There’s that platitude that tells us to dance like no one’s watching.
I write as if no one’s reading.
This is not to say that I write without consequence or responsibility. On the contrary, integrity as a writer is the single most important thing to me. It means that my thoughts or voice can be trusted. If not, you really have nothing.
What I mean is that there is only one person by whom my writing can be held to a standard: me.
Mostly, though, I’m still surprised anyone ever gives a shit about what I write. I am continually surprised anyone ever reads anything I write. From my perspective, it would be easy to simply ignore it. And now I think I’ve been doing it long enough now that I can talk about it in a larger sense.
I try to write about bad acting, not ‘bad actors,’ if there is something that needs to be addressed. Acting is an intensely personal craft, in part due to its emotional and public nature. That makes people sensitive. I’m an actor, too. You never forget that.
At the same time, I feel that my written critiques ultimately fall back to integrity.
Actors usually know if they’re in an awful play. Most of the time, people know when they’ve seen an awful play. Usually, it’s people active and passionate about theatre — and local theatre — that get upset when quality is lacking. The audience members want more because they believe in what they’re seeing.
So if I see a play that suffers, for one reason or another, it is my job to write about it. If that blow doesn’t come, I think that it’s far worse than softening the impact. If I’m suddenly not writing truthfully, then it’ll be obvious and everyone suffers for it. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be sensitive. And it’s up to all of us to judge.
The only time I ever hear feedback is when people are upset about something I’ve written. Of course this only happens if I’m negative about a show. Sometimes anonymous counter critics flare to life on the Daily Lobo website. It’s gratifying to see the misspelled comments of people foaming at the mouth hiding behind internet aliases. At this point it’s not a conversation, it’s angry peasants with pitchforks and torches banging at the gate.
Certainly, no one ever writes when I’m positive about a show, or if they agree with me.
I get asked sometimes what it means to be a reviewer. I get asked what the role of the reviewers is in theatre. Honestly, I never think about these things. They don’t make me a better writer or a better thinker. I try to write with integrity and it never occurs to me someone else other than me might care. I like having conversations about shows and theatre. I am very rarely given the opportunity to talk openly.
Kevin Elder, formerly of Tricklock, once emailed me after I reviewed one of their shows to very nicely tell me I was completely wrong about what I had written. It was great. Alan Hudson, one of the classiest men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, has often approached me over the years to talk about something I have written, good or bad.
Largely, I get ignored. But I don’t mind.
Because I express my opinion publicly, doesn’t mean I think my point of view is paramount or unshakable. Exactly the opposite. I am continually fascinated by things I do not know. I toss my hat into the ring hoping someone will pick it up and toss it back. I’m hungry, practically desperate to see new things, to realize new perspectives that I never could or would have thought of.
When I throw my chips into the center of the room, I’m laying my cards flat. With the best 700 words I can muster. I’m saying:
“Well, that’s it for me. So. What you got?”