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Nodding Off at Theatre

By Nick Fracaro at 3:46 pm on Thursday, August 31, 2006

I will often fall asleep at the theatre. My own snoring sometimes wakes me. Other times one of my companions might elbow me awake. I may then leave at intermission so as not to embarrass my unfortunate theatre companions further.

“The performance put me to sleep.” “I left at intermission before I feel asleep again.” For me to claim anything else would be unethical. Whether or not that is an authoritative judgement depends solely on who does or doesn’t believe in the authority of my opinion.

Chicago invented the thumbs-up/thumbs-down evaluation. So I think the only ethical action for the Chicago Sun-Times at this juncture is to replace Hedy with Nick. Nick Nodding Off or Nick Not Nodding Off should be the new authoritative judgement on theatre in town.

Filed under: Artist/Critic Leave A Comment »

History of Hedy Weiss Controversy

By Nick Fracaro at 1:34 am on Thursday, August 31, 2006

The NY Times article points toward how/where this controversy began.

“The review came to the attention of a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Jeffrey Sweet, who alerted other guild members.”

What’s not so well known is that Jeffrey Sweet had an agenda here. As playwright he does not like the way Hedy Weiss reviews his plays. So Jeff has been trying to pick a public fight with Hedy for sometime now. Here’s his Letter to the Editor from six months ago trying to instigate that debate.

Also being a critic, Jeff has access to the media, including writing for The Dramatists (published by The Dramatists’ Guild). So no surprise the scandal should begin here with their letter. He also writes the blog for Back Stage where he did this little piece of investigative journalism.

“I spoke to Joan Mazzonelli, the executive director, and she confirmed to me that Ms. Weiss was explicitly told that these presentations were not for review.”

Joan Mazzonelli told the New York Times something much different.

“Ms. Mazzonelli has distanced herself from the Dramatists Guild, acknowledging that she had not made the festival’s policy clear to Ms. Weiss, whom she had encouraged to attend, along with other members of the press.”

As with many scandals, this may also come down to “he said/she said.” Either Jeffrey Sweet or Joan Mazzonelli is not being honest here.

The celebrity this scandal provokes will of course serve Jeffrey Sweet in many ways. Just by instigating the controversy he already achieved much of his primary agenda of a public debate with Hedy Weiss. But scandals tend to be double-edged sword. If I were a playwright in the Dramatists’ Guild I think I would be annoyed by the exploitative use of their collective authority for such a transparent personal agenda. I might even write a letter.

“Irresponsible” – Edward Albee.

“Ignorant” – Stephen Schwartz.

“Incapable of understanding standards of professional and ethical conduct” – Tony Kushner.

Filed under: Artist/Critic1 Comment »


By Nick Fracaro at 1:14 pm on Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Years ago Ross Wetzsteon, the theatre editor of the Village Voice, solicited a series of essays on the subject of the artist/critic relationship. He was asking for not just critics but also artists in the community to reply. I think I remember him titling the series “Crritic!!” after a Beckett quote from Waiting for Godot.

VLADIMIR: Abortion!
ESTRAGON: Morpion!
VLADIMIR: Sewer-rat!
ESTRAGON: (with finality): Crritic!
(He wilts, vanquished, and turns away.)

Along with the Critic/Artist allegory I wrote telling him about our theatre’s experiences with the press in 1987 while producing the world premiere of Fassbinder’s controversial play Trash, the City and Death. Specifically I highlighted the unethical actions of two prominent critics in their relationship to the production. Without naming names or going into details here, I spelled out to him how these two critics (dramaturgs) had betrayed our private and personal communication with them.

My letter to Ross Wetzsteon was as raw as my emotions were at that time so I never really expected a response from him. But he may have answered me in his own way, first by sending me a check for the article, and then by his atypical editorial choice in the Voice issue in which it was published. At that time the Voice rarely had any articles in the theatre section other than reviews or features of New York productions but in this issue there was the out-of-place article about an obscure theatre production in France. Byline belonging to one of the critics I had ranted about! I believe this was the only time this critic was published in the Voice during Wetzsteon’s tenure so the editing seemed clearly an inside joke. The publication layout was such that the backside of my one-time Voice clipping has his name on it and vice versa.

So two sides of the same coin. Critic and artist.

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