A Letter To The EncoreMichigan Community
To The EncoreMichigan Theatre Community:
This past weekend, I went to review a play called Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical at The Ringwald Theater in Ferndale. Frankly, I thought the show was extremely bad, so I did not stay to the end. The actors, as I said in my review, were first-rate. But I left the show after about 25-30 minutes, a fact that I stated at the top of my review, because I felt the show itself was not worth an additional hour of my time.
Yesterday, a legion of actors and directors took me to task for posting a review on a show I walked out on, suggesting that I had a duty to endure the rest of the show no matter what. As a reviewer who has done hundreds of reviews, I assure you that I have no responsibility to stay until the end of a show if I think the experience is only going to get worse. For me, there was nothing that was going to redeem the show.
I stated in the review that the show is not my cup of tea. But it was far worse than I imagined. So, I left. I have done the same two other times in the last five years while reviewing a show that was so poor, in my opinion, that no amount of effort would have redeemed it my eyes. I have also exited two shows in five years because of an illness. I have hung in there for a lot of shows that were not my cup of tea, or not much good for any number of reasons. But this one simply exceeded my limit.
Freedom of speech is paramount in the media and in social media. But the outpouring of personal attacks on me and our website, mis-information, false characterizations….it’s a bit much. Some people in the community took to social media to impugn my integrity and the integrity of the site for reasons of their own agenda.
If we were earning money to do this work, it would be different. But we are in it for the love of art. Even as critics, though, we have the right to walk out on art that we think is poorly executed. Patrons vote with their wallets. We vote with our pens (keyboards actually). And theaters ask us to do that by providing complimentary tickets and inviting us to cover the show. What we do and write after that goes with the territory.
Running Encore is a volunteer affair. I don’t make any profit. Reviewers often don’t get paid, though we all have professional journalism experience, and experience in the arts. I took over the website five years ago, and I have kept at it for the love of the work, the people and their efforts, and out of dedication to the Michigan theatre community. Arranging more than 225 reviews a year is a lot of work for no pay.
Walking out on what I saw as a bad play does not alter our commitment to the arts.
Some have impugned my integrity as a reviewer because I have chosen to continue to act from time to time–saying it is a conflict of interest. When I took over five years ago, I specifically told the community I would not give up the experience of doing theatre in favor of critiquing it. So, there is no secret there. That is not the standard of traditional newspaper reviewers, for example. The New York Times critics do not also act in plays or produce plays. But had I not stepped in, EncoreMichigan would have gone away. I believed it should be saved, and still do. I thought it was a worthwhile trade-off to make, which is why I made no secret of it. People who are voicing objection are connected to theaters that have invited me to critique their shows for five years. So, that criticism doesn’t make any sense to me.
Many outlets use practitioners to review, evaluate and report: The HuffingtonPost, Forbes, Fortune to name a few. The modern media model has changed.
But it is clear to me that working this hard for a community for no money–too many members of which do not appreciate the effort–is a fool’s errand. They are entitled to their opinion about whether criticism of productions is old-hat, or if me and the reviewing team are qualified to do it. We heard from a lot of younger artists who seem to think their work is above reproach or critique. Nobody’s is–including our work at EncoreMichigan. We also heard a lot of criticism that we don’t have the same standards as newspapers did back in the day. That’s probably true, but neither do newspapers do business the same way they did thirty years ago. Times change.
The newspapers and media sites of today in Michigan largely ignore the arts. We have been the only outlet working to public more than 220 reviews a year. No single site will follow us to do the same. We are a website, and we produce content around professional theatre in Michigan. Some of that content is reviews. We do not follow a formula in offering reviews. From time to time, as in the case of the Debbie review, I took an unconventional approach to review and unconventional show. We take each review seriously, even in the extremely rare instance that we walk out. Perhaps the “review” is becoming a thing of the past in the new social media age. It is being debated in all media markets–not just here.
Some changes to EncoreMichigan going forward.
- No longer will we endeavor to get all the shows covered that would be eligible for Wilde Awards–those with four performances and in which the actors are paid.
- We will only cover the shows that critics sign up for. This means that a lot of shows just won’t get covered. In the past, I would often go to shows all over Michigan to make sure they got reviewed. We will also take note of the theaters who wish us to still cover them, and try our best to continue to review them before the end of the run of a show.
- We will make a special effort to cover new theater companies that open and need coverage and exposure. The fact that some theaters have made it clear they no longer wish to be covered by EncoreMichigan will make that a bit easier.
- The recent campaign to raise money for Encore’s expenses will still be put to good use, paying critics a small stipend for time and gas to see the shows we do review. Also, offsetting the expenses of the weekly newsletter.
- Because we will undoubtedly miss more shows in the coming season, we will rethink how we determine future Wilde Awards.
- As always…if any reader of EncoreMichigan has a problem with any of our editorial coverage, we encourage anyone to point out a mistake, typo or even something that may offend. Write to Encorepress@gmail.com. We have always made fixes as fast we can, and we listen to every grievance, but we can only respond to what is communicated. We aren’t psychic. You can’t just send us a mental thought about something bothering you and get mad that we have not responded. When people have had the courage to email us a grievance, we have reviewed it and acted on it in just about every case.
The 2019 Wilde Award Ceremony is Canceled.
I feel badly about cancelling the Wilde Awards ceremony. It seemed to be an affair and recognition of the best work of the year that many people appreciated. To those people who will miss it, I apologize. But it is clear to me that there will not be enough community support this year to sell enough tickets, and it can’t be a money-losing event for us.
Moreover, we don’t feel we can guarantee a safe space for our attendees this year because of the nature of the social media attacks.
Anyone who has purchased a ticket will be refunded this week.
Perhaps we can reinstate it next year if the community decides it wants it.
We will post a story this week announcing the winners, and when the plaques arrive, we will mail them out to the theaters.
Congratulations to all the winners, and all the nominees. You had a great season.
It has been a privilege to serve this community, and please stay tuned as we figure out the model for EncoreMichigan.com going forward. It will be different, but we aren’t going away.
To those who think we do a bad job, you are free to walk out on our show just as I did The Ringwald’s. The Ringwald is an important theatre in the community, and has won many Wilde Awards. I’m sure legions of patrons will still go to their shows, as they should; probably more given the publicity over the review I wrote. And people will also still read EncoreMichigan.com as they should.
As always, I hope everyone sees a show this week.