Tag Archives: criticism

The Cost Of Creativity

The playwright Sarah Ruhl (In The Next Room) has written an essay about her choice to stage a review-less production. Ms. Ruhl will direct her work Melancholy Play as part of the 13P. It is a very limited run without previews or press invitations. This aligns with 13P’s mission of producing plays versus developing plays. The goal presumably is to get a play in front of an audience without interference. Ms. Ruhl elegantly defends this artistic process in her essay. And there would be no argument with any of her assertions if it wasn’t for the fact that the audience is being asked to purchase tickets. (I would also add that using the press to promote a play in which the press is not invited could be construed as a bit designing.)

Ms. Ruhl is using 13P to its best advantage and getting experimental with her own play. The addition of live music is adding costs, complications and creativity to one of her older works. Supposedly that is why she asserts; “It didn’t feel fair to me to burden the production team with the pressure of reviews when we were already embarking on something so insanely ambitious given our resources.” There are just a few too many flaws in that assertion to ignore:

  • Working in a vacuum is rarely a good idea; art needs air.
  • Directing one’s own work is a slippery little endeavor and unchecked can often become what is commonly known as a ‘private behavior’
  • Criticism is not the enemy
  • Reviews are for the benefit of an audience

Ms. Ruhl goes on to say that “…the press desires more bravery from artists and yet, in its very call for bravery, ends up eliciting timidity because of asrtists’ fear of public opinion.” This may very well be true for many artists (poets and visual artists come to mind.) But anyone who writes for the stage, directs for the stage or gets up on a stage is doing so for an audience (aka public opinion.) Plays don’t hang on gallery walls and actors don’t live on shelves. They come alive in front of an audience. Unlike a gallery or bookstore, there hasn’t been curation for 13P. In fact the very mission of 13P is to avoid the critiquing process that often stalls a play before it can get to production. Discouraging reviews, which in essence are post-production curation, and charging patrons is the equivalent of charging people to walk through studios of random artists. An audience wants to be moved, they want to see something anew, they want to feel as if they are part of the experience not just paying for someone’s hobby.

In the end a review wouldn’t have impacted an 11 performance run of a play in any discernible way. I dare say it is not the production that is being protected here but the reputation of the creative team. Nobody likes being told that what’s important to them is not important to someone else. But real art cannot grow if artists are concerned with being liked. I agree with Ms. Ruhl that there needs to be room to try new things with limited risk. If we are to have any chance of avoiding a world in which the majority of staged productions are the result of a book-to-film-to-stage deal we need to make space for creativity. But surely we are creative enough to do so without asking strangers to blindly support the development of new work. We have workshops, showcases, readings and friends for this reason.

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Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Here Comes The Judge

Have you ever met someone without an opinion? They have no preferences; no interest in choosing one film, book, or spouse over another? Probably not (and if you have please try to dissuade them from voting.) Part of having a functioning brain is having the ability to determine preference. There are humans, only moments old, who prefer one breast over another at mealtime. Making determinations about our preferences, sometimes very rapidly, is how we navigate this complex world. Another term for this process is “judgment.” We make judgments, as well as show good or poor judgment in our daily life. There is nothing negative about the word anymore than there is about the word “stress.” We humans are now using these words to express negativity. If we wait a few years, it will pass.

But in the meantime it’s interesting to note what is often lurking behind the cry of; “judgmental!” You’ve only to walk past a high school to hear; “Don’t judge me.” It’s right up there with “That’s so random” and “I’m stressing.” Hey teenagers cannot and should not be separated from their chosen vernacular. If nothing else these words and phrases support their sense of discovering the world anew. But what of grown people who adopt such a phrase as “Don’t judge me” or “Friends don’t judge” or any other Hallmark worthy sentiment? What are they actually saying/pleading? Is it even possible to conjure such an expression if one feels completely confident in their choices or predicament? Have you ever heard anyone say; “Don’t judge me but I’ve decided to stay in a good marriage?” or “Please don’t judge but I’m putting 10% of my income into savings?” I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you haven’t. “Don’t judge me” or “You’re judging me” is basically a daytime television way to communicate; “I am so not comfortable with what I’m saying/doing.” Not convinced? Try this little exercise.

  • If I remarked; “Have you put on weight?” you would feel judged right? Well, only if you had put on unwelcome weight. If you’d been trying to gain (it happens) or in fact hadn’t gained an ounce in years, this comment would not feel judgmental. You might wonder if there was something wrong with my eyes though.
  • If we were at a museum/restaurant/park and I remarked “Is that your child?” you would feel judged if you felt your child was behaving poorly or somehow wasn’t measuring up to some standard you have. But if you were happy and confident you might just answer; “yes.”

We cannot all be 100% confident of every aspect of our lives at every moment. It’s not even a healthy goal. Self doubt can be a wonderful impetus for growth and change. But self doubt is about the self not about what people may or may not be thinking about you.

This sensitivity to perceived criticism often goes hand in hand with the “ha ha who cares” attitude. This nonconformist attitude by another name is called insecurity. Defensive can be used to mask a feeling of self doubt. “I can wear whatever I want, don’t judge me!” or “I don’t care what people think of me.” Okay, let’s stop for a moment. If you really and truly feel you should be able to wear whatever you want at anytime you would be best served living in a community of like minded people. A nudist colony or commune come to mind. If you have any notion or need of venturing into the diverse and enormous populace it is hostile to not respect social custom. If you really don’t care what people think of you I would suggest you might lean towards the atypical of mental healthiness. It is a core human desire to seek and find love and connection. Does love only come to the well groomed and conventionally behaved? Of course not. But we are visual animals (those of us with vision) and we use those powers to process much information about a stranger. Whether it’s entirely accurate or not, when we see a person who has taken a moment on themselves we form an opinion about their orientation to the world. The inverse is just as true. If we do not feel connected to our physical selves we typically do not seek out people who look as if they embrace their physicality. In other words we make judgments. That is what humans (and even some animals) do. The next time you hear the word “judge” or “judgement” (in your head or in your ears) being used not in the legal sense, take a moment.The word itself could be a great internal or external conversation starter.

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Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being


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