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A letter to the letter from the letter …

I got an email today from a patron who was disappointed by my email to Creative Loafing in regards to their story on Gorey Stories. This patron agreed with Mark Leib in his positive assessment of the production and performances as well as his negative assessment of the script and limited range of Mr. Gorey’s work.

I took the time to write this person back this morning, and I also copied the CreLo editor and Mark. I did this to continue to discourse on what I think to be an extremely important issue. So, I figure I may as well share:

Hi (Name Deleted),

You, like Mr. Leib, are fully entitled to your opinions. My point is ultimately that opinions are at best subjective, as is the whole realm of criticism. If he simply said it was a well art-directed show that he felt in the end was boring, I would have never written the letter. I’d never try to argue someone who says they didn’t like a show, or felt that any aspect was in need of improvement. Marty Clear of the St. Pete Times commented that some of the segments in the first act seemed to go on too long. I didn’t write the St. Pete Times.

My issue was his use of “you” and “we” and making broad, general statements as if everyone who attended the theater was of a collective mindset. That’s obviously not true. Saying simply that things “are” or “are not” or as I’ve seen in the past how things “should” be. This is a dangerous, even deadly form of criticism.

The night he attended the show, Oct. 18, was full of appreciative, noisy, engaged audience members. They were vocal during the pieces, very appreciative between and gave the show a standing ovation at the end. I was very disappointed he failed to mention that. I feel that’s also part of his job – to report the facts. He has told me that’s not his job, and I still disagree with him.

I hope you understand the line I’m drawing, and why I wrote. I feel he has has a history of this type of writing. For instance, it’s irresponsible and arrogant to say things like “You won’t find it funny” about a show that sells out to howling audiences every night to the point it has to be extended twice, brought back for a later engagement then traveled across the state. Had he said “I didn’t find it funny” it would have been another matter altogether. That show, A Girl’s Guide to Chaos was in NO WAY high art or the best thing we’ve ever done – but women truly enjoyed it and came to the theater in droves. We do a lot of styles of theater, from the extremely challenging and experimental to what can only be described as crowd-pleasing entertainments. This is how we survive, attract new people to the theater and remain relevant.

The previous is just one example in an almost nine-year history. I felt several comments in the Gorey article were also irresponsible.

This show may have more of an appeal to certain audiences. That’s fair. Some audiences have reacted far differently than others to the show, and some of that may have more to do with age, or familiarity with Mr. Gorey’s work, or an appreciation of the style or any other number of factors. Some audiences have been riotous in their appreciation, others much more reserved. Of course we’ve had some folks leave at intermission, but I’ve never directed a show or even been to one on Broadway that didn’t have some empty seats after intermission. See this page on our website for all of the unsolicited positive feedback via our website: https://jobsitetheater.org/goreystoriesmedia.htm

I know full well as a producer and artist that no one production is ever unilaterally agreed on, for good or bad. That’s part of the beauty and part of the enigma of what we do. Even our most “successful” shows have at times split the audience and critics. The Pillowman, which Mr. Lieb named a top 10 show of last year and made much of the actors in the show, drew a lot of complaints from audiences and more than a few walk-outs nightly during the performance. Depending on who you ask it may be the best or worst thing we’ve ever done.

Sometimes reviews like the one last week rally our base and actually rejuvenate interest in a show. For whatever reason (but thankfully) a negative review in any publication doesn’t typically negatively effect ticket sales. That has taught me that area audiences, even though their numbers could be better, are a bit more adventurous that many give them credit for. It would help our plight in trying to grow an audience and expose people to different types of theater if critics at least tried to point people towards product and not just dismiss a show because it isn’t their personal taste – particularly when you can take a look around a theater and see that it is in fact being enjoyed.

I tell a story about Amanda Henry at the Trib, who after seeing Dial M for Murder at American Stage had not a lot of great things to say about the show but acknowledged the full house of older patrons who perhaps were more in tune with the world of the play and thereby had a better appreciation for it than she. I thought that a very responsible thing to say. And helpful – to audiences and artists. She maintained her integrity and opinion at the same time.

Mark is probably the most book-knowledgeable theater critic in town. I don’t think there’s any debate there. There’s certainly no one on paper who is more qualified to be doing his job. I still think there are adjustments he could make in his style that would better serve local audiences and help get more folks into the theater. I certainly harbor no sort of ill will or hatred of him, though I’m sure some may doubt me when I say that as I’m known to write back to him and/or his editors at will. I think this dialogue is important for all of us, which is why I do it.

I’m sorry that your experience with us was less than perfect, but I truly hope you come back and see us again. We at Jobsite pride ourselves on our diversity in programming. Looking at how we started this season and move into Lee Blessing’s Eleemosynary to Mamet’s Boston Marriage then to Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead should be a testament to that.

I really do appreciate you taking the time to write me, and I hope I haven’t bored you to tears with my lengthy response. I take great pride in my work and the work of Jobsite and am very passionate about the state, development and future of theater in this area. I realize that simply by the fact that I am a director and producer commenting back at a critic that I’m going to be accused of just being defensive about my work, and this is surely why they tell you in school to never comment back to a critic. I think the discourse to be more important than anyone’s opinion of me, so I continue to point out what I feel to be wrong, irresponsible or otherwise harmful to what we do.

I think I have learned though not to use the online commenting feature, so that it forces me to actually write out a response and more carefully put my thoughts together than to just put text in a box and hit ‘submit.’

Best Regards,
David M. Jenkins
Producing Artistic Director
Jobsite Theater

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