Wednesday, March 30, 2011

IRNE Intrigue

So what happens when Director of Press and Public Relations for one of the largest theatre companies in the Boston metropolitan area admits to spearheading an effort to exert pressure on the area's main theatre awards committee to remove a theatre critic from its membership?

The answer is: no press coverage.

On March 17th, The Hub Review's Thomas Garvey, the self-described "strongest, most versatile, and most prolific critic in town" (to which I'm inclined to agree, though I'll also add "provocative", and "polemical") announced that he had resigned from the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) just a month before the Awards ceremony. According to Garvey, he did not resign over a disagreement with his colleagues, but because of campaign of pressure against the IRNE.

In Garvey's own words: Director of Press and Public Relations for the American Repertory Theatre, Katalin "Kati" Mitchell had:

[...]not only used to send me crazy emails in all caps after a bad review, but, believe it or not, she even penned the IRNE folks an angry letter declaring that the ART's failure to win more awards every year only made the IRNEs look bad.


However, Mitchell was not alone:

[Shawn LaCount, Artistic Director for Company One] claimed he would boycott the IRNE ceremony unless I left the organization, and would talk other companies into boycotting, too. He threatened that he would not allow his actors to accept their awards should they win. Which was pretty ironic, since one of those nominated actors - Becca A. Lewis - was on the ballot largely because I argued for her to be there. So it's also amusing to ponder that if she wins, and I hadn't resigned, LaCount would have ripped the award right out of her hot little hand. That's how much he loves his "collaborators."


Indeed, both companies had denied Garvey the customary press passes that reviewers are given.

Now. I suppose that given the snarky tone, some readers might be inclined to wonder if Garvey isn't exaggerating for dramatic effect. However on March 18th a commentator claiming to be Kati Mitchell largely confirmed most of Garvey's charges:

kati said...
from the addled old bat:
- I only wrote to Garvey once, when he panned Gatz after leaving at intermission (and yes, it was all in caps)
- I have never met Shawn LaCount, so I could not have influenced him in any way. Though we did correspond recently during the exchange with numerous members of the theatre community, whereby a letter was written requesting Garvey's removal from the committee for his unprofessional and insulting behavior towards members of the artistic community (but never sent because he was removed from the committee before we sent it) and the 8 signing companies included Speakeasy and New Rep. Happy to share the letter with you if you wish.

This note only scratches the surface of the multitude of incorrect and false statements you make. But enough already.
March 18, 2011 3:04:00 PM EST


Mitchell admitted that such a letter existed, and named four out of the eight signers, but as of this writing still seems not to have shared the letter to either Garvey or to the general public. Of course, here's the rub: ART received over twenty IRNE nominations in 2011 and not only did Company One garner seven nominations, but Garvey states that he advocated for one of them-- so clearly Garvey's criticism of both companies is pretty irrelevant to either company's chances of winning at the IRNEs!

But the bigger story is: pro-Garvey or anti-Garvey, this is being discussed on the telephone, by email, and in face to face conversations amongst theatre people, but no one in the local theatre press is covering this story either in print or online. Would the press be so quiet if something similar had occurred on the theatre scene in New York? Chicago? Washington, D.C.? Seattle? Minneapolis?

Where's the letter that Mitchell promised?

[Nota Bene: Earlier today I erroneously stated that the ART had not received a single IRNE nomination. This error was mine and mine alone.]

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