people from all over the world. And to go one further, who would have thought that one of the most successful playwrights of the past twenty years would take the time to make fun of it. (If, in fact, it is really him.)

No comments: