This is a delicate one for me; the names have been omitted and details disguised to protect…well, for a lot of reasons.
Last week I posted about the mixed-gender version of “I Do! I Do!” I directed for The American Century Theater, which I co-founded and where I am the artistic director. The show met all my objectives and expectations, even surpassed them, and until today, all of the reviews have been raves.
Today, though, a non-rave came out on a local theater website. It is the kind of review I detest, where the standard of the critic is “why didn’t you do it this way? That’s what I would have done.” The answer to that is, bluntly, “Direct your own damn show, then.” Snap judgments from one-time viewers, even extremely sophisticated ones, about what they would do if they were the author, actor, director, or designer of a stage production—when if truth they never have been or could be—are inherently unfair, incompetent and also obnoxious. After considering and experimenting and testing various artistic approaches to any problem over months of preparation, meetings and intense rehearsal with a large production and artistic team, any production deserves the respect of being assumed to have considered and rejected for cause other solutions, which for various reasons didn’t work.
This is not, of course, a professional reviewer, though a reader could only know that from the quality of the review. Among other tells, the critic misidentifies which performers sing what, and the whole concept of non-realistic sets seems to be alien to him: yes, dear, we could have afforded a four-poster bed; the director felt the show would be better without one, and in fact, it is. Okay, the reviewer is a boob: that’s fine; most theater reviewers are. I would not make an issue about one sloppy and badly reasoned amateur review, because if I did, I’d be in a padded room.
However, after the review was published, I learned that our company had a prior experience with this reviewer: he had been on the crew of a show last year, and we had to fire him. In 17 years and over 80 productions, he is the only person to be fired from that particular job.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz with a theatrical bent:
Does a critic who has a past relationship with a theater company whose production he or she is reviewing have an ethical obligation to disclose it as part of the published review?
My answer: of course.
If he or she fits the description of a potentially disgruntled former employee, then the critic has to disclose that in the review. This is Ethics 101, basic and immutable. Such a critic has a conflict of interest and a potential bias. Whether or not the critic feels that he or she is capable of writing a fair review despite, for example, being canned by the company involved, readers should have full disclosure to judge for themselves, and the company involved should be asked to waive the conflict. The alternative is not to do the review.
Personally, I have no idea whether this reviewer is getting even, or even whether his past negative experience with the company curdled his judgment. The review is an incompetent one, and obviously so, whether it’s biased or not, but there is an obvious basis for bias, and any ethical critic would disclose it, or decline the assignment. To this critic’s credit, he does clearly state his objections to the production concept as his personal opinion, and not as an authoritative declaration. Nonetheless, being fired by the theater company you are reviewing is rather unusual, and readers have a right to know about it, to make their own assessment of whether the review is biased or not.
Graphic: This Vegan Rants