My name is Shon M. Stacy. I’m writing this as a proud member of the Hampton Roads Artistic Community.
This public statement has no affiliation to me as a member of or participant in any specific theater, production, or artistic endeavor, past or present. These are merely words I can’t contain.
A recent digital article has created quite a stir amongst peers, acquaintances, and local affiliations. While I am happy for the discussion it has created, it’s merely scraped the surface that needs a deep dive – top to bottom.
I have no fight in this particular race. I haven’t even seen the show in question. I’ll be seeing the production on Friday that has friends and peers associated with it. I’ve done the show. I’ll be open minded. But I do feel a stirring in me to fight for something. Words are knives so I’ve taken the time to choose mine carefully.
AltDaily is a local resource that I use quite often to learn of anything and everything local and fun. I was excited to hear of a new management structure taking over for the local arts section. Theatre reviews, given as a free ticket exchange, should be fair trade agreements. Free seats for free press – DURING a production’s run, when it can help advertise; good or bad press, it’s FREE press. It is NOT when a run is almost over or when the review isn’t even published at all during a run. Not publishing a review that was given in exchange for free tickets is stealing. And I’m sorry, but to excuse the critics and editors as “volunteers” is the same lame-ass excuse for excusing bad actors on a paid stage. You did the role, you did the work, there are expectations. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
There’s been mention of the upcoming AltDaily Best of Hampton Roads Stage awards. The spirit is wonderful, but until those hold any true and wondrous merit, we need to make sure the critics are the best to judge. Timely. Relevant. Educated. Qualified. Impartial. Honest. IMPARTIAL. And more often than not, polite.
I value opinions from my peers. That’s what I consider some of these folks on this staff of AltDaily writers. Many have done wonderful work – in one form or another – in some capacity of stage performance and/or production. I have participated from the top down in every aspect of theatre production. I have shown in my own way what I think a production should feel like from day one to the final strike. Until the writers can all say that in total honesty after helming the entire burden of a show, I say “step up or shut up.” A critique should be an educated response that is well thought out with a base of education and common courtesy and NOT badger something because you feel you have to find something to trash. Until you’ve directed, it’s not “critiquing,” it’s called “having an opinion.” Some reviews are right on. Some are personally biased. Some are plain cruel. And like assholes, we all have opinions… it’s a free country. But free press is not consequence-free. And sometimes that means the cost is paid in bruised egos of artisans.
That being said…
Actors: grow a pair. Do the art because you love it and the work should speak for itself. And if you put your head down at night and KNOW you did good work – you listened to your director and production team as the good soldier you are – then you’ve done your job. If you want to sing, and sing well, take lessons. Practice. Stop listening to friends whose job is to support and love you unconditionally. Listen to trained individuals that want to and CAN actually help you sound and present better. Education is never-ending. Take a role because it’s something you can learn and grow from. Stop doing dream roles that you should have given up on ages ago. Stop playing 20 in your 50’s… stop playing children in your 20’s… there are new and wonderful generational roles out there for all ages. If it’s a dream role, and you KNOW you’re not right for it anymore, transform it and bring it to life… direct, stage manage, produce, promote… something. Don’t make your dream role some theater patron’s nightmare.
Directors: Do you look inside your own aquarium from the outside and ask if it’s serving the community you’re supposed to be performing for? Is it performance art that has to be explained? It’s not art if it has to be explained in someone’s Director’s Notes. Cast the right people for the show, not for your social hours. It’s not about how many rehearsal hours were put into a show to make it good. Direct. Have the aesthetic that serves the community, do the research and PLAN AHEAD, not on the spot! Make every aspect cohesive. Do the piece you’ve been trusted to helm, and coach and guide the next generation of actors and producers in waiting.
Board members – do three things:
raise community awareness,
or get off.
Plain and simple: stop being actors/directors who want to do shows with actors/directors so you get on the board of things because you think that’s the only way you can act in/direct things. There are certain skill sets essential to each operational board. Listen to each other. Sometimes you’ll be challenged. Never roll over. Trust your gut. But if you just agree to disagree all the time, see the above 3rd actionable item and find a theater or different venue you align with.
Play reading committees: Challenge yourselves. Challenge the communities. But take steps in excellence. You don’t run a full marathon without running around the block a few times. If you can’t think of 2-3 CRUCIAL people needed in a cast to do a show successfully (2-3 CORRECT age and ‘skill-set-required’ people for the show so it is done successfully), then you might want to either start the process of looking for them sooner rather than later or pick another damn show to do. There are THOUSANDS. Stop thinking there’s only one way to do a show. Let directors surprise and delight you. Closely look at the surrounding timelines of other theaters that you’re wishing to produce the show. Choose productions NOT because you want to be in the show, but for the community. I love doing theater for our community. I do not believe in the stigmas associated with the moniker of ‘community theater.’ One of my favorite quotes is “Broadway is the community theater of New York City.” They do what they do with the people and the resources around them. And finally, when you choose a director (one that should feel NO obligation to hire you in that said production), make sure they give you a truly executable plan. And hold them to that! I’d say your role is the most crucial of any theatre role.
Theaters as a whole should be thankful for patrons who pay. I bought my ticket. There’s no expectation that should be given further than that. You want me to stand? Make me feel something that stirs inside that needs to be physically expressed higher and louder than just clapping politely! Audiences don’t care about the behind the scenes bullshit. No amount of blood, sweat, or tears will make them love the show more. Do a good show. And when you have a good show, refine it and make it a GREAT show! Bring in outside people to tell you that your aquarium that you’ve lived in for weeks is a little askew and needs help. Listen to their opinions. But again, they’re just opinions. If you find yourself getting mad at them, you only have yourself to blame for either inviting rude people or knowing it’s the truth you couldn’t admit to yourself.
I may very well agree with the points of a recent review. I may completely disagree. I haven’t seen it yet. But again, my opinions would be only MY opinions. I don’t publish my critiques from on high as the absolute best and only way to execute something. I have learned a savviness to get my point made without pointing or talking down to others.
There is no heart without ART. It’s a muscle. Exercise it. Grow. Take care of it. Listen to it. Thank you for your time, and I’ll see you at the theaters!