On opinion-giving: what, why, when?

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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.


Exciting Theatre News: A New Theatre Company is (re)born in Carmel!

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A few days ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with John and June Clair, a Carmel couple with longtime local theater ties who have taken on a huge new project: rebuilding Carmel’s second oldest theatre company, once known as Carmel Repertory Theatre, to be known henceforth as Carmel Theatre Company (or CTC). June was the driving force behind Broad Ripple Playhouse many years ago and she and John most recently penned a musical, Andersen, the popular treatment of Hans Christian Andersen’s story which premiered in Carmel and had a subsequent run in Minneapolis a few years ago.

Last June, after some financial difficulties forced a changing of the guard at CRT, the Clairs took over producing CRT’s sponsorship of the American Association of Community Theatres’ (AACT) national competition in Carmel, AACTFest 2013, which frankly was a huge undertaking. After that endeavor, they found they were left with the remaining shell of CRT, but very little in the way of funds. Undaunted, they have decided to forge ahead and try to save the company from demise. No shows have been produced as of yet this season, but plans are in the works for the new beginning – the start of CTC.

Included in the plan is the resurrection of one of my favorite venues, Studio 15 – located at 15 First Ave NE in Carmel (across the street from the popular Woody’s/Library Restaurant). I have directed and attended quite a few shows there when it was occupied by Carmel Community Players (CCP). It is an intimate space, seating a mere 60 or so patrons, which actors have invariably enjoyed performing in. It allows audiences a closeness to the stage that is rare. I directed 5 shows in that space, all for CCP: the very first one in the building (The Glass Menagerie in 2002) and one of the final shows produced there (Art in 2008). And the Clairs have asked me to direct a soon-to-be-named show at the venue this coming spring!

The upcoming schedule provided to me by the Clairs shows two events: the first of which is Talent Extravaganza! – a local talent show which runs October 11 and 12 (next weekend!) at 7 pm at Studio 15. Admission is FREE! But, donations will be accepted as this renewed organization works to get back on some firm financial footing.

Next on the schedule is a Christmas show: a theatrical presentation of Nutcracker. This is not the ballet, but a reworked musical version of this favorite holiday story. Showings will be Dec 6-8 and 12-15 2013 with 7:30 evening performances and 2 pm matinees. Audition dates and times will be announced soon. * – see below!

Finally, as with any new endeavor, CTC is hoping to find some willing volunteers to help with the many tasks of putting on productions. Volunteers are needed for all aspects of theatre-work: designers, builders, costumers, staff persons, musicians, singers, actors, directors, web designers, sponsors and friends. If you are at all willing to help or to learn more about the new CTC, drop John and June a line at their email address: j2clairs@att.net

Again: if you support local theatre, a great way to do so will be to attend CTC’s kickoff event next weekend. You are sure to see some great local talent and it will be an excellent way to show your enthusiasm for what promises to be a well-run, artist-friendly, exciting new company.

As the Clairs expressed to me at our meeting, their message to the central Indiana theatre community is this: “If you have experience, or want experience, come experience CTC.”

* – Just announced! Audition dates for Nutcracker. All auditions will be held at Studio 15, 15 First Ave NE in Carmel:
Tues/Wed Oct 15 & 16 at 5:30pm-8:30pm
Sat Oct 19 at 9am-12pm
Sun Oct 20 at 12pm-2:30pm
Parts are available for 4 adults and 11 children plus “several dancing choruses”.
Adult parts are: Mother, Father, Godfather Dosselmeier and the Nanny.

Heartland Classic Ballroom Dancesport Competition – USA Dance


My wonderful next door neighbor, Ron (see my previous blog entry entitled Life observed: Neighbors ), is heading up a huge dance competition that is coming to town on August 10th and I’d like my readers to know a bit more about it. This is an annual event and couples come into town from all over the country to compete. This is not your “one dance and we’ll see if we like you – Dancing With the Stars” type of competition. This is the real thing – a real test of a competition where dancers really know their stuff in many disciplines. It’s versatility, steps, style and confidence that make the difference here.
Dance poster 2013

All the info you’ll need to buy tickets is listed on the poster above. If you like dance, especially ballroom style dancing, this will be something you will not want to miss.

To find out more about Dancesport you can go to Dance USA’s site http://www.usadance.org/dancesport/

Note: This blog entry marks my 100th posting. When I started this blog in June ’10 with a review of Rabbit Hole at Spotlight Players, I never thought I would be doing 3 years of posting, let alone 100 entries. I keep doing it because it’s fun, I get a lot of good feedback (and very little negative), and I enjoy writing more than I ever knew I would. Thanks to those who “follow” the blog and get each entry in their email. I appreciate it.
Now, to start on my next hundred…

New ideas that work for your theatre group…

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I have never been one to shy away from new ideas. And, I am an especially big fan of new ideas that work! Let’s face it – theatre is one of those mediums where our friends and cohorts sometimes do something a little crazy, let alone new, and we applaud them when it works, and we support them even when it doesn’t, just for trying something new.

A few years ago, in 2008 – I had what I thought was a really good idea. I called it: Shared-Stage Productions. The idea was to have a regular series of plays every year whereby one theatre would sponsor another theatre’s production (one that had been already done at the home theatre) for a weekend; so that a show done at, say Buck Creek Players would finish it’s run, store it’s scenery and costumes and props and later in the year or even the next season would produce the show again at, say The Belfry. It had it’s wrinkles to be worked out and the idea had it’s detractors. But it did get people to thinking about new ways to think about handling the production end of theatre. And, the idea was successful – it was based on actually taking a Carmel Community Players show – Art by Yasmina Reza – and producing it on Wayne Township Community Theatre’s stage on the westside of Indianapolis. The idea gathered a lot of steam and then died after much discussion, for reasons that I will not get into in this edition. But we at least tried it and made it happen for us.

Now I have run across another very good idea – although this time it isn’t mine. This idea came out of the fruitful mind of local actor, and Arts Marketing Consultant Clay Mabbitt. Clay has been rather busy lately on Indy stages – I first saw him in A Nice Family Gathering at CCP, a little later he played #3 in The Belfry’s production of Twelve Angry Men, and lately I saw him hit it out of the park in Bug at Spotlight Players. Plus, I know he did a Fringe show here last summer. So, the guy gets around and it turns out he knows a lot about marketing and has his own outfit: Sold Out Run. Clay and I have chatted and talked about the subject of getting audiences into our theatres lately and he told me about a program he was developing on just that subject.

First some background: we all have faced the problem at times – low attendance to our shows, whether we are producing them or directing them. I have worked at many theatres in the area and have observed vast differences in approach to advertising, marketing, and creating audience appeal. “Creating” is the key word, I think. Audiences, at least consistant audiences of good size, don’t just happen on their own. The days of putting up a lot of posters all over town and getting the response of big houses in the theatres are long gone. As Clay points out, we are living in much different times and we are facing wholly new competition for people’s attention. Hey, when you can get in a vehicle, whether it’s a car, a plane or a city bus, and be entertained by your phone or tablet – texting, surfing, watching television shows or movies – it has to be something pretty enticing to get you out of that zone and into the “outer realm” of a live theatre seat.

Clay Mabbitt has put together a concise kit of great ideas entitled Reaching a New Audience. It’s mapped out so even a dumb guy like me can follow it and say – “Yeah – why haven’t I been promoting this way?” One of my favorite ideas: “the script, your cast, and the venue are all free raw material for your promotions. If you want to shoot a video, you’ve already got words, actors, and a location. Get a camera and start rolling.” I really like the idea of video advertising and it is so much a part of everyone’s online life to see videos about things that interest them. Plus, there are so many outlets on which to reach people with a video!

Enough of my trying to explain what the kit is about. Here is a link for the marketing program’s web page: http://soldoutrun.com/newaudience/. It has info and testimonials as well as the link to buy the kit. You’ll get a lot of great information and lots of ideas for improving your audience attendance for $147 with a money back guarantee! That’s ten $15 seats! I figure that the results I will get from using Clay’s ideas will pay for the kit on opening night!

You can tell – I am really excited about this project of Clay’s and I only hope you will give it a look. Nothing to lose, and a whole lot to gain. And as far as new ideas are concerned, there’s this thought –  “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendall Holmes.