The Continuing Saga of Critics vs. Bloggers, Tweeters

For at least three years, it has been discussed as to whether or not bloggers were making theater critics, and critic in general, obsolete. This is a topic that won’t die, like whether or not print journalism is dead. In fact, the discussion of the irrelevance of print and broadcast theater critics prompted me to discuss this topic in a crudely drawn comic last year.
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Do Critics Matter Today?

There’s recently been some discussion and complaining after John Simon remarked that bloggers are “the vermin of this society.” After attempting to write a post, I found that the best way I could discuss this was through a comic. As a result, I drew the following comic. Please remember: I don’t draw comics or cartoons, so this is a first for me.

I present, “Do Critics Matter Today?: A Cartoon”

Do Critics Matter Today? Page 1

"Do Critics Matter Today?" Page 2

(Click to enlarge)

Proof That I Don’t Have That Much Power Over Theater

A couple of years ago, I reviewed a production of Pippin and said something along the lines of that the actor playing Pippin couldn’t sing in tune and thought that yelling his lines was the equivalent of acting. (Although, I later said that actor did a good job in Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s Kiss Me, Kate.)

I found out that the actor that I said didn’t do that great of a job in that production got into Juilliard.

So, could everyone please stop acting like I have that much power over theater in Iowa? I’m just a blogger.

Throwing Rocks at “Birdie”

“…if you’re tone-deaf, then go with my blessing.”Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal

“The show is a candy-colored, poptastic hoot. Not that you’d know it from the boneheaded revival that crash-landed at the brand-new Henry Miller’s Theatre last night.”Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post

“‘Bye Bye Birdie’ has not been on Broadway since the original hit in 1960. And on the basis of the busy and boring revival chosen to open the new Henry Miller’s Theatre, the absence is easy to explain.”Linda Winer of Newsday

“‘Bye Bye Birdie’ may be the most painful example of misapplied talent on Broadway since the Roundabout’s production of “Hedda Gabler,” starring Mary-Louise Parker, last season.Ben Brantley

When the Roundabout Theatre Company announced that they were doing “Bye Bye Birdie,” my immediate thought was, “Why on earth would they want to do that show?”

After reading the reviews for “Bye Bye Birdie,” my immediate thought was, “Why on earth did they decide to do this? Other than that Todd Haimes wanted to do it.”

Michael Riedel Doesn’t Have Any Answers, But He Has Some Ideas

riedel

(You have no idea how long I have waited to use that picture.)

Tuesday, Matt Windman wrote on amNY’s website, “And Michael Riedel, if you’re reading this, get to work and figure out what the fuck happened.” Well, Riedel’s column doesn’t tell us really tell us what happened.

He does dismiss the “conflict of interest” explanation that the Tony Award management has given. The comp ticket theory isn’t really debunked. He writes,

Producers have long balked at having to shell out so many free tickets at Tony time. Eight hundred pairs of orchestra comps have a street value of about $225,000. Thin the voting ranks, and you save some money.

Besides, the press already gets freebies when the show opens. Why give them more?

And there are a lot of schnorrers on the press list.

“You wouldn’t believe how fast they have their hands out for their Tony tickets — and many of them want three or four tickets,” a publicist says.

At least this quote is suggesting that the cost issue is a very possible reason. He also writes that there are some members of the press list that only go to the major shows, but a lot of people that aren’t on the press list only go to the major shows.

After discussing these possible reasons for the dismissal, Riedel wrote this,

But in the end, the Tonys are run by and for the commercial theater. They’re marketing tools, and any hue and cry about “integrity” is beside the point. If the producers don’t want journalists around, well, it’s their party.

Which is not to say the press shouldn’t take its revenge.

I’m all for a down and dirty fight. Broadway’s a lot more fun to write about when there’s acrimony in the air.

First of all, I think anyone who reads Michael Riedel’s column somewhat regularly knows that he likes a down and dirty fight. It’s something to dish about. I can also, sadly, say that his column is much more interesting “when there’s acrimony in the air.”

So how should the critics fight back? Well, Riedel has four suggestions.

One is to not see the show at the press preview or on opening night. His reasoning is that a show might have several weeks of previews, but the producers still charge full price. What if the critics wait a couple of weeks, see the show and then file their review? Personally, I’m not so sure about this because there might be some artistically brilliant show that could suffer if there aren’t reviews hailing it. The big movie adaptions wouldn’t suffer because of a recognizable name if this happened. Yes, it’d be a great way to get revenge on the producers, but think of the artistically worthy plays that would suffer.

His second suggestion is to ignore the “crass commercial shows.” By this he means “9 to 5,” “Shrek,” “Legally Blond,” and, next season, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” This is something that I’m not as questioning of, but the producers for those shows probably don’t even care if critics like their shows. Those shows, again, sell by name recognition. Joe Schmo from Waverly, Iowa probably doesn’t care if Elisabeth Vincentelli thought the performances were stunning.

The third suggestion is for the press to ignore the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. I really don’t have any comment on this because I don’t think I have the place to discuss this.

The fourth suggestion is for the Drama Critics Circle Awards to be beefed up. This is because those awards recognize the shows that the critics that are members of the organization feel are the best shows of the season. I would like to see the Drama Desk Awards to get a better coverage and to see a better awareness of the Drama Critics Circle Awards. The Drama Desk Awards because it honors off-Broadway and Broadway productions, as does the Drama Critics Circle Awards. The Tony Awards only recognize the shows on Broadway and, as a result, ignore some great off-Broadway productions.

I think Michael Riedel might be trying to incite a revolution against the producers, or at least a firm reestablishing of the critics’ power in the theater.

A reestablishing of the power is what he seems to imply in the final sentences of his column:

It [the theatre press] still has platforms, it still has power.

It can put its boot on Broadway’s neck and break it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think that this is the major topic in theater that will keep evolving as time goes on.

A WHOLE NEW BALLOT GAME

Outrage!

TonyAward

I don’t even think that 24-hours have passed since this piece of news was announced and I already feel late to the discussion of this topic. That’s because Garrett Eisler at The Playgoer, Chris Caggiano at Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals and a couple of critics have tackled this before me.

The piece of news I am talking about is a decision the Tony Award Management committee made last night that would keep critics, journalists and editors from voting on the Tony Awards. According to the letter that members of the First Night Press List received, one of the factors was because, “certain publications and individual critics have historically pursued a policy of abstaining from voting on entertainment awards in general, to avoid any possible conflicts of interest in fulfilling their primary responsibilities as journalists.”

I don’t work in the theater or write about theater for a publication in New York, but the only publication that I know of that does not allow their critics to vote for any awards is the New York Times, which has had a policy barring all critics from voting on such awards from 1989-1996 and then from the 2002-2003 until now and possibly the end of time.

In her post on the New York Post’s Theater Blog, Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote, “If critics who don’t vote for this reason are such a problem, take them off the rolls then. But there’s a lot of us who dutifully attend all the shows and take our voting responsibilities seriously.” Vincentelli brings up a very good point because if there are critics on their roles that do fall under that category, they should be removed. Although, I would hope that the New York Times doesn’t have any writers on that list because they haven’t been allowed to vote for a few years now.

And the matter of attending all of the shows is a very important point. It’s well noted by people who follow theater news–or read Michael Riedel’s column on a regular basis–that several of the Tony Award voters don’t even make it to a large number of the shows that are in the season, none the less the shows that are then nominated. The members of this First Night Press List make it to most, if not all of the shows that open on Broadway that season. They actually see all of the shows! I don’t know if the issue of people who actually see the shows voting on the awards is a big issue for the Tony Awards management committee, although it should be.

And Vincentelli, Adam Feldman, who writes for Time Out New York and is President of the New York Drama Critics Circle, and Matt Windman of amNY all point out the critics actually vote for the shows that deserve to win. The remaining voters include actors, directors, playwrights, producers, theater owners, choreographers, designers and a few other groups. A producer is probably going to vote for their own show. I don’t think that critics hold grudges like people in the above categories. At least, I haven’t gotten that impression from critics and I don’t hold a grudge towards a certain theater. In their job critics have to be objective; I don’t see why they wouldn’t carry that objectivity into their voting.

This sudden irrational decision is mind boggling. Is this to attract more viewers? Because I don’t think that Sally from Readlyn, Iowa is going know who votes for the Tony Awards. How many people who do watch the Tony Awards know that the critics vote for them, other than me and other theater bloggers? Is this because everyone else that votes has a bone to pick with the critics?

But ultimately, what this decision comes down to, regardless of the reason that the committee came up with, is that this diminishes the credibility of the Tony Awards. And for those of you unaware, the Tony Awards have been losing their credibility over the years, notably this year when they had touring productions perform. By this decision, two things are accomplished. One, the Tony Awards will no longer be voted on by the people who would be the best and the most unbiased with deciding what represents the finest Broadway events. Two, the American Theater Wing now has the pat-on-the-back infomercial that, after this year’s telecast, the awards seemed determined to become.

Personally, I’m a bit annoyed about this because it seems irrational, not to mention there’s not a good reason given as to why this is occurring. There were about 800 Tony Award voters; the journalists, critics and editors made up 1/8 of that group. That’s 100 people who made it to several of the shows on Broadway; 100 people who voted without an agenda to support their own show. 1/8 might not seem like a large ratio, but 100 votes could be enough to reward a show of true artistic merit an award, as opposed to a big, splashy musical.

By the way, Windman provided readers with email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses to contact Tony Award Productions to show that you do not support the decision.