The Playgoer: Chicago Criticism Craziness

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chicago Criticism Craziness

Chi-town theatre is abuzz with the scandal of old time Sun Times critic Hedy Weiss writing full--and cranky--reviews of a bunch of new musicals presented as a workshop. John Weidman of the Dramatists Guild has taken this on full force and made this national.

Says Weidman:

Your food critic would not judge a restaurant by bulling her way into the kitchen and tasting the dishes when they were half-cooked. Playwrights, composers, and lyricists deserve the same consideration.
Big name playwrights (Kushner, Albee) are lining up to vent their own outrage over the incident.

For the word on the street, close to the ground, go to the "Angry White Guy" Don Hall, here and here.

I don't sense this is a common problem. And Weiss was clearly in the wrong. Perhaps, as an older generation of critic, she just still doesn't get the idea of workshop. Whatever the reason, this sounds like irresponsible criticism, and these individual artists were betrayed.

Still, in the age of juggernaut development venues like Fringe NYC, I think this also should prompt workshop & play development folks to think again before they mega-market their "works in progress." Not that this was necessarily the case here, but when you hire press agents and rev up the media attention, are you sending a mixed message when you ask not to be reviewed?

3 comments:

YS said...

I think your last paragraph is closer to the point.

Not to be contrarian to the rest of the blogosphere, but if you look at the official press release from the theatre building Chicago about Stages 2006

http://www.theatrebuildingchicago.org/press_detail.php?press_id=5

you will have to hunt closely for any indication that these are projects in very nascent stages.

But then again, I have no idea what the press packet, etc. were like.

Anonymous said...

Was an audience paying to see the show? Was it open to the public? Then why shouldn't a critic (or, ahem, a blogger) be allowed to go and then say whatever s/he wants? Obviously that's not the unspoken agreement in the theater world and Weiss unconscionably violated it. (She's kind of nutty anyway. Remeber her bizarre review of "Caroline, or Change"? She said it reeked of being the work of a self-hating Jew.) Weiss was wrong. The system is wronger.

Mark said...

It's certainly ironic that in Chicago they have to tell reviewers to stay away. Here in New York, we have to pay publicists to get them to come.

And I don't think, PG, that FringeNYC is or advertises itself as a "development venue". Granted, the commercial players have started scouting it like it's the minor leagues, but those shows are productions. SPF are productions too. Just because plays are produced for less money doesn't mean they should be automatically derided as "workshops".