Thursday, October 05, 2006

(what would Don Hall do?)

How to respond to this...

Hey New England Theatre Producery Types out there: I have a really pressing question to ask you:can you stop making shit? Boston has thousands of fringe theatre companies out there, all with the same mission statement plastered boldly on the cover pages of their programs - to get us wee ones (65 and under)
into the theater. The problem is, we want theater that is relevant or at least entertaining. Not stuff that's so "avante garde" that it is actually meaningless or stuff that's too artsy to hold any water. And yet the shit keeps pouring out.

It goes on, and people are weighing in on the comments. I am going to say something that may be slightly controversial, but here it goes... this is refreshing.

Now, people have said I am wrong for giving Ms. Sherer any credit for her foul-mouthed reviews. ( She liberally peppers the f-bomb and s-bomb into her missives. )

Here is the thing though, this reviewer is receiving our marketing, reading our mission statements and going into the shows with expectations as high as we are making them. And I believe that she is trying to channel the actual, off-the-street audience member who may find themselves wandering into the BCA or the Devenaugh, or the Actors Workshop because they saw a flier or an ad. This is not neccessarily a bad thing for the theatre scene to have.

Would I want her to attend one of my shows? Good question. I guess because I am on a hiatus from producting anything right now it is easier for me to sit back and delude myself into thinking I would welcome it. "Bring it on!"-- so to speak. An the other hand, I wonder what Mr. Don Hall, the Angry Guy In Chicago would do. He more than likely would bar her from entering the theatre.

I would see his point, since the more experienced producer side of me knows from reading her reviews that she may be the type of critic who could haul off on you because she got no chicken in her pad thai before the show, or her umbrella broke in downpour that afternoon.

Somebody, (in talking about Ms. Sherer to me,) mentioned the Tricia Olszewski imbroglio in which a stringer theatre critic, who had a habit of consistently trashing productions, made comments on her personal blog that would indicate that she didn't like theatre in general. Olszewski was then pretty much forced to give up her post after local theatre producers vocally protested to the paper. This post from theatreboy is far more detailed.

Understandably, many critics, including our own Bill Marx, saw a sort of chilling effect in this event. After all, should theatre producers be able to force out a critic? My feelings, after reading many accounts (which included statements from Olszewski) were that Olszewski really didn't like theatre, and when pressed by her editors, she copped to that fact.

This isn't the case here, although I would say that Ms. Sherer has demonstrated that she has incredibly low tolerance and even hostility to avante garde work. But then again, this is the attitude of 98% of the theatre going public.

And I would agree that she should really dial down her outrage about shows she hasn't yet seen. It isn't civil, fair, or constructive.

That type of rhetoric would only be permissable in a column that is announcing her departure.


Anonymous said...

After reading about 75% of that back and forth between Jenna and her blog readers, I have just one question...

Who the fuck is Jenna S? And, why the fuck should I care?

While she may bring up a good point about challenging artists to be relevant to their intended audience, she totally negates the possiblity of me taking her as a serious member of the press with credibility by attacking lambasting a show she hasn't seen.

Not all 22 year olds are dumb, reactionary, or vaccuous (sp?) but this J.S. endangers herself as being just that by the tonality of her original post.

As a member of the press, if she wants to be taken seriously, she needs to temper her passion with accountability. Singling out a show or company in such a negative manner solely on PR or mission statements shows ...well I'm going to say it, a lack of maturity...a maturity that someone in her position in the press should display despite their age.

Being from points other than boston, I'm interested does she actually publish in ink the same way she reads on this blog? And if she does...where does she envision her career as a theatre journalist going after this?

Even her criticisms of mission statement shows a real lack of actionable knowledge about why most companies bother with mission that they can go 501c3 and become official non-profits.

Anonymous said...

Jenna displays a hostility toward theatre while claiming a desire for good theatre...

Personally, she has a place in the audience, but I dont think she has earned a position in the theatrical press.

YS said...

Hi Anon,

Jenna Sherer writes for a small independent weekly, the Weekly Dig, here in Boston.

They are an alternative press and very outspoken and opinionated.

She is not part of the Mainstream Press, or even the larger Alternative Paper, The Boston Phoenix. But the Dig is legitimate and is read by many people.

Frankly, you shouldn't care at all. Her influence over audience is minimal if anything. The reason that she raises the hackles of theatre folk here is that fringe companies have had a notoriously hard time getting any reviews at all in the past years. And here is somebody who finally comes to review them, and keeps lambasting them.

Yes, her reviews in print are written in the same style, complete with swears.

Where I will disagree with you though, is on her criticism of mission statements. If you are claiming that people make mission statements primarily to take advantage of 501c3 status, then you are actually agreeing with her. You both are basically saying the mission statements are bull. (For slighty different reasons, but close enough.)

Trey Graham said...

Two clarifications, if I may:

1) Olszewski didn't have "a habit of consistently trashing productions"; in fact she was often kind to shows that might have merited more scorn.

2) You may interpret the post on Theaterboy differently, but Olszewski says specifically and at some length that she does not dislike theater. In fact: "I don't dislike theater," she says, as directly as possible. "There are aspects of reviewing it that make me uncomfortable -- the social aspect of getting to know the people who run these companies ... and seeing them again and again even if I give them terrible reviews."

You may think Olszewski got what she deserved. But let's do take into account the possibility that she's a little shy, and simply wasn't comfortable wondering, every time she had to say hello to them, whether the people she was critiquing liked her personally. Some of us have the stomach for that; it's OK that others don't.

YS said...

Hi Trey,

Thank you for the clarification.

I really hope I didn't come off as thinking Tricia "got what she deserved." I do not think that at all, and I really don't think my post suggests that. There is big difference between saying that, and saying that outcome seemed, at least from all the coverage I read, (including yours,) to be acceptable to everybody.

That being said, I agree with people like Bill Marx who say that there is something chilling about the incident. There are aspects of it that seem unfair to Tricia, perhaps grinding axes were set in motion.

You are correct in clarifying that she didn't say she "disliked theater."

I will say though, after re-reading your post, I am still of the mind that she disliked reviewing theater. Whether it be because of shyness or any other reason.