Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Apologists Defend George Hunka

Now I'm receiving emails stating that because Playwrights Horizons offered George Hunka free tickets and invited him to write whatever he wants, he's utterly from ethics or responsibility for what he did. You. Are. Wrong.

No, I'm not blowing this out of proportion.
No, I'm not letting this go.
If you don't like it, ignore my blog. Bye.
Back Stage may be doing a story on this.
Meantime, a couple of thoughts:

1) One more time, just because there's a pimp doesn't mean you have to fuck everyone.

Yes, George was offered free tickets in exchange to write whatever he wanted, but that doesn't exonerate him from doing something unethical -- both writing a formal review and leaving at intermission. And I do think it harms the artists -- I think it harms artists immeasurably. What a cavalier, who-gives-a-fuck attitude to have, to say that it's ok to review the play in an early preview because one or some of the actors are "successful." What does that have to do with anything?

2) I've just gotten off the phone with a major press agent and learned that neither ATPAM (the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers) nor the League of American Theatres and Producers, which jointly controls press lists, sanction inviting bloggers to review early previews. Both groups, the press agent added, do understand the changing nature of theatre press, and do understand the differences between print/Web and blogging. And yes, all PR people want buzz for their clients -- this, I might add, is additionally being offered as justification for Playwrights Horizons doing what it did, and for George's actions.

Do you believe to your core that PR people -- people who make their living generating buzz -- had no choice but to encourage formal reviews because it was the only, sole, singular way to get buzz? Are you saying there absolutely no other ways to work with bloggers to help a show get buzz -- negative or positive or otherwise? Could Playwrights Horizons not have invited bloggers to see a rehearsal, to attend a preview, and write a feature? Could they not have talked to the playwright, talked to the director, observed or talked to the actors or the artistic director? Or have the bloggers attend the same late-preview performance as the critics?

Again -- a formal review is the only option for a blogger? The only one? I don't think so.

Again, I'm not letting this go.
And I don't think I've blown anything out of proportion at all.

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Freeman said...

Gotta say -

I think there is a lot more gray area here than you're speaking to. For example, I sent an e-mail to you recently about this issue. I don't feel that makes me an "apologist for Hunka." George can speak for himself.

On my blog, I spoke a bit about the issue of walking out, in terms of personal choice.

Blogging, like it or not, is still in its formative years. Superfluities has existed, in some form, for four years. Compare that to Backstage, which is a mere 45 years old. Whatever standards that mainstream press has are long-standing and even those have exceptions and contraversies. The fact that the blogs are still working it out, and that there are transgressions and questions of taste is to be expected.

Do I personally agree with how George handled it? Not really. But it's not up to me and it's not a matter that needs public scolding, I feel.

That's not an apology for his behavior. That's just an argument for proper context, fairness and level-headedness.

George Hunka said...

When I was the general manager of a small theatre in Philadelphia in the mid-1980s I shared my office with the artistic director. When a bad review of one of our shows was published in the Inquirer or the Daily News, the AD would often go into hysterics. "Ah, these reviews!" he would yell, stomping and screaming. "George, I want you to draft a letter to the editor! Tell them that all of their reviews should have a sentence in bold italics before each review -- 'The below is only the opinion of our reviewer and shouldn't be taken as fact!'"

What struck me then about his response, and what strikes me now about yours to my review, Leonard, is the extraordinary condescension and lack of respect that you show not only to me, but to the artists who are responsible for "100 Saints" and to the potential audience for this show, which includes the readership of various critics, both you and me.

Artists are not children to be coddled and protected from criticism when they, or their producing organization, invite it from whatever source, and critics are not paternalistic playground monitors, to pat artists on the head when they do well or scold them when they do poorly. Artists are fully-grown mature adults, well aware that they conduct their professional lives in the public arena. Criticism, whether it's from a reviewer or from a friend over drinks after a show, is the risk one takes, consciously, when one chooses the profession.

Readers of both blogs and newspaper reviews, similarly, are not children. Despite what my AD used to believe, they are fully capable of reading, fairly and critically, the reviews we write and decide on the basis of that whether they want to see the show or not. They are aware that these are opinions, nothing more and nothing less. And the more familiar they are with an individual critic's prejudices and interests, the more they are fairly able to judge whether the play itself holds any interest for them or not. People who have been reading "Superfluities" for the past few years, as well as the reviews I've written for other publications, are well-aware of my own, and my fairness when it comes to reviewing shows which don't conform to the aesthetics I hold for my own creative work.

To give Playwrights Horizons its due, they're aware that the nature of the critical, reviewing and marketing world is changing too. It's changed quite a bit in the four years since I've been writing "Superfluities." Among the things that have been changing is this very "industry practice" that you spend so much time defending. The blogosphere has wrested criticism and reportage from the traditional MSM that former elitist cadre of marketers, critics, editors and producers used to control.

I don't need to be lectured on professional ethics by the likes of you. It's your own self-protective, paternalistic, moralistic attitude towards the art and the industry itself you're expressing. You're not defending artists here (they can adequately defend themselves in their own work), or the audience. You're defending your own sinecure as a paid reviewer firmly ensconced in the MSM.

I don't know why PH invited me to write about "100 Saints" on the terms they offered me. I continue to receive invitations to shows, some of which I write about, some of which I don't. But I think I get these invitations because of the quality of my writing and the perceived value of my response, positive or negative -- a fully open, ethical response to the individual reviewing situation I find myself in. I'm very flattered that it's valued. Your own self-serving harangues, though, seem to presume that I have some kind of influence that I certainly wasn't looking for.

In the event Backstage does want to do a story like this (and in the even unlikelier event they want to talk to me about it), my email address is on the home page of my blog. I'd have written to you via email, Leonard. But apparently you don't want your readers to have that kind of access.