Open mouth, Insert Pitchfork…

A while ago I returned home to the mountains of Arizona for a respite from my own little economic crisis: I was totally, and completely broke, having depleted all my resources in a last ditch effort to stay in LA (after being laid off the year before.)  I was sad, I was tired, and I was totally heartbroken.

So I moved home and stuffed my face with mom’s cooking, did a lot of writing (it’s amazing what can happen when you’re not spending every waking second worrying about scraping together rent money, food money, cell-phone-bill money…) and basically embarked on the road to recovery.

And while a lot has changed in my little home-town, apparently the thing that has changed the most, is me.  You see, last weekend I went to see a production at our local (newly remodled) theater.  It was (I thought) a horrifying production – horrifying in that it hadn’t yet been developed, hadn’t the benefit of a practiced playwright or director at it’s helm, and as such I left quite angry that I had been asked to fork over $17 to sit through something so wildly unprepared for the venue or admission fee it had adopted.

I talked about it with the people I saw it with; we were all disappointed – what a mess!  I thought about it that evening – How frustrating that this great venue had been used for this level of work!  I even ruminated on the value of ruminating on it further, as the thing had already come and gone and I wasn’t going to have anything further to do with it…

But then I blogged about it.

I decided that the observations I’d had were worth further exploration, and that my opinions about the responsibility of a producer/writer/director might be an interesting read.  I put a lot of thought into my critique, and I knew it was stern, but I maintained my opinion that art made purchasable and presented for fee, is art of an elevated responsibility , inviting critique and measurement by those paying to see it.  For it is one thing to present a play (for entertainment or development purposes) free of charge, it is entirely another to present it as a “finished” production for a fee.

In any case, my blog currently has about 14 dedicated readers, and so I thought they might (as many are writers or purveyors of entertainment) raise a discussion point or two, we would enjoy that discussion, but that nothing else would come of my observations.

Then Google found me, directed some locals my way, and all hell is breaking loose on the thing.

Because what I apparently don’t know about my hometown is that it is NOT okay to voice an opinion – that the mantra “If you can’t say something nice…” extends to all facets of expression here, and that, if I’m not careful, apparently I will “never make it in this world” as surely there is no place for a person like myself who spits on the little people and touts myself as so super-important… Yes (apparently) I am, as one comment reads “WORSE THAN MAGGOT POOP.”

So, why am I sharing this here?  I think it is because I’m absolutely, incontrovertibly, fascinated!  And in spite of the vitriol of these comments, I can’t imagine taking the post down.  I’ve never before been the recipient of this kind of outrage; it’s stunning… it is also helping me understand the danger in playing the role of a… (booming voice)… CRITIC.

A while ago I had a show up that sold great houses, but in the end failed to bring in the kind of critical praise I so hoped for.  Big deal, happens to everyone.  But one critic in particular laid some hefty critique my way, calling my script (paraphrasing) an underdeveloped hunk of junk.  I remember at the time feeling a bit stung, and then feeling angry that people were going to read his review and possibly decide against attending the show.  But I didn’t read it as a personal attack – I knew that this guy possibly hadn’t understood the play, that it was, stylistically and subject-wise, not everyone’s cup of tea, and that this man (as much as I might dislike him at the time) had a right to his opinion.

But I have the ability to process his review with this kind of level-headedness, because this is my profession, and because I’ve cultivated the kind of skin to take it. I don’t have to like it, but I can handle it without loosing my mind, my cool, or my manners.

The one thing I did not consider as I wrote my own sort of “underdeveloped hunk ‘o junk” review, was that this town, and more importantly, these people, might not share my perspective on the roles of an artist, his/her responsibilties to their audience, and (more importantly) they might not have any idea what to do with that kind of criticism.

So I have to say that this experience has taught me what it feels like to be on the receiving end of “Critical loathing” – it has taught me that I might want to think twice before voicing any local opinions, and it has reinforced my opinion that grace and calm in the storm of any criticism is a much more powerful tool than “MAGGOT POOP.”

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