Equal Opportunity Mockery
I look forward to 1812 Productions’ This is the Week That Is every year (“Speaking Truth to Trumpism,” Nov. ’17). They are brilliant in what they mock and how they mock it. I am a political conservative, yet they do not offend me ever. Their spoofs are so creative and hilarious and all over the political map that I take it in good-natured fun.
What I do find offensive is the one-sided, bitter, and inane mocking of “SNL” lately. Their all-knowing political jokes don’t work because they never find the hypocrisies and lies on their own side as worthy of mockery.
The creators of This Is the Week That Is know how to mask their prejudices and see things from all points of view, because there is humor to be mined everywhere. The show is changed every performance as headlines keep changing, and they add to the script accordingly. Jennifer Childs and company are spectacular. Philadelphia is so lucky. One number, “It’s All About the Base,” was so stunningly spectacular, I will never get over it.
The rest of the country could use a dose of this annual treat. PBS should come on down and send this show out to the country.
More Dialogue, Not Less
I think theatre criticism is essential—not so people can be told what to see, but so play productions can be documented for historical purposes (“A Second Act for Theatre Criticism?,” Dec. ’17). Good critics also have a lot more to say than what was “good” or “bad” about a production; they also start a dialogue and provoke further thought.
Because newspaper critics’ opinions have decreased in value due to the internet, what we really need are more internet critics who have both the writing skills and the theatre expertise to replace—and in some cases, improve upon—the now-retired newspaper critics. I appreciate what bloggers do, but if we don’t support and promote real theatre criticism, it will soon be gone.
The struggle our theatre site has is the tension between being a marketing vehicle for theatres who want to publicize good reviews and being a review site where readers can trust that they’re getting an unbiased opinion. Our site skews toward mostly positive reviews, with the corresponding hits to our credibility. Editorial meetings grapple with a desire to be edgier, incisive, flavored rather than bland—but then, at the first push-back from a theatre over a less-than-glowing write-up, all of that desire ends up less persuasive.
I had the opportunity to ask a room of playwrights if they ever read reviews on our site. Nearly all said, “Only when it’s a review of my show.” None read reviews of other productions. Another bit of feedback: Most of our reviews read to them like PR (“If I wanted to see my name, I can read the program”). Maybe most embarrassing to me as an editor: that the pieces we publish are badly written and poorly edited. That’s on me. There are a lot of pieces to edit, and I’m just one man. Good writers want more than $10 or $15 a review, but the economics make that prohibitive. As an editor, it’s often an uphill battle to get people to put together coherent pieces that read as if they were written by a human.
So it’s not just the tension between being a marketing vehicle for theatres and being a credible review site; it’s now also the tension between publishing a poorly worked review and publishing nothing at all.
Anonymous theatre-site editor in the mid-Atlantic region