In a jaw-dropping essay for her employer, The Wall Street Journal, alleged culture critic Joanne Kaufman proudly and candidly disabuses readers of any misconceptions they might have had regarding her qualifications for her job. She is not merely unqualified, but willfully, shamelessly, spectacularly unqualified. In a smug screed in which she admits to habitually walking out on Broadway shows at intermission, Kaufman reveals herself as lazy, arrogant, disrespectful of artists, and most crippling of all, to be afflicted by the attention span of the average Twitter addict.
“Don’t ask me what happened during the second acts of “Matilda,” “Kinky Boots,” “Pippin” and, reaching back a few seasons, “Boeing-Boeing” and “Billy Elliott, ” Kaufman boasts. “Really, I have no idea. But I am nothing if not cosmopolitan in my tastes, or distastes—French farces, English musicals set in gritty industrial cities, and American entertainments involving Charlemagne ’s Frankish kin.”
You can read her entire piece here; if the Journal doesn’t fire her, it is run by fools. “I’m of the “brevity is the soul of wit” school and of the belief that only a few bites are required to determine that you just don’t like a particular dish,” she happily admits. “My ideal night in the theater runs 90 minutes without an intermission (it is best not to put temptation in my path), which means that Shakespeare and I don’t tend to see a lot of each other.” This is the culture writer, remember. Yet she is admitting to membership in the lazy, sound-bite, bumper-sticker, multi-processing, distracted, ADD-addled public that has caused writers, playwrights, producers, book publishers, film-makers and song-writers to dumb down, redact, trivialize and simplify entertainment in an accelerating death cycle: plots don’t make sense, explosions start early, subtlety is forbidden, and no issue, thought or topic that can’t be fully explored in the time it takes to do a load of laundry is going can find its way on stage or screen. The Journal’s culture writer doesn’t have the time or interest to sit through King Lear, Hamlet, The Ice Man Cometh, or Death of a Salesman, or to view all of “Seven Samurai,” “A Man for All Seasons” or “Gettysburg”—hey, a movie about one of those short Civil War battles for Joanne, please: she’s got a 15 minute segment of “Robot Chicken” to catch. And why should she care if she’s rude and dismissive to writers, directors, designers and actors, reducing their craft to the equivalent of speed dating? She’s not paying for it:
“I’m privileged and I know it. Because of my profession, I get a pair of free tickets to many entertainments: theater, movies, concerts, opera. If I leave at halftime I lose nothing, say friends who, using logic that befuddles me, feel they need to stay until the end of a show they abhor in the name of getting their money’s worth.”
Nothing except half the artistic product that she was given the tickets to experience. (Could this be why all of James Lapine’s books for Stephen Sondheim shows have great first acts and then crash into incoherence and boredom in the second? To keep philistines-in-culture-critic-clothing like Kaufman hanging around until the final curtain? Well, at least that’s an explanation.)
Nothing except the chance to make responsible use of a ticket that middle class Americans who can’t pay the obscene prices charged on Broadway would love to have, or to give to a child so he or she could experience live performances that weren’t vomit inducing, like “Peter Pan Live!”*
Nothing except the opportunity to give a fair measure of respect to actors and others who have worked long hours and devoted passion, intelligent and craft to create a complete artistic creation, not just half of one.
The president of Actor’s Equity, Nicholas Wyman (Full disclosure: Nick’s a friend from college, and I am a great admirer), himself a distinguished performer, posted a letter of protest from press agent Rick Miramontez, which the Journal wouldn’t publish. It said in part…
“I have been representing plays and musicals for more than three decades, and in my role as press agent I have handed out tens-of-thousands of free tickets to members of the media. While the general public plunks downhard-earned money for the pleasure and privilege of witnessing the world’s greatest stage talents flaunt their craft on Broadway, members of the press corps are traditionally given pairs of “press tickets,” gratis. The face value that any given production gives away to the media during designated press performances around the time of its opening is somewhere in the vicinity of $200,000. The hope, of course, is that those free tickets will yield coverage, and that coverage will convince the general public to plunk down said hard-earned money. But there is no agreement, tacit or otherwise, between the productions I represent and the members of the media I invite that coverage will be forthcoming. There is, however, a tacit agreement that these works will be considered, thoughtfully and seriously, in their entirety by those who accept the tickets.
So when your columnist, Joanne Kaufman, penned her piece entitled “Confessions of a Broadway Bolter,” in which she boasts about the sheer number of times she skips out of the theater at intermission (trying, she tells us, not to get “spotted and caught out by the press agent who provided me with the tickets in the first place”). I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a chump for having accommodated the woman so many times over the years. Certainly every audience member, paid or comped, has the right to form whatever opinions they might about any production they see, but I don’t think it’s too much to expect those who attend on press tickets stay for the duration. Would a fine art writer only peer at half a canvas before deciding she’s bored and it’s time to move on? Does a music reporter think he can make an informed decision on an album if he only listens to a couple of tracks? Why would we accept such sheer laziness from our theatrical press?”
The simple answer is : We shouldn’t. Neither should the Wall Street Journal.
*Coincidentally, Nick Wyman could have saved Peter Pan Live!. He would be a magnificent Captain Hook.
Pointer: Nick Wyman
Source: Wall Street Journal