Thursday, September 9, 2010

the return of sketch-of-the-day

or, how I alienated myself from the other Cub Scout parents.Last night, I attended a parents meeting Cub Scouts. My older son, Ross has been in Cub Scouts for three years, heading into his fourth. Jack is excited to start. Me? I'm a little bit to cynical for most of it, and find some of it to be busy work that, but the kids seem to generally like it. And I like building cars with them to compete in the pine wood derby.

Anyhow, the purpose of this meeting was to split the new kids up into dens, and to attempt to cajole a parent or two into taking on the five-year commitment of being a the den leader. So we all sat around and tried not to make eye contact with the Pack leader. I started to doodle, and eventually the drawing above started to form.

I began to rather obsessively work it, adding on ink in an almost sculptural manner. It's not perfect. I didn't have my preferred drawing tools, and the paper wasn't ideal. But I sort of like it.

The parents seated near me seemed to be pretty okay with it when I declined to take on the role of den leader.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A review of a review...

A "reviewer" of local plays (read: Guy With a Blog) took it upon himself to review the show I've directed (To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday), and man-oh-man was he offended that we--the community theatre company, the actors, the stagehands, the playwright--forced him to sit through it. Am I upset about a negative review? Not really. I went to art school. I've had numerous paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints critiqued, slammed and praised by qualified professionals whose work I admired as well as by curmudgeons whose best work was long behind them and by fellow students who had very little discernible talent. You have to develop a thick skin, and an ability to accept a critique for what it is -- an opinion -- and if possible, see your work through the eyes of others and use that information (if it's actually useful) to make better work in the future. So a negative review doesn't bother me all that much. But what does bother me is an intentionally snarky review with an agenda, and one that does not take into account the context in which the show is done.

The aforementioned reviewer (GWaB) claims that his intent is to fight "the perception that local/suburban theatre is not as good as 'Chicago' theatre." He intends to achieve this objective in part by warning people about those shows that he feels are not worth the price of admission, because "there's no one out there telling people what shows are worth the personal investment of money and time, and which ones are not." Thank god for blogspot, because otherwise, I would assume he'd have to stand out on the Eisenhower Expressway with a sandwich board, to prevent all those city commuters from coming out to the 'burbs in the event there might be a show that GWaB feel is not up to his mathematical standards.

GWaB has been heavily involved in local theatre for many years, including acting and directing at the very theatre at which my play is running. Might there be a conflict of interest? Not so, says GWaB, for he has disassociated himself from any theatre organization of which he may have been a member and has retired from stage work and directing. He apparently did so last week, when the last show he was in (at another local theatre) closed.

Since I have additional inside information, I should also disclose that GWaB's mission appears to have been inspired specifically because the theatre that's putting on my show doesn't make it a practice to post links to negative reviews of its shows.

Last year, I acted in a show that received an overly harsh review from one of the only sources for reviews of non-City theatre (another GWaB, but I won't call him that, because frankly, it will get confusing). The theatre's publicity staff chose not to post a link. GWaB was incensed. How dare we post only the positive review and not post the negative one? (Why the fuck would we?) Fast forward about 10 months or so, and that same reviewer came out to see our show. He doesn't like the script. He doesn't like our show. Okay. Fair enough. We're not going to link to it. GWaB sent an email to our publicity staff as well as to the webmaster email wondering why we don't. Since I used to be the webmaster for that theatre's web site, and since I've been too lazy to remove the auto-forwarding that sends me those emails, I saw the message. I responded to explain to GWaB that we are not attempting to suppress negative reviews, but we won't promote them. Like with movie posters and commercials. If Peter Travers from Rolling Stone likes your film, you're going to put his name and quote in your ad. If he doesn't, you won't. I would expect that he'd understand this. And his response to my email seemed to me that he conceded it was a valid point. Shortly after, he announced his blog and his intention of making his review of my show his first one.

I am in no way attempting to draw any sort of conclusion about any sort of personal beef between GWaB and myself, since I was first made aware of his weird obsession with getting the "truth" out there around a show I was in, and it comes full circle with his review of my show. At least I don't think it's personal. He was actually personally kind to me regarding that other show.

Enough exposition.

Does GWaB raise any valid points in his criticism? Some. When you get past all the snark and attitude, there is a kernel or two in there that might be useful information, should I choose to direct another show.

And he points out a rather major blunder on my part that had nothing to do with my directing abilities. Something that upon reading it, I was pretty embarrassed about. In my director's note in the program, I opened with the following:

Thank you for coming to see To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday. Like many, I was unfamiliar with this play when it was suggested as one of the possibilities for this season. I had seen the 1996 film version featuring Peter Gallagher and Michelle Pfieffer, and hadn't loved it. But when I read the script, I was interested to see that what didn't work so well in film could work differently on stage. I began to understand why this script was awarded the Oppenheimer Award for best play in 1983. And like you, I took a chance on a little known play.

The publisher of the play touts it as the "Oppenheimer Award Winner." It's been all over the press releases written about this show. Like GWaB, I hadn't heard of the Oppenheimer Award. Unlike GWaB, I didn't look it up. It seems that the Oppenheimer award isn't really all that prestigious. It is an actual award. But not in the same league as, say, the Pulitzer Prize. Okay, GWaB. You got me. I should have done my homework, or at the very least, just removed any reference to an award I knew nothing about. IN MY DIRECTOR'S NOTE.

GWaB spends three paragraphs on this. About 1/3 of his review was written before the play began, as he gleefully mocks the Oppenheimer Award and any reference to it. And then he goes on to rip the script and our production apart.

As a director, I know that ultimately, whatever ends up on stage is my responsibility. Do I acknowledge that I have put up on stage an imperfect work? Absolutely. I knew from the beginning that the production would have flaws. How do I dare put something before an audience with which I am not 100% satisfied? Almost no work of art - painting, film, music, theatre - is perfect. In all my endeavors, I set my bar very high. In art school, I never judged myself against my peers, but rather against the work of the great masters. Did I ever get there? No. I didn't. But I continue to try. I do the same with my theatrical endeavors. However, if I refused to act in a show because I can't do it like Sir Lawrence Olivier, or direct a show like Harold Prince, I would never grow as an artist. And that's why I continue to do it.

Both GWaB and the other reviewer who didn't like the show point out some very valid flaws in the script. Note that there are some people who absolutely LOVE this script. I am not one of them. I think there are some very nice moments in the script, but my tastes run to the macabre and the twisted. This show isn't that. And the general critique that the answers the script provides regarding love, loss and life are too pat is valid. This is a "nice" little show. It isn't one of our great American plays and I would be surprised if it is still being done 100 years from now.

GWaB makes a valid criticism when he says that HE FEELS that our production does not rise above or overcome the weaknesses inherent in the script. That's useful criticism: someone who saw our show wasn't dazzled enough by our collective skills to not notice that the script is imperfect. But when valid criticism is wrapped with the sort of glee evident in GWaB's "review," it loses it's ability to construct, and instead tears down.

The point that GWaB misses entirely is that we are engaged in "community theatre." I do theatre because I love it and enjoy it. I have SOME training, both in acting and directing, but I am not a professional. And this show is not presented as a professional production. The actors in the show all have varying backgrounds, skill and experience levels. We all behave as professionally as we can, and attempt to deliver the most professional product of which we are capable. Each actor in the show is giving what he/she has, to his/her level of ability. And I'm directing to my ability. Throughout I have seen enormous growth from those with less experience. There are people on that stage that are stretching beyond their comfort zones. GWaB would say, I think, that the audience doesn't care about that stuff. But I care. I'm very pleased with the work these actors have done.

Now that the show has been running for three weeks, and I've been able to sit back and watch it as an audience member several times, there are probably some things I would change. I'm not surprised by this. It happens in all my artistic endeavors. I critique my own work, too. I always have. But I'm not embarrassed about the work we did, and the show we have, warts and all.

GWaB ends his "review" by putting a price sticker on what he feels the show is worth. His whole hook is "is the show worth the price of admission?". In his intro to his blog, GWaB states that he's putting "his" price on the ticket because... you know... for your $18 you can get a lot of DVD rentals from the Redbox (ignoring fully the economies of producing a show, of which GWaB is fully aware). But GWaB gives the show an arbitrary price tag, with no indication of how he got to that price. I think it's fair to suggest that a show is, or isn't the price of admission, but to put an arbitrary price tag on it just ads to the overall snarkiness evident throughout.

I wish GWaB had liked our show. I really do. I want everyone to like it. But that's how it goes. Many people have liked the show. Some have not. On the other hand, GWaB took it upon himself to target our production as his virgin review. He suggests that people should ask him to come review their shows. He'll do it on his dime. Bully for him. We did not extend a personal invitation to him. Not because I was afraid of what he might say, but because had my suspicions of how he'd say it.