I read this first thing this morning, which was hardly how I wanted to start my day.
‘Great Books’ needs a rewrite
Now, before I go any further, I like Marty a lot. He’s a great guy, who really cares about the arts in this area. Anyone who’s been here for a stretch of time can attest to that. Music, dance, visual art, theater – he’s a supporter.
This review (and to be wholly fair, the review of the same play when it was produced at American Stage) is just downright MAD.
So, below is what I sent Marty. If I put the good up here to brag, I have to put the bad – right?
I guess I’m just baffled by the outright anger…
I expected in advance that the review for All the Great Books (abridged) would not to be stellar, by any stretch, as you’ve not liked our previous efforts in The Bible or America. I said as much directly to you before you came, just because I felt very strongly that the play deserved a look. You’ve not found fault with our performances or our production in any of the (abridged) reviews, including this one, but have never been able to get past the scripts. By your own admission you’re not a fan of the genre, and I’ve always respected that. I don’t like opera or the Grateful Dead. We all have our tastes
What I really find odd is the outright anger you write with in regards to not only our production, but the production at American Stage. You seemed highly offended on a personal level by a light night out, and I just don’t get it.
What’s more troubling is that in your review you’re blaming producers for the state of audience development because we produce work like this. I’ve told you before that producing these shows has kept us in a financial position to be able to produce shows like The Pillowman, or plays by Mamet, Rabe, Albee or Churchill. Why? Because these shows almost always consistently outsell everything else we produce. People like them. We enjoy the loose format and the casual nature of the shows that keep people coming back again and again. In short – they’re fun for everyone. I feel even more validated in my position here because both Jobsite and American Stage chose to produce the play in the same season, two months apart, and we both felt confident we could do the business we needed to do with them. If we felt as strongly about running concurrent productions of A View from the Bridge, we’d probably do that, too.
Jobsite is almost exclusively reliant on ticket sales. Artistic philosophy aside, we have to ensure that our season can pay for itself from sales.
We truly hope, little by little, that these people that only come see us for a show like Books decide to branch out on their own and try new things. That they get to know some of us personally, or become a fan of any one of us enough that it makes them get a ticket to something else. That they becomes season ticket holders. But we have to meet a developing audience in the middle. We can’t simply throw a play down on the table and say “Hey! This is Strindberg, you’re going to watch it and like it because it’s important, you cretin!” We find that a play can win a Pulitzer, Obie, Tony or Nobel and that’s not going to guarantee sales in Tampa. We are not New York, we are not Chicago, LA or Seattle.
In any city though, sometimes people just want to turn off and go laugh somewhere. We feel like we provide a great outlet for that in our late-night shows. We’ve never kidded ourselves that it’s high art. Then again, After The Pillowman and The Serpent – we were all eager to goof off an have some laughs.
We’re not denying other material from our season in order to do a show like Books. In fact, we’re doing shows like this (or like other late night efforts like A Girl’s Guide to Chaos or Phyro-Giants!) during a late-night slot prone to get a far younger crowd in the theater – which is actual audience development work – while still keeping the “prime time” slot open for new important work by Neil LaBute or Suzan-Lori Parks.
I challenge you to tell me why, if the plays are so downright horrible, that people come out in such force to see them. The audience you were in was full and they were enjoying themselves. You can’t deny that, even if you never addressed it in your review. You make it sound, from the “lousy” jokes to the “unanimously reviled” audience participation that it’s simply a miserable time for everyone involved and that’s just one person’s opinion. The show is hardly a “slap in the face” to anyone. That sort of writing hurts us and the community as a whole.
I typically find you separate your opinion quite objectively in your reviews. You make your tastes and predilections known usually, and often make note when something isn’t your thing that there’s still an audience for whatever it is you’re discussing. I am troubled to see so many opinions formed as hard fact. It’s deceptive, unfair and plain inaccurate.
I suppose I just don’t understand why you’re so angry about such a silly, light and user-friendly piece of theater.