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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.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Quixotic Coverage?

I've got no beef with Alexis Soloski, who seems to rock quite a bit from afar.

But I have to say, this seems a little dismissive. How "quixotic" is nytheatre.com's coverage if they do, in fact, review every show in the Fringe? And have for several years?

Also there is the line: "typically, they enjoy lots" which, to me, seems like a good old fashioned bit of condescension.

Now, full disclosure: Martin Denton has been a good friend to me. He's published me and reviewed my stuff, so I'm not Captain Objectivity. I even review for the site on occasion.

But it does seem that 1) all media comes with a declared or undeclared point of view and 2) nytheatre.com does a whole lot more good for the artists themselves than most media outlets in NYC. If the reviews on the site skew more positively than they do in most places, frankly, I'm fine with that. There is a belief, I think, that giving something the benefit of the doubt, or not speaking from a place of critical authority (or cruelty, frankly) makes the opinion of a reviewer less valid than a critic that finds flaws in the details.

That certainly doesn't do much for me. I think there's validity and merit in all sorts of perspectives.

Could be I'm overreacting...?

18 comments:

david said...

The Village Voice sucks, Matt. It's irrelevant, and filled with condescending voices (like this lady) who don't realize no one is listening. Feingold is occasionally interesting, and Nat Hentoff is usually worth reading. Otherwise, it's what you pick up when you're at the bagel place and you forgot your book.

Mac said...

I've gotten both huge raves and horrible pans from NYTheatre, and I still think what they do is phenomenal. You're right, the use of "quixotic" there is just maddening.

Jamespeak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jamespeak said...

No, you're not overreacting. Although I'm far from Mr. Objective as well when it comes to Martin and NYTheatre.com, I don’t find it surprising that The Village Voice, which offers…let’s just face it…useless theatre coverage (does anyone really even try to get reviewed by this paper?), wants to shit on a site that wants to offer as much coverage as possible. It’s also insulting.

Considering that the Voice was created and formerly headed by Normal Mailer and has since degraded into such hidebound mediocrity, I’ve been a bit…underwhelmed…by the paper of late.

Zack said...

It is condescending. Especially from a publication who takes advertising dollars from Fringe shows and then in turn shits on the very festival instead of reviewing it. That's interesting you're fine with Fringe shows giving you their money for advertising but you're too cool to review them. Come on!

The New York Times also did it's typical job of ignoring, and poo-pooing the Fringe because it isn't in all five boroughs. That's like "The Scotsman" ignoring the Edinburgh Fringe.

Does the Fringe need improving? Sure. But a lot of festivals do. It's amazing what Elena and her team are able to accomplish each year with such a small staff. Show a little respect NY Media!!!

And none of these publications, should be attacking nytheatre.com for outclassing them. They should just "man-up" and try to keep up with the pace Martin has set for them.

John said...

look, i'm no fan of the fringe. i worked the fringe for years, as a volunteer, reviewer for the defunct review rag propaganda, and as an actor.

the fringe is a giant, gawdy, slightly desperate, pyramid scheme.

but denton does a real service: every theater group that gets lost in the marketing orgy that is the fringe gets some attention paid. attention in the form of a review written by some excellent writers, some mediocre writers, but for the most part, writers who are sincere in their love of theater. they get to go back home with proof that they existed on a stage, in the armpit that is new york city in august.

and it is quixotic, matt.

saying that every itty bitty, ephemeral off off off show matters, giving off off off plays the same word count in a review as a broadway show, claiming that this art is of any consequence in the hurly burly of gotham city is a little quixotic. which is to say, romantic.

don quixote had a touch of madness, senility perhaps, and he pined for a world of chivalry.

look at martin's archive. my god, all that art, documented. he's a little mad. and he pines for a world where such art is important, sustaining, vibrant, a reason to live.

i like that world, a little.

devore said...

oops, that last post was me. devore. i hate the name john. that's a name for toilets, gospels, and men who frequent hookers.

Mac said...

I, in contrat to Devore, like that world a lot.

david d. said...

The idea of reviewing every show in the Fringe Festival *is* Quixotic.

ACTUALLY getting every show in the Fringe Festival reviewed- Planning, building the volunteer staff, coordinating who reviews what, arranging the tickets, editing and posting the reviews in a manner that is user-friendly, easy to browse and provides all sorts of venue information to a would-be audience member? That is a LOT of hard work. And that is what NYTheatre.com has succeeded in doing for years and Martin and Rochelle should be commended for it.

Writing a snarky comment on the Voice website to somehow excuse your newspaper for NOT reviewing many shows? Well, I suspect that is very , very easy. And that is what should be treated dismissively. Leave it to the "Alternative" downtown newspaper to just go where certain press agents tell them and generally not give a shit. And then sort of boast about not bothering. Well, points for cynicism at least, though I won't say what kind of points.

For what it is worth for disclosure, I- like Matt and others commenting- am very positive about the work that NYTheatre does and I did review two shows for the Fringe this year. For what it is worth regarding whatsernames allegation of bias, both of my reviews ended up being about the fact that the shows I saw were mixed bags at best. And Martin gave no resistance to that opinion, no nudge towards some supposed editorial bent. So her faux-surprise that NYTheatre is bound to have "liked lots" is probably neither supported by averaging out the actual reviews, nor does it show the kind of outlook a person who reviews theatre as a profession as I imagine she does should probably have about the Fringe. But, hey, facts take work and I guess that's not her bag.

I had to laugh at David's summation of when a man finds himself reading the Voice these days. I know that's true for me. When I first moved to New York, I dutifully read the Voice every day, assuming that it would be the equivalent of the Boston Phoenix for covering theatre, music and the arts. Heck, I'm sure I expected it would be BETTER, I mean, The Village Voice, right? There's even a lyric in Rent about it!

But I think that enthusiasm lasted a month or two, since it didn't compare. And, hey, I love Boston.. but when you're a New York City free weekly and your theatre coverage doesn't compare to Boston's free weekly, then something is wrong.

Well, hopefully the good of her linking to NYTheatre on her website is that some Voice readers will find a place with exponentially more content, listings and venue information than the Voice site.

Freeman said...

I guess I could see the term Quixotic used to describe nytheatre.com's reviewing of every show a few years ago. At this point, it's just a fact.

Perhaps it's idealistic. But I don't see it as Quixotic, because it deals well within the possible.

Jamespeak said...

What also really gets me is that, rather than look at what Martin is doing—which is Raising The Bar (and by Raising The Bar I mean going above and beyond in terms of offering comprehensive coverage that no print paper with a larger budget and staff could even fathom doing)—and consider stepping up, the Voice prefers to condescendingly mock.

In other words: “Wow. An independent Web site is doing all that. Should we try to compete? Nah. Let’s just dismiss and make fun.”

Kim W. said...

Wait. The Voice dismisses nytheatre.com because "most of its reviews are positive"?

Well, most of the VOICE'S reviews are negative. Maybe we're just trying to balance them out. (snicker)

rr said...

Wait. I bought an ad in the Voice. And I saw it in the paper as I ate a bagel.

I've written for nytheatre.com for years and I got a bad (to put it nicely) review from them for my recent fringe show. And even though I disagree with the review, it was the reviewer's report back of what he saw. That is what Martin has always encouraged-- he doesn't take on reviewers for the size of their thesauraus, but rather for their passion for the theater.

And with the recent additions of indietheater.org and all the podcasts, (not to mention the books!) I would say that he has single-handedly (well, with Rochelle's hands, too) furthered the dialogue between artists and audiences (and artists and artists) than any arts section available in print.

But I do love the word Quixotic... maybe she could use it in a theater review some time...

Ian G. said...

But is it pronounced "Quicks-otic", or the Spanish way, "Key-o-tic"?

David F. said...

I am certainly biased, myself, but wanted to chime in with a thanks to those who have posted. It really is extraordinary what Martin and Rochelle have accomplished in ten years. And their future plans are also awesome. Martin is one of the only true inheritors of the Elliot Norton school of theatrical criticism, specifically, that reviewing is first and formost just one person's Opinion, and, positive or negative, there should always be an underlying love for Theatre itself.

Anonymous said...

Martin Denton and the reviews on nytheatre.com are totally quixotic. And that is fine. I understand that Martin is the champion of off-off-broadway and I read his reviews with that in mind. And why is quixotic such a bad descriptor? Isn't the etymolgy based on Don Quixote? And everyone loves Quixote and his lofty ideals.
As for the fringe, I'd say 90 percent of the shows are dreck, so I am appreciative for nytheatre.com's comprehensive coverage. I only go to a show if it gets a rave. Anything short of a rave is usually not worth my time.

Freeman said...

Hey crew -

I'd like to add a couple of thoughts here:

1) The reason I took exception to Quixotic is because it implies, to me anyway, that what's being done is sort of fanciful or based on some sort of illusion. It's not synonymous with idealistic to me. If I referred to the Progressive Movement in this country as politically "Quixotic" that wouldn't be a compliment, for example.

2) I really don't think the term quixotic was intended as a slight, or at least a conscious one, by the Voice.

3) I think the "typically, they enjoy lots" line was a bit more punchy to me.

Anonymous said...

How funny. I just saw this. Months too late. I, too, respect what Martin does and fell that reviewing absolutely everything in NYC (the Fringe being a tip of the iceberg) is absolutely and undeniably quixotic, and admirable. It's of citizen journalism, which I do think is somewhat different to what those of use in the MSM do, but an important part of the whole media culture. And he and his reviewers are more enthusiastic about shows than we at the Voice, or Time Out, The New York Times, The New Yorker, etc. They do tend to like more. Not necessarily criticism, but easily verified observation. --Alexis