Don’t you love it when theatre companies make stuff up and it unravels on Facebook? Here’s a recent example:
Email I received from Undermain’s Press Director Dana Cobb on 3/10, re: press seats for 3/22 opening of We Are Proud to Present…: “Undermain Theatre strives to make as many performances accessible for reviewing press. Due to growing local press corps, we have adjusted ticket availability on Opening Night, March 22nd, to serve our Board Members, donors and single-ticket buyers. Accordingly, will have press performances for We Are Proud to Present on March 26th and 27th at 7:30 and March 28th and 29th at 8:15pm. I would like to invite you to the show on any of those performances.” Cobb’s email was copied to Katherine Owens, Artistic Director.
On March 25, Dallas News’ reviewer Nancy Churnin posted an entry on her Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Facebook page about the Undermain performance she had attended to review. Opening night, 3/22/14. Puzzled, I posted the following in reply. “When did you see it? I was told they weren’t seating critics on opening.” She responded, “I went Saturday night (March 22). I saw Mark and Martha there.” (reviewers Mark Lowry, Martha Heimberg) Guess they got a different email than I did. Are they now considered “board members, donors or single-ticket buyers”, along with their non-paying companions? I think I saw reviewers Christopher Soden and Lauren Smart in the house on the 26th, when I attended. Must have received the elaborate, hokey “adjusted seating availability” spiel, too.
I thank all theatre companies that work hard to fit in all interested critics at openings, seat us with advantageous stage visibility and don’t play “press favorite” games.
I’m tired of seeing contemporary plays, barely literate in terms of literary value, presumably masquerading as a means of Delivering Diversity. So many, just like We Are Proud to Present…, use a meta-theatrical conceit (here, a troupe of bickering actor divas rehearsing/ pouting) to distance the audience (mostly rich, mostly white) from its potentially upsetting subject matter. A painless way to help them shed a crystal goblet’s worth of white man guilt? Trendy, edgy, glib, “conversational” and artistically starved like a spewed out TV drama…no depth of character arc, plot or conflict, no resolution at all. Temperamental actors storm off the stage; it’s over. Nothing needs resolution. Non-profit companies producing this clever shell game style of theater can nestle it under a “diversity” umbrella to apply for more grants, while not actually exposing their regular paying audiences to the discomfiting emotional messiness of dealing with unpleasant experience. “Let’s just talk about ‘it’ rather than show ‘it’, then ask for money to support ‘us’ doing ‘it’.” I’d rather see Athol Fugard’s spare, heart-slashing, politically relevant plays or more haunting, lyrical works from David Rabe. There the audience gets drawn into valid human drama and lives through literate arcs of genuine, risky theatrical experience. Actors in We Are Proud to Present… continually remind the audience they are watching a play about an event, not as art form to elevate or illuminate the experience, but as smug protection from immersive experience. It pairs well with a pleasant evening begun with good wine and fine dining. On to dessert and after show libation! I feel cheated by this sort of navel-gazing. Dallas suffers from a plague of this type of safe, trendy charades, often with crude language tossed about like stale popcorn to spice things up. I’d rather see a non-stop run of classic farce or parody and revivals of great musical theatre, than another sleight-of-hand enactment of disembodied, deodorized meta-theatre.
The cast of We Are Proud to Present… certainly has chops: Blake Hackler, Christopher Dontrell Piper, Bryan Pitts, Jake Buchanan, Shannon Kearns-Simmons, Ivuoma Okoro. They each get a shot at behaving like spoiled children here and are capable of a great deal more. Directed by Dylan Key.
I actually bought my ticket, as I was attending with the Audience Collective and wasn’t reviewing. Elaine writes our reviews for Dallas Observer but was unavailable to attend opening night.
You don’t seem to get it. Opening night isn’t just for critics, it’s also for donors and the PAYING public. When a theatre has a limited number of seats, they need to be selective. Especially with a critic that takes things personally and tends to not even show up. There have been plenty of opening nights around town where I have seen reserved seats for you and they stay empty. If I had to choose between a donor or even someone who paid a $10 ticket and a critic who rarely shows up and usually doesn’t write anything when she does manage to stroll into the theatre….. Yeah I’m going to choose the $10. Do whatever you want. Show up, don’t show up. Write something you were given free tickets to or don’t. But don’t complain when you get treated based on past behavior. Maybe they would have given you a seat if you 1) showed up 2) promised to write a review and actually went through with it every time you said you would and 3) stopped complaining about why you aren’t being treated the same as a $5,000 donor or board member. If you want coddling, give money or volunteer.
-But I do agree with you about this play.
Wow. What an amazing assumption. I always show up where booked, with a few emergency exceptions over the years (car trouble, accidents blocking freeways, hospitalization). I don’t always end up sitting where I have a name placard as my most frequent theatre companion walks with canes and we have to find seats he can access safely. What an odd assumption on your part that I just don’t show up? How nasty and erroneous. Where I sit at the theatre is none of your damned business.
As for the rest of your ‘lecture’, you can kiss my grits. I don’t review shows if I can’t see them. Period. Any company that lies to some critics (but not others) about press night availability and seats them in untenable locations, in spite of repeated requests for decent seats, doesn’t deserve reviews. I do this as advocacy for the art form, certainly not for the compensation. I am not, as no critic is, just free PR for theatre companies. I believe our regional theatre would become more than ‘above average’ schlock if more critics would simply not write if the show they see is below par. What impact silence would have. There are a few critics who praise any and everything they see. Maybe it earns them friends or lovers. Maybe their editors tell them to ‘be nice’ to advertisers. I don’t know. They aren’t my concern. I won’t do that. And there are companies beyond Undermain whose shows I no longer attend because I grew tired of being bored and disappointed. I have no need to justify what I do, or don’t do.
You just keep coloring inside those lines as indicated.