Monday, April 25, 2011

IRNE Intrigue, Part II

Previously, I wrote an account of, as best as I understood it, the pressure campaign placed on the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) to dismiss Hub Review critic, Thomas Garvey from their membership. IRNE, had refused to dismiss Garvey, but Garvey announced his resignation in order to take the pressure off of his fellow reviewers. More remarkably, after Garvey had announced his resignation, Director of Press and Public Relations for the American Repertory Theatre, Katalin "Kati" Mitchell, in a comment to the Hub Review, essentially admitted that she had co-authored a letter with Shawn LaCount, Artistic Director of Company One (along with contributions from unnamed individuals supposedly representing six other theatre companies) demanding Garvey's removal.

Leaving aside the fact that I am an avid reader of The Hub Review, this would be an outrageous situation in the case of any critic. Critics are an essential part of the larger theatre community. Even were we to consider a hypothetical situation in which a particular critic was a "bad apple" and needed to be removed from an awards committee, this is the sort of case that needs to be made in public to the theatrical community as a whole, free of threats, not behind the scenes by a select group that does not represent the theatre community as a whole in which IRNE critics are threatened with having their privileges revoked if they do not disbar one of their own. These machinations showed a disrespect for the theatre community. Mitchell and LaCount et alia still have not made their case to the rest of us as to why they believed theirs was the proper course of action (Mitchell had promised to share the letter she and her ad hoc committee had drafted, but no such letter has been forthcoming.)

Last month, I asked:

[P]ro-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?
Art Hennesey followed up and asked "When Will Boston Know It's A World Class Theater City?" Boston Globereporter Geoff Edgers, in response to my prodding, did mention the spat at the Exhibitionist blog only to dismissively ask "All right, Ian. We give. Does this count?"

Yesterday, Larry Stark, IRNE member, editor of The Theatre Mirror issued the following Open Letter to the ART:

Regrettably, until further notice, I shall not be attending any productions by the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.). Let me explain:

I have frequently been critical of other critics. In some cases, this has been my "internal editor" quibbling about style; at other times, it has been an attempt to let critics feel the personal pain that damaging criticism can cause in people who must get up before another audience knowing that critics' comments have shaped what at least some in that audience might thus believe.

But, even admitting these opinions, I believe even the harshest of critics, deep down, really love theater --- that creators and critics are really "on the same side". Sometimes it may look as though a critic Loves Theater To Death; still, in an austere era many of my colleagues are continuing to write critiques without being paid to do so, their love is that strong. And they try to apply their personal standards in as impartial a manner as possible, though it may not always look that way from outside. That, I think, is the critic's job.

The job of a Public Relations Coordinator for any particular theater company, though, is necessarily biased. The goal there is to get that same potential audience to view the company's shows in the best possible light, to see and appreciate what is there, and to come back again and again for more. And it may seem that P/R people and critics are at war --- especially when they disagree, with one seeing only negatives while the other must accentuate the positive.

But those on both sides operate in what is called "The Free Marketplace of Ideas" --- and audience-members may decide for themselves which one is right. This, at least, is how I assume the game should be played.

Lately, I have heard rumors that a vicious "kill the messenger" attitude threatens this entire structure. I have often voiced my opinions privately or written them publically, but deliberate attempts to disgrace or disbar or silence someone's free voice I cannot tolerate nor condone. I therefore sent the following letter to the producer at the American Repertory Theatre protesting what I see as disgraceful behavior, stretching back over many years, that has no place in that "Marketplace of Ideas" which I fervently hope will remain free.

To: Diane Borger, Producer, AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATRE

Dear Ms. Borger:

Of late I have heard astonishing stories and rumors of the antics of a person in your employ referred to as "Catty" by those who have had contact with her. I undertstand that Public Relations work necessarily involves some sorts of manipulation; however, if even half of what I've been told is true, this person has no ethical standards whatever. I am astonished that you continue to employ anyone who so totally misunderstands her profession, and mine.

You must realize that in the climate created by her actions, any positive reviews of your company's work can be construed as written out of fear of this woman's power to ruin the reputation of anyone voicing opposite opinions.

I cannot believe you are ignorant of this situation, but you must be aware that continuing to employ her in such a sensitive position can only be construed as approval of such behavior by the American Repertory Theatre, which I fervently hope cannot be the case.

But if you condone such actions, I cannot.

I cannot in good conscience continue to work with anyone who behaves with such vindictive misunderstanding of her job, and mine. To do so would suggest that I myself condone such behavior, which is decidedly Not the case.

Should there be a change in personnel in future, I would appreciate your notifying me.

Sincerely,

===Larry Stark
of Theater Mirror


Tonight is the IRNE Awards. I generally don't concern myself much with awards ceremonies, but tonight, I am interested.

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