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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Can't Stop the Signal

Isaac brings up an important question about the identity of the blogosphere and the difficulty of open criticism here.

The fact is, blogging creates community, it creates awareness and, hopefully, stimulates conversation. It is, though, still teetering between (at least in the theatrical blogosphere) a message board on steriods and "new media."

We can't go backwards... this new and immediate media is here, along with it's off-line chatter and personalities. We're often quite open in criticizing culture and politics and other theatre artists. We are, though, challenged to find ways of discussing one another's work without fear of breaking some sort of code.

I know, for example, that The Most Wonderful Love got nothing but friendly responses on the blogosphere, but that, in truth, many of my colleagues had mixed feelings about it (length, structure, pace, what-have-you). Maybe in the thrill of a production, it would have been hard to hear tough talk about it. But there is a difference between criticism and comment or discussion.

One wonderful opportunity here is that there are many smart artists on this medium, and audiences, who have a new opportunity to engage with one another about the work in an active and immediate way. To talk about it (not judge it) and really enjoy the sort of spirited defenses and statements that come BEST from actual plays, not esoterica. Of course, when real productions happen, we almost all, on the blogosphere, immediately move into polite back-slapping.

So... since we can't stop the flow of information...I am interested in what bloggers and readers think is the best direction to consider. For example, should we:

1. Accept the inevitable awkwardness of discussing the work of peers, and simply avoid the issue as best we can?
2. Support one another online, and leave doubts or quibbles for private conversation.
3. Air all critiques with aplomb, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead?
4. Come up with some ground rules that work for us... only respond when a response is asked for...

I'll say that I think criticizing others is generally NOT what we need to be doing. I think there can be a difference between responding honestly to someone's play, and not approaching like a reviewer and thinking of it in terms of approval.

What do you think?


Zack Calhoon said...

I believe in keeping those conversations for the bars after the show or over coffee after the show has closed.

I definitely do like the questioning of this mode of discourse however. Definite food for thought.

Erica said...

I think there is a place for both critical analysis, support and discussion in the blogoshpere. However - Personally, as I am involved with a small community, I try to be as supportive as possible and offer suggestions only when asked. So #4 would be it.

Anonymous said...

Since you asked, you bloggers...

I don't think there's any reason to critique each other's work via blogs. You oughta limit discussion to date, time, venue, and ticket price. In other words, just promote the shows. If the criticism is really going to be sincere and constructive, it's best done in person. On the web, it's very tempting and just too easy to savage a piece or lie about it.

On the other hand, if you want to really trash the plays you hate--and I know you do--then do it the old-fashioned way: anonymously (and in verse). I hear the Internet is a great place to conceal your identity.

Joshua James said...

Folks can blog however they wish - but most of us, though we may review a show from time to time, are not professional critics - therefore we under no obligation to act like one -

What I like about the blogs is the fact that we get to dialogue about the work - the playwright / director community isn't as large as the acting community, so we don't often get to communicate about issues that directly affect us. The blogshere is ideal for that.

Dialoguing about the work is what's best, even if we don't all agree.

Shoot, we probably all have different tastes, but if we can support each other's efforts (which is different than supporting each other's work, in my mind) than we're making strides toward creating a new language for those of our kind - it's not about whether or not I liked George's latest show, (which I did) but whether or not I respect George's efforts in this field.

The dialogue must be respectful - otherwise no one listens (as evidenced by the last Scott Walter's fracas). It doesn't always mean we'll be happy with each other, much less agree, but if can can dialogue about theatre respectfully, we've done something cool in creating a diverse community committed to one thing. Good theatre.

Just my thoughts. I tried posting it on Isaac's site, but for some reason it wasn't letting me post over there.

Anonymous said...

I am an artist myself and I personally do not feel comfortable criticizing other artists in a public sphere. If we go out to a bar, I will rail over drinks about playwrights (2 come to mind) that I think are harmful to theatre or I will tell whoever is asking what i thought worked or didn't in his/her last piece, but I don't feel good about putting that negativity out in a public way. partially i think we are all trying to do something and pointing out where (I think ) someone is failing is rarely helpful and also is completely subjective. So even artists whose work I hate are people trying to do something and usually have good intentions, unlike president Bush who has no good intentions and who I will criticize publicly as often as possible.

Anonymous said...

I hate President Bush too. And I heard Dick Cheney on NPR this morning. He's the worst lying evil sonovabitch in the whole world. He's America's Slobodan Milosevic.

And Michelle Malkin is a total bitch.

Scott Walters said...

I left this comment on Isaac's blog: "I think the theatre blogsphere has been relentlessly critical of the ideas of other people. We don't back away from saying that somebody's post is dumb as hell, and doing it in graphic and bloody detail. So my question: why does the theatre blogosphere tiptoe around theatre itself? Isn't there something contradictory about that? Do we feel that plays are just too delicate to handle criticism? Do we feel that ideas as somehow fair game and stronger, but productions are sacrosanct? Do we give more respect to the egos of artists than of thinkers? If so, why?"

There is something really weird about the lines we draw between people's ideas and their work -- as if the two were separable. We may not be professional critics, but most of us are not professional aestheticians and that doesn't stop us from having opinions about aesthetics. A community requires honesty.

That said, I never comment on a play while it is running. After it closes, it is fair game.