Monday, August 10, 2009

metaDRAMA: The Thin Red Curtain

Aside from having pretty high expectations and slight biases toward original, straight dramas, I think of myself as a pretty objective critic. That's why I'm willing to have open discussions on this site, especially when I take a harsh stance; I think it's important not only that we understand where we're all coming from, but remember that we're all coming from a different place to join together in appreciating art. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing, so long as you've got a factual (i.e., not emotional) reason for doing so.

But as artists become friends, it can be hard to remain open and objective, and that's where this idea of a "line" comes up, i.e., a self-created boundary that allows both parties to engage and yet when it comes down to the critical moment, keep their distance. If nothing else, it's a mark of respect--even if I like you, I'm going to block that out so that I can treat you fairly. If I like your show, I really liked your show, no (heart)strings attached.

I bring this up because I recently canceled one of the shows I was set to review (that's why I've taken my schedule off the sidebar), after receiving a well-intentioned e-mail that unfortunately achieved the opposite of what it set out to do. In fact, had I received this e-mail after I'd seen the show and had a chance to freely react to it, it would have been fine. However, this e-mail took pains to point out what the critical response to this show had already been, and what it hoped to find in my review--a seemingly innocuous request to this person, but kryptonite to me. I suddenly knew Too Much about the show I'd be going to see, and I already had an opinion--worse than that, I had a purely emotional opinion.

Here's my bottom "line"--I don't want to know anything about your show before I see it: if you wouldn't put it in a press release, don't mention it to me. (I'm going to ignore any pull-quotes you include from previous productions.) After my review is up, feel free to post, e-mail, whatever. So long as you're talking about the work itself, I'll respond. That's where my line in the sand is--that's about as much distance as I need. Given that, I can karaoke with you one day and talk about your work the next, without feeling an ounce of bias, because we both know where we're coming from.

Any of you out there want to weigh in on this? Want to share some tips on objectivity?


Unknown said...

Mr. Riccio, you may want to talk to just about any critic who writes outside of NYC. From Newark to California, the same person will routinely do the interview and feature ("puff piece") article on a show and then a week later review it positively or negatively, and then months/years later go back and do another puff piece on the same artists whose work they've hated (or yawned at or loved) in print in the past. The separation seems to be a New York City phenomenon, at least in my experience.

All best,
Fred Landau

Sarah D Bunting said...

@Landau: Uh, what? I don't understand what you're even saying, much less how it's an NYC phenomenon.

I don't have to deal with this much, but in the case of friends' and colleagues' books, I'm happy to link to it without vouching for its quality, while making it clear to readers that we're friends or acquaintances. But I won't review those books. In certain cases it's not good for the friendship and in almost all cases it's not good for my credibility.

Unknown said...

What I'm trying to say is that all around the country, the line is blurred between getting to know the artists as a person and writing the review about that person's work. The same person does the one-on-one personal interviews, thus getting to know the artist, and then writes the review a week later.

Maybe I'm missing Aaron's point, though.

Unknown said...

Indeed, Sarah, I might possibly have missed Aaron's overall point.

From this August 10 blog entry:
"Here's my bottom "line"--I don't want to know anything about your show before I see it"

From the right side of the blog:
"Tell Me About Your Show"

But when you take the step of clicking through on the right side, a few of the parameters of "Tell Me About Your Show" are delineated. (Until I clicked through yesterday for the first time, it seemed to be contradictory.)