You Gets on Stage, You Takes Your Chances

No bravo to “A Chicago Theater Artist” (Letters, June 29). This anonymous writer’s letter is proof that a critic is no more capable of “recklessly and ignorantly slamming Chicago theater artists” than an artist is of recklessly and ignorantly slamming Chicago theater critics in an overly general and unproductive manner. Aside from disagreeing with much of the language used and many of the specific complaints issued in this person’s letter, I am tired of reading theater artists’ complaints about critics’ reviews. Like most of these letters, this one does little to effect a mature dialogue between the artist and the audience.

Like it or not, because theater artists present their work in public they are subject to criticism. The quality of criticism in Chicago varies widely as does the quality of theater in Chicago. Not only does defending the broad assertion that Chicago critics possess a “shameful lack of knowledge of theater history, theory, and practice” dismiss the critics who have such knowledge, it contributes to the air of pettiness that often surrounds letters like these. By publicly (and anonymously no less) bad-mouthing critics, A Chicago Theater Artist adds to the unwelcome body of ill-considered complaint letters that risk making the theater community look bitter and unprofessional. I question the motives behind these attacks.

A Chicago Theater Artist’s rather simplistic notions of the elements of theater do further damage to discussions of the art and the art of critique. The complaints that “actors get blamed for directors’ mistakes, directors get blamed for actors’ mistakes” and that critics “mistake sentimental moments in the theater for true emotions (and the reverse)” imply that A Chicago Theater Artist is more able to discern such subjective matters. I’m an actor; unlike the anonymous writer I never actually studied much theater criticism, but I did take classes in acting and directing. I think the collaborative nature of theatrical performance is ill-suited to assignments of individual blame. And though I agree that distinctions often need to be made between sentiment and true emotion, cannot sentimentality be filled with true emotions?

Are true emotions void of sentimentality? Maybe A Chicago Theater Artist likes his/her theater to be clearly delineated. Sentimentality and directors on stage right, emotions and actors on stage left, right answers get As, wrong answers get Fs.

I know a wonderful actor (and former artistic director of a critically acclaimed Chicago theater company) who had issues with a show’s mixed reviews and felt compelled to investigate further. Instead of submitting an anonymous letter that trashed the critics who wrote the negative reviews, she openly and publicly inquired as to how there could be such dissenting opinion. That approach seems to me to be more worthwhile because it promotes a discourse that might bear insight rather than mutual scorn.


Matt Gibson