Opinion on Red Keyboard Button.

by Ken Klingenmeier

I am not sure what triggered this question/comment by a friend of mine, who is about my age. He left it in the comment section of my previous review, which celebrated my 250th entry on this blog. He wrote this: I haven’t read all of the reviews listed but I have a question. Is there one which is a pan? And then he followed with this question: Do you ever pan a play?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “pan” in this respect – it means to heavily criticize, especially a performance. The question got me to thinking how I would answer, and as a result I took rather a long form approach to it, to express a justification, I guess. Here is what I have to say:

Hi Paul: That is a fair enough question. And the answer is – no, I think not. Some may argue that I did not like THEIR show, and they felt bad about it – but that is just the nature of opinion giving, I think.

I, like you, have been in a lot of plays and even directed quite a few. Some have been better than others – all of them have been a lot of work. Every single person in every play I have been involved with – well, I actually can think of one, just one bad apple, who actually got removed from a cast for trying to undermine the production to his liking. (Not sure what his problem was, but he was a rare bird) – all but this one person worked their tail off to do their best in a show.

As I said, the resulting shows weren’t all stellar. Most were good, some were really very good – but some, a few at least, could have been a lot better – but not for any other reason than there was an uneven set of talent, or the cast was not directed with a good enough amount of experience or insight, or the script itself was lacking.

I consider myself to have a pretty good eye for what is right on stage and what could be better in a production. I can see when there is a struggle on someone’s or something’s account – it could be the tech is going wrong, or an actor has a brain fart, or what was planned had a flaw in blocking or intensity or pacing. None of these events happening would require me to pan (or write a negative review about) a show. Even if all these things happened in the same show, I wouldn’t feel like that was necessary.

This is not the big city, NYC – but, the area where we live is an extraordinary one, full of talented directors, actors, and designers – both professional and on the community theatre level. (These days I find it quite amazing that when I look at a community theatre cast list when it is announced, I see far more names of people I don’t know than members of “the old gang”! Where are all these people coming from?)

But, back to the matter at hand. Basically, I don’t feel it necessary – or productive – to pan any show I have seen. I have seen one show since I have been doing this review blog – one show that was very, very bad. The piece was a jumble of flawed decisions by the director, miscast actors, and a damn silly script. After watching it, I decided I could not find ANYTHING good about it – so I skipped writing a review. It was not my place to destroy the production so that whoever read such a review would tend to not buy a ticket (which would support the theatre) or give the show a chance for its own sake. The fact is, many other people might enjoy the show as an entertainment, and would likely overlook what I saw as problems.

That is not to say, I never write any negatives. I have disagreements with choices in shows and I address them. I find mistakes or lack of understanding in choices and I point those out – sometimes instructing the director or actor, directly or indirectly, on what I believe could be done to make it better. There are no perfect shows – or if there are, they are as rare as 5 carat diamonds. Also rare is the show that is all bad.

And that leads me to explaining the essence of my job as I see it – my mission, if you will, as a reviewer of Indianapolis area theatre. First of all, boost the wonderful theatre community we are SO LUCKY to be amidst. They are more often than not – astounding. Second, point out what might be a problem and if possible, give my opinion on what could make it better, in my perception. Third, do no harm.

I have actually lost a friend over a review. They failed to understand that I was giving them a critique of how their work might be better. I failed to do a good enough job expressing that idea. Luckily such a reaction is rare, but I learned the importance of clarity in this work. And if something is absolutely god-awful, it is better to concentrate on what is right in the matter than to destroy someone’s hard work and intentions just to prove a point.

So, bottom line: I craft my reviews to try to promote live theatre in Indianapolis. None the less, I give my opinion about things, but I never want to be so opinionated that I will wound someone’s impression of themselves or of their work. I praise loudly when I am wowed, and I am OFTEN wowed by this theatre community. Finally, I criticize carefully because, hell, it is just MY opinion, after all.

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