I am rarely, if ever, the smartest person in the room, but I am pretty good at watching and learning from people who are much smarter than me. Here are a few things that I’ve picked up:
What I learned from Doric Wilson; Giving praise is always more needed and more appreciated than you think.
What I learned from Jason Bowcutt; Asking questions is sometimes more important than making statements.
What I learned from Akia; A good attitude and enthusiasm makes everything - and I mean everything - better and easier.
What I learned from Shakespeare; Speak the speech trippingly on the tongue and do not saw the air too much with your hand thus.
What I learned from Hillary Cohen; A few well chosen words can make sense of chaos.
What I learned from Lanford Wilson; Expressing sincere interest is always important and usually appreciated.
What I learned from Kenneth Washington; How to fish.
What I learned from Lucille Ball and Judith Malina; Don’t let the world define who you should be.
What I learned from Shaulynda Gines (my sister); Don’t take yourself too seriously. There is someone in your life who has seen you walk smack into a closed door or poke yourself in the eye or get squashed in a subway door. They will laugh their ass off at you and they'll tell you that your feet stink, but they still love you and you still love them.
What I learned from Martin Denton; Always try to see the intent and the effort behind the work.
What I learned from Adrian Giurgea; Don’t make threats. Make promises.
What I learned from Mary Poppins; Don’t make pie shell promises (promises that, like pie shells, are easily made and easily broken).
What I learned from Christopher Borg; Always wait until after you have eaten to send an angry email.
What I learned from Marilyn Holt; Always make life an adventure.
What I learned from Kirk Davis; Sometimes making the gesture is what is important.
What I learned from Amanda Feldman and Zipora Kaplan; Dedication and competence are very sexy qualities.
What I learned from the Dalai Lama; "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."
What I learned from Desmond Dutcher; Sometimes, it is right and just works.
What I learned from Paul Adams; Sometimes it takes everything you have and sometimes you have to be willing to go there.
What I learned from Simon de Pury; "Be bold. Be amazing."
What I learned from Rob Gines (my dad); When it comes to dealing with unwanted criticism, you have two options – prove them right or prove them wrong. Also, dads are awesome.
What I learned from Ellen Stewart; Saying what you believe is not always pretty, but it is always important.
What I learned from Nick Micozzi; Details matter and always demand the best from yourself and others.
What I learned from Nelson Mandela; Lead by example and be lead by your principles.
What I learned from Yoda; "Do, or do not. There is no try.
What I learned from Off-Off-Broadway; There is greatness all around us and miracles happen every day.
I don’t have a problem with bad reviews. The wonder that is the Internet has more than proved “You can’t please everybody”; just think of your favorite movie or book (or a notorious bestseller), then go on Amazon or Rotten Tomatoes. There will always, ALWAYS be some bad reviews of whatever it is. This has helped me to come to terms with my writing- I don’t write to please anyone but myself, and very often the things I like are things that other people like as well, and there will always be haters out there.
I do read reviews during the run of a play, since good reviews are often effective promotional tools when posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I can understand performers not reading them, as their performances are a nightly thing, and are therefore susceptible to the taint of criticism, but as a playwright/director my work should be pretty much finished before the lights come up on the show.
It’s nice to get good reviews, and disappointing when one gets bad ones; that’s a part of doing any art that is released to the public. The kind of review I can’t stand is one where the reviewer clearly didn’t pay attention to, or sometimes didn’t even understand the play. My play from 2008, Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants, was well-received, won some awards, got some excellent reviews (and is now published online at Indie Theater Now).
…And the play also got one absolutely terrible review, in which the reviewer claimed the material was in the style of Charles Busch (it was an homage to Charles Ludlam and said so in the program), made the belittling and homophobic assertion that the work was “more suited to a cabaret stage in a gay bar where this kind of camp is most welcome”, and that it was in the style of Restoration Comedy (it wasn’t, though a wig worn by one character was reminiscent of that); he got several details of the plot wrong, got many of the performers’ names wrong (both in spelling and in ascribing them to the characters they played), claimed that it was tasteless, meaningless, and had no message, and, worst of all, said that the play “isn’t even truly funny”. Fortunately this was in a lesser online publication that very few actually read, so we were able to pretty much ignore it- we didn’t even bother to send in corrections.
It’s this sort of misguided and uncaring review that is truly offensive. It was clear to me that the reviewer decided what the play was before he arrived and only saw what he expected. I will gladly listen to a bad review when the reviewer knows what he or she is talking about.
I hope this has been interesting for people. I hope to see more great theatre in the new year!
Hello there NYIT Readers! Very honored to be asked to be the final guest blogger of 2011! I thought it would be interesting to write about both being reviewed and reviewing, since I’m both a playwright and theatre reviewer.First up, reviewing.
First a little background: I’ve been writing theatre reviews for BroadwayWorld.com since 2007. I am one of several freelance New York reviewers for the site. I mainly handle off-off-Broadway, but have occasionally done off-Broadway. I don’t get paid for it (excepting the free theatre tickets, which are occasionally reward enough). I don’t do it consistently, since being a playwright is my primary focus; whenever a play of mine is being produced, I don’t review for months at a time. I was honored two years ago with 2nd Place in Stage and Cinema's New York City Theater Review Contest for my review of Banana Bag and Bodice’s Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage.
I think reviewing is an important skill that is too often undervalued in this day and age when anyone with a computer can spew their thoughts on anything all over the Internet simply by pressing a button. Without critical thinking and a concept of what theatre is or should be, these sort of message board “reviews” are pretty meaningless, and when anonymous, can easily become catty and spiteful. I take a lot of pride in the work I do; I think that I have a lot of knowledge about what makes theatre work, because I do it myself (and am part of a playwrights group which meets every week to critique each others’ work), and I try to use that knowledge in my reviews. I always go in hoping a show will be great.
It’s often been said, in many variations, that the three most important points to cover in a theatre review are: 1. What were they trying to do? 2. How well did they do it? 3. Was it worth doing? A lot of people lately will just skip to number 2, but I think it’s very important to examine the purpose of a piece of work- is it intended to make one laugh, make one think, make one cry, make one aware? Once the motivations of the creators (the playwright and director, usually) can be ascertained (if they can be), the work can be judged fairly on its merits for what it is. Then how well did they do it? (performer contributions get added into the mix here, as well as those technical aspects like set, lighting, sound, costumes…). Then finally was it worth it? Most often the answer is yes, though sometimes a qualified one.
I have seen and reviewed some absolutely jaw-droppingly amazing theatre, as well as some of the worst theatre of my life. It’s always easier to write the bad reviews, since critique lends itself to correction. Superlative reviews become monotonous, when there’s only so many ways one can write “fantastic” over and over (thesaurus.com is my best friend in these cases). But when writing a bad review, it’s hard to know when to put down the whip and stop flogging the poor thing. In the 4 years that I’ve been reviewing, I’ve grown a lot as a writer and critical thinker, and I always get something from every play I see, especially from the stinkers- there’s always something to learn from.
My contact information is freely available on the BroadwayWorld site, and people can comment on the review pages themselves. Occasionally a theatre artist will contact me, which is always very interesting. Sometimes it’s to thank me for saying something nice about them that they can put on their website, sometimes to complain about a perceived slight. I welcome sincere questions that can open a dialogue about the work, but I’m not always so lucky. One review of a NYMF show several years back ended up with the semi-famous composer attacking me in the comments section of my review (those comments seem to have been lost when the website was re-done to implement Facebook commenting) and through personal e-mails to the founder of BroadwayWorld demanding a retraction “and not a smarmy one at that”. A woman who’d written and starred in a one-person show that I’d criticized e-mailed to ask what I would have done differently- from her e-mail I honestly couldn’t tell if she was being sincere. I made the assumption that she was and gave her some pointers on exposition and how to make it seem more natural; never heard back from her. Several years ago, I made the mistake of referring to the size of an actor’s penis in unflattering terms- I fully admit that this was wrong, but it was in the middle of a rant about cognitive dissonance (saying something is one thing while it can be seen to be another), which was rife in the play, and I got caught up in my own cleverness. I retracted the statement, on the request of the press representative who’d invited me in the first place. I heard through the grapevine that the actor wanted to kick my ass; we’ve still never met. Mea culpa.
I don’t review shows that people I know more-than-just-socially are involved with, as I would find it hard to critique them honestly. Reviews can be an effective marketing tool if they're good, but obviously a biased review won't hold as much water. As I get to know and work with more and more theatre artists in New York, it’s getting difficult to find shows to review that don’t have someone I know in them. It’s an unusual problem to have- when I see someone give an amazing performance, I want to use them in my own work, but then after I’ve worked with them I really can’t review them again (and I myself can't get any reviews of my work from BroadwayWorld, since I know most of the reviewers personally). So perhaps sometime soon I will hang up my reviewer card, but for now, I'm having a great time; it’s been quite interesting and rewarding to get to see and think about so much theatre.In my next blog post later this week, I’ll be talking about reviews from the other side, as a playwright.
We are excited that this week's guest blogger is Duncan Pflaster.
Duncan Pflaster is the author of several plays, including the award-winning fantasies The Starship Astrov, The Thyme of the Season, Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants (all available to read on Indie Theatre Now),The Empress of Sex, Sweeter Dreams, Eternity: Time Without End, and The Tragedy of Dandelion, (staged reading coming in February 2012, part of MTWorks' NewBorn Festival) as well as The Wastes of Time, Suckers, Sleeping in Tomorrow, Admit Impediments, Six Silences In Three Movements, Dik and Jayne Are Not The Same, Amazing Daedalus, Eskimo, Wilder & Wilder, and Ore, or Or; in addition to a panoply of shorter pieces that have been seen in festivals all over the country. He is also an award-winning off-off-Broadway theatre reviewer for BroadwayWorld.com. www.duncanpflaster.com
Let’s close the theatres.All of them.Let’s close them down and see who notices.I’m betting that aside from the artists who create it and those who depend on it for a living, no one will really miss it.Tourists will find something else to spend their money on, something less risky and more rewarding I’m sure (but that’s another subject entirely) and aside from the few rich pensioners who fancy themselves die-hard theatre aficionados, who also, I remind you, will all be dead in the next few decades if not sooner…who’s going to notice?Who’s going to miss theatre?Especially Off-Off-Broadway theatre?Considering that off-Broadway is really just a smaller-seated version of Broadway, selling subscriptions (or trying to) instead of putting all of their eggs in one open-ended-run basket, and that only the wealthy, disposable-income consumer can afford the luxury of paying for a Broadway and off-Broadway ticket, what’s left to consider closing other than the $18 ticket price, 3-week run Off-Off-Broadway theatre?The only affordable theatre option for whoever actually wants to spend their money buying a ticket…let’s close it down.
Because…who actually does buy a ticket?Friends and family, and bless their hearts for without them there would be no Off-Off-Broadway scene to even imagine shutting down.Our F&F’s have been supportively schlepping themselves all over the city for ages because they love us.Do you think that they’d come if they didn’t?Is your theatre full of someone else’s F&F’s?No, aside from our support-group core, we have no audience.Sure, there are a few who straggle in and out of shows because they’re interested in a specialty topic (a show about vampires or sex), maybe even a few fans, but unless you’re a shameless panderer, you know everyone in your audience.If they’re not your F&F’s they’re the director’s or the designer’s or a fellow actor’s.That’s the simple truth.Other than our loyal supporters, no one is going to miss the Off-Off-Broadway scene.No one’s even going to notice.The best we can hope for is a footnote at nytheatre.com and then the insightful, good-natured souls there can focus squarely on guiding tourists to the most reliable distraction in the Distraction (theatre) District.
No, the average non-theatre-related person living in the city doesn’t need theatre.They don’t know theatre.Theatre isn’t a part of their lives.Take away their computer, they’ll notice.Take away their phone, they’ll notice.Take away their local cinema, their Internet connection, their flat screen TV, their mp3s, even their cheap ear-bud knockoff headphones, you bet they’ll notice.There’d be a riot.But take away the theatre company down the block?Whatever.American’s will pay through the nose for entertainment.They can do it in a click, be done with it and click again somewhere else, you’re doing it right now, in fact.Theatre isn’t an affordable commodity. It’s a luxury item.Even at $18 a ticket.And our culture has learned how not to need it.Instead, we’ve learned how to feel connected when we’re actually more isolated.No easy feat, but that’s where we’re at.
Feeling connected in spite of actually being more isolated.Spending more time with a screen than with flesh.And not even a screen with a group of strangers at a cinema, no…a screen at a little table in the corner of a coffee shop, a screen in a cubicle, a screen on your lap in bed.So much time, more and more every year, every day and every hour…alone with a screen.Is there any wonder why I do theatre?
Now more than ever theatre is necessary.Even if it’s only for our F&Fs, bless their patient, tweeting souls.Where else can we, as a society, get together and dream?
Grandpa always said, “Root hog or die.”We need to root more.Get down to the bone instead of dazzling some imaginary audience with our surface, exhausting our scant resources trying to get someone (who, critics?) to notice us.Are you working for critics?What do you need them for?Promotion?Validation?If you are you really should shut down, immediately.Die.Voluntarily, gracefully and without great note or fanfare: close down and never produce again.
Otherwise, that is, if you intend to keep producing, keep creating work for yourself and your beautiful F&Fs…root.Get down in the dirt and dig for your life.
We are very excited that next week's guest blogger will be Edward Elefterion.
Edward Elefterionis the Artistic Director of Rabbit Hole Ensemble, which he founded in 2005. Awards: Outstanding Director, New York Innovative Theatre Award 2008; Outstanding Direction, Midtown International Theatre Festival 2007. Nominated for Outstanding Choreography/Movement by the IT Awards in 2009. Recent work includes The Tale of Frankenstein’s Daughter; Doctor Frankenstein’s Magical Creature; The Tragic Story of Doctor Frankenstein; Before Your Very Eyes; Candide Americana (FringeNYC 2009); Shadow of Himself (world premiere by Neal Bell); Big Thick Rod (FringeNYC 2008); The Night of Nosferatu; A Rope in the Abyss; Land of the Undead; The Transformation of Doctor Jekyll (FringeNYC 2006); and The Siblings (MITF 2006). He directed the world premiere of Therese Raquin by Neal Bell in 1991 at New York University, and acclaimed productions In the Jungle of Cities, Macbeth, and The Misanthrope. He was a guest director at The Juilliard School in 1993 where he directed If She Screams by Stanton Wood. Memberships: Lincoln Center Directors Lab; New York Theatre Workshop's artistic community (The Usual Suspects.) Education: BFA from NYU's TISCH School of the Arts; MFA from Indiana University. He has taught various classes (Biomechanics, Acting, Directing, Movement, Characterization, Theatre History) at Hofstra University for the past 11 years.
We expected nothing less and you did not disappoint.
Thank you OOB for your candor, insight, thoughtful responses, passion and willingness to share it all with us.
You gave us a lot to think about. You helped clear up some complicated issues, gave us greater insight into others and provided some invaluable feedback.
We are humbled that you took the time to help us improve and become a stronger organization.
We will carefully review all of your comments, discuss them with our staff and board and take all of it into consideration when making some important decisions.
As we mentioned we will use your feedback to help prioritize changes, developments and improvements to our system. Some ideas raised here may help us make adjustments as early as next season (starting in June 2012). Some ideas may require further elaboration and development and/or infrastructure changes in order to be addressed. And some feedback we will simply not be able to address in a way that makes everyone happy, especially in a community as large and wonderfully diverse as ours.
These posts will continue to stay active. So if you think of something next week or next month, please post it. We’ll see it. Or you can always contact us directly through our site.
When we launched on Summer Solstice 2004, our awesome volunteer staff wore T-shirts that said, “Off-Off-Broadway is Innovative Theatre.” It’s sort of been our unofficial motto ever since.
David Crespy, author of The Off-Off-Broadway Explosion, said, "Off-Off-Broadway is a theater where even on the barest of stages and usually on a shoestring budget, a poverty of means fuels an explosion of imagination." We believe in that spirit and the amazing work that is being created by this community.
Whether you call yourself Indie Theatre or Independent Theatre or Off-Off-Broadway theatre, you’re our kind of people. If you are a brand spankin' new company or one that has been around for 50 years, it does not matter to us. Whether you are a non-profit organization or a commercial entity or something in between, we couldn't care less. Whether you are dedicated to new works or established classics, it’s all good. If you are all about the ensemble and collaboration, fantastic! If you are really into solo works and hearing the single voice, awesome! If you only do clown work, super! If you totally love realistic modern dramas, cool! If you dig Grand Guignol, love it! If stage combat is your thing or sci-fi or musicals or Chekhov or one-acts or personal stories or state-of-the-art performance technology or two guys sitting on stools sharing a lollypop and talking about family... we're in.
The New York Innovative Theatre Awards celebrates Off-Off-Broadway.
Thank you again for participating in the virtual town hall. We sincerely appreciate all of the comments.
We are wishing you all happy holidays and a kick-ass New Year filled with sold-out performances and glowing reviews.
Also remember that if you're heading online to shop Amazon, start at the nyitawards.com/shop, and the we get a free donation from Amazon. It doesn't cost you a cent, but we'll get "referral fees" that really add up for us. So please, if you're going to buy gifts at Amazon this year, FIRST go to nyitawards.com/shop and use our Amazon search box.
Give Letters from Santa this Christmas!
You can have Santa send a personalized -- even hand-written -- letter to your kids, postmarked from the North Pole and addressed to each child individually. Just fill out a parental form with details at NorthPoleDispatch.com, and Santa will respond with a note recognizing good behavior and achievements, and encouraging improvement, along with a little anecdote from life at the North Pole. $5 typeset / $10 handwritten - order by December 16th for delivery by the 24th.
We want to thank everyone who has contributed to the conversation so far this week.
Today is our Grab Bag Day. The last three days of our virtual town hall were dedicated to specific topics that we've had a great deal of feedback about. Today we open it up to hear about other ideas and suggestions that you might have.