Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Read All About It: Local "Reviewer" Loves Self, Hates The Rest of You Fools!

You know how I love so very much to celebrate all of zee good things about Austin in my writing? Well this isn’t one of those times. Fair warning—as I am wont to do from time to time, I am going to once again exercise my Irish Buddhim and attempt (futilely I know) to provide a little enlightenment courtesy of cleaving le sphincter noveau. (For you little people who need help, that is my new term for “ripping a new asshole.)

Today’s lucky recipient of said nuevo porthole de butthole is a local “theatre critic.” This young fella – I believe he might be all of six years old —is quite fond (nay, enamored!) of using twelve words where one might do, and of selecting these twelve words from the Annoyingly Convoluted section of the thesaurus. (For all my distaste for his “criticism,” I must admit he’s a rather precocious six year-old, what with his propensity to tackle such a tome.)

Before I go any further, a few notes. First of all, I apologize if you find yourself yawning at what follows. Frankly, beyond alluding to him once before, I had purposefully avoided directly calling this terrible infant out in the past because in my experience, that is just what the terrible infants love most of all—they clatter their spoons about in their infantile attempts to manipulate those around them into paying attention. Okay, so this time, I’m picking up the spoon.

Let me say that this “critic” is a terrible infant to such an extent that I cannot even allow myself to affix to his sorry ass the more official-sounding title: enfant terrible. Because, even though, like TI, I, too, have the capacity to wield both a thesaurus and the occasional foreign phrase, I am far too fond of the Frogs to sully their beautiful language by even thinking about using it to describe TI.

Did I mention this is going to be a long one? (I feel it in my coeur!)

So, okay, awhile back, I wrote a post explaining why I was no longer going to be writing theatre reviews for the Austinist. My main reason was practical—I am way too fucking busy with my day job, my weekend job, and my novel-in-progress, not to mention my boyfriend, my three dogs, and my sorely neglected cat. I actually LOVE the Austinist and for some time I really enjoyed writing reviews.

Something else stopped me though. See, I have this belief that almost every production mounted in this town, is done so by people with their coeurs in the right place. While that is a very good thing, it does not always make for good theatre. But I am not from the school of Gleeful Bashing. Oh, maybe I was in my tortured, punk rock youth. But these days, I just do not want to make sport of trashing one production when I’d much rather spend my time pointing folks to the really good stuff out there. And there is PLENTY of good stuff. This town crawls with so much music/literary/stage talent that embarrassment of riches does not begin to describe it.

So while, in the moment of, say, enduring an excruciating Frontera Fest piece that appears to have been written by a male playwright solely for the purpose of getting the lead actress to prance around in a sheer body suit, nipples erect, for twenty-five interminable minutes, I think it might be fun to publicly condemn the playwright, something stops me. And that is this: I also see lots of lovely performances at Frontera Fest and on stages all over this city. Life’s short. I prefer to recommend the good rather than demonstrate some ability to hurl insults at the bad. (I mean, come on, people, I’m from fucking NEW JERSEY for Christ’s sake. We learn how to hurl insults before we learn how to breathe. It’s child’s play.)

In my post about why I wanted to stop reviewing for Austinist, I also noted that I sometimes feel in a bind. If I promise to review a show, and then I find wouldn’t recommend it to a friend, but then again I don’t want to give it a thumbs down, where does that leave me? Sure, I can list the strengths of a piece, but is that honest enough? Sometimes not. Which is why I have decided that my reviews will only be occasional from here on out, and only at my personal site, and (this post a sole excepton) only when I have something genuinely good to say to recommend a show. (See my Body Awareness Review, for example.)

BUT WAIT… there’s more. Also in that other piece, I noted that one thing gave me pause, prompted me to consider continuing my reviews. I went on to cite, in a very vague, non-identifying matter, one particular “reviewer” who, in an interview, praised his own work heartily (he also “directs” plays) and stated, for the record, that he hates every production put on by a particular theatre which I also did not identify. Sensing he lives to BASH anything he doesn’t have a hand in, I thought maybe I should stick around and offer some balance. But I overruled that thought, and got back to my novel.

Then, I read the Austinist “review” of Sleeping Beauty at the Vortex, written by the Terrible Infant. Before I get to my real point, first allow me to give you a sample of his writing “style.” He says in that review:

However blithe and aphasic it might be when finishing a thought, it is not actually confounding, which makes it an improvement over much of the Vortex’s fare.

Never mind that Blithe and Aphasic sounds like the name of some TV show that should star Shannon Doherty. And, to be fair, I suppose if one had the energy to wade through this tangle of proof that Terrible Infant studied his SAT vocab lists, one might argue that the sentence is almost complimentary. But forget about that, and listen to what happens later in the article. He goes full-on Ballistic Character Assassination Mode and proceeds, for no reason I can ascertain (beyond utterly transparent professional jealousy), to throw a massive tantrum over how the Vortex has such a big budget, and blah blah blah, and it’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair.

On the one hand TI is entitled to his opinion. Remember, opinions are like assholes—everybody’s got one. Fortunately, not everyone is one. Unfortunately, TI is not one of the ones who is not one (if I may phrase my sentence as he might, so that you can puzzle over it, and attempt to decipher it, and think I must be so smart, since I have stopped to make you think with my puzzling sentences that often run on and on and on.)

That Sleeping Beauty review garnered a lot of comments, which is what brought it to my attention. As I read the “review” I grew increasingly appalled. Because I remembered that the reviewer I’d anonymously referred to in my earlier post was this same little venom spewing man. And the venue that he declared to only and ever produce crap was the Vortex.

This, mes amis, caused me to instantly suffer from derriere rouge (chapped ass, people, look it up!). Because I think that if you are going to go on the record stating that you believe EVERY SHOW PUT ON BY A VENUE SUCKS then you have a duty to recuse yourself from reviewing shows at that venue if, in fact, you are trying to present yourself as a true “critic.” Not everyone agrees with me (surprise!) and some have gone so far as to suggest that by provoking so many comments, TI is doing his job to “foster conversation about theatre.” Uh, hello? Is it okay if I trot out the old bit about how I, too, could foster theatre conversation merely by hollering FIRE! (Oh, and speaking of rude noises in dark theatres—a little bird told me that at one performance TI showed up to review, he ATE A CRUNCHY APPLE DURING THE SHOW.)

One of my favorite expressions is this: to live outside the law, you must be honest (Dylan—Bob, not Thomas). Toward that end, you better believe I peed my pants with delight when I received an unsolicited invite to see a play directed by TI. To my further delight, I was at a wedding the other night, and ran into a playwright who shall remain unnamed, but who, too, has been the victim of TI. When I mentioned my “opportunity” to the playwright, the playwright noted that TI’s play was, in fact, written by Neil Labute. That didn’t ring a bell for me until the playwright told me Labute had written that misogynistic piece of shit movie In the Company of Men.

Now I was double-delighted because, oh meta-world!— I was feeling, I think, how TI must feel every day of his life. I was going to be heading into a production with preconceived negative ideas, and a set goal of hating it, even if I liked it. (Aside: I don’t have time to go into it now, but this calls to mind Sorry Fugu, a great TC Boyle short story about a food critic.) I knew, even if the play was somehow good, I would strive to despise it. Because, you know, don’t criticize a man til you’ve walked in his shoes. And donning TI’s shoes as I readied to critique his show required me to imagine myself a poseur, and walk around dismissing Hamlet, as TI did, because, as he says, the young prince is not dealing with issues that strike every human being.” (Oh, how bold—to decry the Bard!)

So anyway, I dragged my poseur ass over to this fifty-cent production. It was held in a very tiny room. In fact, oh joy, it was three Labute plays in one—the first was directed by someone else. The second two were directed by TI. I walked out after taking in the first two pieces and I walked out for a few reasons. First, my life is too fucking short to have to endure writing like that. Labute reminds me of my high school students’ fascination with Chuck Ohh I Am So Fucking Shocking Palahniuk. How I wish this next line was mine, but it isn’t. It belongs to the playwright I met at the wedding who said, of Labute’s work, you can sum up all of his plots as follows, “I’m a man! No, wait! I’m a monster!”

I had to keep my laughter in check as I watched the first play and then the second bear this out. I’m sitting there listening to poorly drawn characters (not the actors’ fault—they did the best they could) detail despicable acts that outsiders might never think they had the capacity to execute. But big fat fucking surprise—THEY DID! Both of the two plays I saw involved murder— the first of an infant, the second of a gay man. And, for reasons I’ll have to ask someone with a Ph.D in English to explain, both also featured a heavy comforter. The characters are cliché and the males, in particular, are so despicable why would anyone want to sit through a show like this? Am I missing something? No, I am not. Labute got stuck in adolescence, and his sole goal seems to be creating vehicles that allow him to offer detailed descriptions of physical violence. Uh, hello? Isn’t that what we have Law & Order reruns for?

I looked for meta-clues, knowing that TI is soooo much smarter than all of us, wondering if I might be missing something, me, the critic who confesses to loving Broadway musicals. I found none. This was not a parody of cathartic moments in the lives of sociopaths. Far as I could tell, the players were directed to play it straight.

Which brings us to TI’s “directing” skills. Uh, okay, so it was a small room, maybe not so easy to work with. But for his portion of the show, the entire set was two wooden chairs. The actors stood up and sat down a few times. I’ve seen more dramatic action at Sunday night Mass back when Catholicism was forced on me. At least in church they also kneel, which action would’ve improved TI’s “direction” by at least 30%.

TI did offer his mighty view, spat down upon us from his perch on high, in the form of a note in the program. It reads, in part:

Shock value… when used in response to this concept we have of deceptive simplicity, this tendency we have to “humanize” by assuming that there are complicated, rational processes to undesirable actions, it’s a puissant reminder that we in fact do not always know what we “know.”

Boy I’ll say. I don’t know what TI knows, unless, it’s possible that—gasp—beyond cribbing from the thesaurus he knows utterly nothing at all. Speaking of thesauruses, I had to look up puissant and, to my surprise, it is not a reference to a James Bond movie. It means powerful, but if you ask me, it sounds an awful lot like pissant. Now that word, I know, as it has its origins in South Jersey. It’s just the precise term I’ve been looking for, lo these 2000+ words later, to capture my real feelings for the Terrible Infant.


Megan M. Reilly said...

Applause, applause, applause.

Though I have to say that there was a TI-written negative review of a show I was involved with that might actually have put more butts in seats than it intended.

Kat said...

First of all, why does everyone get so incensed when Mr. Carboni uses big words? Yes, he loves them - he gleefully hurls them around his writing like a kid in a candy store. So did Henry Miller. Our language is large and beautiful; let's celebrate those who stretch it rather than wring our hands because (gasp!) we had to reach for our dictionaries. I know, I know - people argue that it makes his reviews convoluted and hard to read. Get over it. Seriously. He has a different style and it's developing. Just because it might take more than a casual glance doesn't make it bad writing. It might even make it good writing.

Second, the Vortex is a respected, established theatre with a comparitively large budget. It's not jealousy to analyze how that money is being spent and if it perhaps should go to another theatre who does more with less. Every city with a thriving theatre community has this argument. Go to London and they're all analyzing if the National Theatre should be getting the huge budget it gets. It's unfortunate that there's not wads of money for everyone but it's not a crime to look at where that money is going.

Third, maybe this community should do a little less back patting. Yes, there are fantastic artists in this town but it seems like all anyone wants is a big smile and a "good job!" from the critics here. Maybe we should give them a new name to represent what everyone wants - maybe we should call them "super good job happy people". Would that more accurately describe their purpose to this community? Any city with a truly great artistic community has an ongoing conversation with their critics. And yes, there are many problems with the institution of criticism as a whole, but it seems like here, the critics are just supposed to trumpet shows so that theatres can get butts in seats and feel good about themselves.

Mr. Carboni is welcome to review any show with which I'm involved. I hope he brings his CRUNCHY apple.

Spike Gillespie said...

Henry Miller! BWAHAHAHAHA. Oh jesus, hold on, let me go collect my teeth which I spit out laughing at the comparison. So rich! So RICH! Henry Miller!

Maybe we could take the-critic-whose-name-i-shall-not-utter (lest it sully my website) a little more seriously if, in fact, he could put his money where his mouth is. Neil Labute? Fucking PU-LEEZE!

Kat said...

You're kidding right? You think that because you don't like Neil Labute, he's not a "real" playwright? Or a serious one? What playwright should Mr. Carboni be directing in order to prove his worth to you?

And put your teeth back in, honey. It's unbecoming.

Anonymous said...

"I know, I know - people argue that it makes his reviews convoluted and hard to read. Get over it. Seriously. He has a different style and it's developing. Just because it might take more than a casual glance doesn't make it bad writing. It might even make it good writing."

Kat is precisely the type of audience he is hoping to "reach."

RMatney said...

It's not so much his reaching/stretching to uncommon words that grates me about his writing style, it is his lack of grace doing it. The problem is over-reaching. If one can't land the triple lindy, one might be cautious about publicly deploying it until reach has seasoned into grasp. It is, indeed, unbecoming.

And then there is the issue of persistent petulance in content, a kind of whiny tone that insists on itself and won't be ignored. I've yet to read a post (and to be fair, this perception is aged as I stopped reading his posts some time back) that didn't scream a sub-text of "look at me I am so brave because I can be nasty." Bravery, of course, requires something more.

I'm all for firm criticism, constructive as well as it's lesser sibling. However, as for whiny petulance, adolescent iconoclasm, and verbal cocksmanship? Not so much.

If he was in high school, I'd call him clever and promising and ambitious, and, well, a snarky teenager ('kid in a candy store' is a fully appropriate phrase). But he's not. And I am inclined in my review of his reviews to cut his style and demeanor no more slack than he prides himself on cutting productions. It is at least is problematic to gratuitously pat a critic on the back just for getting nasty as it is to pat a production company on the back just for mounting a production.

So, here's to hoping that someone who loves writing and loves theater as much as he clearly does also takes the time and effort to mature in style and content into someone who balances nasty and constructive, edgy and skillful.

[Full disclosure: I'm a theater artist in Austin, and while I don't think I've yet been the object of one of his scathing remarks, I imagine it will come. So, my position could be easily dismissible as a preemptive strike.]

Spike Gillespie said...

Thank you Robert. I like full disclosures which makes me want to ask Kat if she or anyone she is, say, married to, works with TI. I think it would only be fair to say so if this is the case.

Dan said...

Seriously? Is it unethical now to stand up for one's friends without formally announcing that y'all are pals? Or to defend someone without a deposition disclosing every possible connection? Kat (FULL DISCLOSURE SHE'S MY WIFE) posted under her real name, and responded to the substance of your comments, so it seems to me like that disclosure's not really relevant. It's a small community and she used her name - tagging it with "Bastion's my friend and my husband is his editor" seems clumsy and unnecessary, since that's information most people who are interested already have access to. Frankly, I didn't see (nor did I expect) any disclaimer from you in the comment you posted yesterday under Bastion's Body Awareness review about the fact that you're pals with them and have performed in their space. No one's actively trying to hide these things.

Kat's husband
Bastion's editor at Austinist
Asked Spike a question about getting a check from UT this weekend (which came, incidentally)
Never met Megan or RMatney, don't think
Has a real good dog

Spike Gillespie said...

Hey Dan,
Thanks for the comment. As you have defended the TI's posts as goof for theater conversation, I likewise defend my choice to ask what Kat's connection is to TI. It is SUCh a tiny community here. Robert Faires is married to Barbara Chisholm. I've reviewed more than one of Lauren Lane's shows-- always asking about full disclosure protocol of my then editor-- since Lauren and I shared the the stage for our two year run of The Dick MOnologues at The Hyde Park Theatre. Dave Steakley's sister, Ginger, was my son's Montessori teacher for several years. Once, I ran into Michael Barnes at a wedding and chatted with him. I could go on.

I thought Kat-- whom I reviewed very favorably in her turn in a Vortex production (If I am remember correctly-- I think it was Oceana?)-- might be your wife. And I know that when someone questions a decision that relates back to my loved ones, I feel defensive on the part of that person. So the question arises-- and I believe it is a valid one-- Is Kat voicing *her* true feelings, free of her relationship to you? Or is she voicing feelings triggered, at least in part, by feeling defensive on your behalf? I don't think there's anything wrong with the latter, I just thought it would be a good piece of information to put out there. Anyway, I'm just continuing the conversation, and hoping it raises some valid points. Unless some new comments have posted here or at the AUstinist that I have not yet seen, I'm pretty sure that excepting your wife, so far all commenters agree that the TI's "reviews" are not only useless, but awful.

I actually think a better reviewer might note that she/he doesn't like a particular piece and why that is, ALONG with information that might be considered practical by a theatre goer trying to evaluate if a play is good for that person. As it stands, TI spends so much time beating off over the thesaurus, and desperately trying to validate himself by taking down others, that there's really no genuine review in his reviews.

I've seen others like him before. Either he'll grow up and mature over time (we can only hope, though I refuse to hold my breath) or he'll burn out and go away (we can only hope even harder.)

Spike Gillespie said...

one more thought-- i am "pals" with ken webster, as you say. this does not mean i adore every work he has ever produced. i have said more than once i had problems with the script for the Atheist, for example, though i did go on to say-- in all honesty-- that i thought Joey Hood did a swell job of working with the material he had.

RMatney said...

I find Dan's post-script list of disclaimers deliciously funny and playful. Thanks.

Also, I do think the ground of bias-disclaiming (especialy on ye webs) is uncertain, shifting, unclear. I likely fail on the side of over-disclosure to the point of irrelevancy. Which is likely to be, as Dan observes, sometimes (often?) clumsy.

Spike Gillespie said...

Oh Robert! Please, please PLEASE tell us about your wonderful wife. Pretty please?

RMatney said...

She's wonderful, and I'm married to her.

Anonymous said...

I think it seems more than plausible that "TI's" intentions, when it comes to his reviews, have been misunderstood. So maybe he tries to be TOO harsh sometimes because he thinks somebody should. But really, why would he write JUST to tear someone down? I don't think he does, at all. And I wish you wouldn't do so here. Reviews are not, nor should they be, personal attacks. And so should not be taken personally. If you ask me, everyone here, bickering hatefully on a blog, is making the theater community look bad. But I guess nobody else will really be reading this anyway... No harm no foul on any of our parts!

Forgive my lack of ANY kind of disclosure! I'm gettin the hell out of this blog!

RMatney said...

Liz is awesome, and my wife.

Also, I want to share a snippet of writing I found to be a gracious and balanced statement on this topic, authored by fellow commenter Dan. I read it sometime back, and found value in it then and now, and believe it speaks precisely to the critique being lobbed at the critic in question:

Snark has no place in criticism – which is a shame, because it’s easy and fun, and the common idiom of the Internet.

Which is a just a part of a longer relevant stament, as follows:

With that inherent imbalance in the time commitment in criticism as compared to creating even a very modest work –whether it’s theater reviewing or mp3 blogging or literary criticism – it’s really vital to never be lazy when crafting a response to the piece. It’s okay to hate the piece. It’s okay to call out a loathsome piece of art as being awful. But it’s not okay to do so lazily, because you’re up against a deadline, or because you’re tired, or because you were in a bad mood when you saw it. Snark has no place in criticism – which is a shame, because it’s easy and fun, and the common idiom of the Internet. But it’s only fair in an even exchange. A three minute song takes more time to write than it does to listen to and review, so it’s not fair to be dismissive of it. That imbalance is only magnified when you move onto theater, or film, or – for fuck’s sake – books. You don’t have to be nice, but if you can’t be thoughtful about why something sucks, you probably haven’t got much of a place at the conversation.

Thank you for the balance on this point, Dan. It seems to me we have common ground on this point.

Kat said...

A: Yes, I am Katherine Craft, Executive Director of Conspire Theatre (, wife of Dan Solomon, friend of Bastion Carboni and receiver of good review from Spike
Gillespie. I also have a good dog(full disclosure - it's the same dog as Dan's.)

B: I do not feel the need to defend Dan because he is a grownass man and more than capable of defending himself; if he has something to say, he'll say it. And your post isn't about Dan - it's about Bastion, so I find your assumptions a little strange.

C: In a reasonable conversation, you might be surprised by my points of view and the many gray areas I see around this subject. However, it seems that the vocal support I hear for Mr. Carboni around town does not translate into anyone actually writing any of this on the big bad internet, where people will rip you to shreds for having a different opinion than them.

D. @ anonymous. What does 'reach' mean when you put it in scare quotes? If you post anonymously, I assume that you like to hide in corners and be rude to people. I find this suspicion is usually founded.

E. I'm done. If you would like to discuss these things in person, please let me know. I do find your continued use of the TI moniker more and more distasteful.

Spike Gillespie said...

Um, Kat? TI doesn't even use his given name to refer to himself. Why should I?

Spike Gillespie said...

I wanted to post a couple more thoughts. Then I think I'll be done with it, too. (Or maybe not.)

When I read the SB review, and was appalled, I contacted Dan privately to voice my concerns. The two biggest of these were: a) TI had, in a public interview (which Dan himself conducted) dismissed out of hand EVERY performance at Vortex. If I were a food critic, and told my editor that I was on a gluten-free diet, then agreed to review a pasta restaurant, then declared the food made me sick, that would be unfair. It's a limited analogy, granted, but it's the one I'm going with. b) in my opinion (and i emphasize it is my OPINION) if TI wanted to take issue with the Vortex budget, the right thing to do would be to present the idea to his editor as a good one, recuse himself from writing the piece given his proclaimed hatred of the venue, and then, if he still felt it was a matter worth exploring, ask his editor to get someone to write a REPORTED story on it. I did not think that a "review" was a place for that.

I see Dan has posted over at the Austinist the goals he has for his reviewers and their writing. When I was writing reviews for the Austinist, my goal was to present information not only on how *I felt* about the show-- i.e. my personal experience and response-- but also to offer some basic information about plot, set, costumes. Because maybe someone else would see in those descriptions something that spoke to them. It is absolutely Dan's section to do with what he wishes, and if he wishes to publish TI, that's entirely his business. But TI has made it pretty clear that anyone who is stupid enough to waste time trying to slog through the shit he presents as "criticism" is not going to wind up with anything more than confirmation that TI thinks the only worthy productions in this town are his. (A point that even Dan seemed to agree with in his review of No Exit.)

As for TI's right to toss around language. I do believe one should learn the rules before one breaks them. Another food analogy-- you can unleash a five year old in a kitchen stocked with gourmet foods and tell the kid to have at it. Odds are incredibly high you'll wind up with a shit sandwich. TI does not carefully choose words that add to the bitterness he hurls. He just flips open a thesaurus and squirts out polysyllabic diarrhea. Many truly good writers use all sorts of interesting and difficult language that serves the true purpose of celebrating language-- Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, Norman Rush, Geraldine Brooks, Wallace Stegner are but a few who come instantly to mind. But merely having access to good ingredients/big words does not always yield a gourmet meal/literary experience. TI regularly provides evidence of this.

continued in part II due to post-length limitations

Spike Gillespie said...

Part II of my (hopefully) final comments on this:

Getting back to why I wanted Kat to identify herself. Because of the PARTICULAR relationship between TI and Dan and because of the PARTICULAR relationship between Dan and Kat, I do feel there's definitely some room to consider that Kat might want to defend Dan. Hey, if you insult my son's music, guess what? He's a legal adult, too, but likely I'd find leaping to his defense rather irresistible. Welcome to the human race-- we cover the backs of the people we love. No shame in that. I just wanted to clarify.

And finally (or perhaps not) what has amused me about this whole thing is that Kat and Dan seem a bit steamed over the fact that I wrote a negative review about a reviewer known for negativity, and that K & D seem to be defending TI's write to such negativity. I do believe, in a fair world (hahah-- a fair world! imagine!) I, too, am entitled to write a negative piece in the interest of generating conversation.

And I have generated conversation. A lot of it. I do not publish personal emails here. But I will say this-- my inbox has seen more than a few recent notes from people who, like me, wonder WTF is up with giving TI space as a "reviewer." Maybe give him a column if he wants a legitimate outlet for his temper tantrum throwing. But as a "reviewer"? Honestly, TI just does not cut it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what this opposition of wills is supposed to produce. Here follows what I was taught about the purpose of the critic and how an artist should receive criticism.

Critics are advocates of theatre and should help bridge the gap between the trained artist and the audience member. In other words, the critic distills subject matter, theme, character and relevance. Why? So a potential audience member can determine whether or not to attend a show. A critic, to this end, should be fair to both audience and artist, honestly representing the latter's work with empathy to the former. Let's be clear. If a reviewer simply bashes or praises a piece based on his or her own subjective opinion, who is being served other than the critic? If an audience member is mislead to see a show he or she finds disagreeable, and is mislead several times, that person will likely stop going to the theatre. It is essential that a critic represents the show accurately, whether he or she loved it or hated it. To protest too much either for positive or negative is neither beneficial to the theatre community, nor does it represent balanced journalism.

Artists: don't read reviews unless you are ready to be dissatisfied. FACT: no reviewer will ever write anything that praises you for the reasons you feel praise is deserved. No reviewer will ever offer insight that you will be open enough to receive. So, why read it? And then take this quiz:
You produce art for?
A. Yourself B. Critics C. Money D. Audience

Dan said...

Spike, no one's questioning your right to say something negative to start a conversation. In fact, I'm not the least bit "steamed" over anything you've said about Bastion. I said all that I had to say about that in the email discussion we had last week, which is why I haven't said a word about it here.

The only reason I replied here was because I thought it was rude of you to ignore the substance of Kat's comments in favor making veiled accusations that she was trying to hide something in comments that she posted under her own name. I was really surprised by that, and I felt like I should say something.


Anonymous said...

Damn. I haven't read through all of these comments. I started, but it is just too exhausting. Full disclosure on my end: I'm relatively uninvolved in the Austin theatre scene, but I designed costumes for Bastion Carboni's production of "No Exit" and we're friends. I think I shook Dan's hand once (hi, Dan!) and from what I remember that was a fine experience.

At any rate, I heard that there was a blog post ragging on Bastion, curiosity got the best of me, and I checked it out. I read the entire original post, and found myself pretty turned off by this whole shebang.

First off, let me just say that throwing down on someone because they delight in using the more off-the-beaten-path words available in a given language immediately sets me off (especially when you're throwing around French cliches (multilingual pun fully intended). I think calling someone out on grounds of pretension for being a logophile is just pure twitter-age bullshit. I'm a writer; I love words. I love talking with Bas because he chooses and uses his words carefully. Props.

Beyond that, though: he tells it like it is (for him) in his theatrical reviews, which is a critic's role. IT IS HIS JOB. I don't always agree with his perspectives; I tend to be optimistic, I enjoy a spectacle, and I love nothing more than to see artists having a grand old time together. I like almost everything I see, as long as it has verve and energy behind it. My nickname is The Silver Lining Kid, and I enjoy "music" that involves a dude in a poncho rolling around screaming on the floor of the Moose Lodge. That right there is why I'm not a critic.

Obviously, it is all a matter of taste (that pun's for you, B). Art criticism is a nasty, vicious, chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out place. But that's what it is for, that is why it exists in the first place.

One of my favorite artists recently said: "The art world is entirely about rejection. And I love that, I do. If you don't get rejected, over and over, you don't grow. Being told that your work is shit makes your work better."

Bless the critics. Bless them for helping to create better art, in all genres, in all mediums.

Critics should analyze and comment on art, not each other. Crafting a snarky blog post that very transparently alludes to a specific individual is just plain catty and doesn't do a goddamned thing for any art scene. Bastion Carboni may be negative/truthful/challenging about the art he sees in this town, but at least he doesn't launch personal attacks on the artists involved. That shit's tacky.

Spike Gillespie said...

Monsieur Anon,
I criticize your criticism of my criticism of the TI. Additionally, I offer zee big raspberry in your direction for claiming to know the definitive role of criticism. And trois (or did I mean "twee"?) if you are unable to see zee personal attacks TI has launched at zee Vortex, ever so thinly veiled as "criticism" as to appear about as un-naked as a titty-dancer legally counted as "clothed" courtesy of two bandaids and a rubber band strategically lodged in her crack... well then... if zees is true, monsieur, allow me to postulate a theory that you are blinded by some inexplicable fascination for TI, perhaps one unwittingly put upon you by some fairy, ala Midsummers' Night, who sprinkled some something in your eyes whilst you were sleeping.

And dare I toss your own sentiments back at you. When you said the following, you recaptured my feelings about TI perfectly. Bonus points for such succinctness. You said:

Crafting a snarky blog post that very transparently alludes to a specific individual is just plain catty and doesn't do a goddamned thing for any art scene.

Hear, hear! Truer words were never spoke bout TI and those of his irk. I mean ilk.


Spike Gillespie said...

P.S. Fair Warning-- I will post no more Anonymous comments at this post. Either grow a pair and sign your name, or at least allot the energy to create a pseudonym.

Brett said...

1) For a post about Bastion Carboni, quite a lot of it is about you.

2) I saw 'Body Awareness' and what I witnessed was much more akin to what Bastion wrote about than what you did. There were definitely some good moments and definitely a decent helping of underwhelming ones. Bastion's review pointed out both sides. In no way did it produce any reaction in me remotely equatable to review.

3) I am a male in his 20's. So is Bastion. Perhaps our demographic views theatre differently than that of a middle-aged wedding official.

4) It's incredibly low of you to dump on a reviewer for his directing. If you are dismayed by his reviews, stick to that.

5) What's the point of seeing a show you've geared yourself up to hate? Oh. Right. I'm writing a response to it.

6) What is the problem with having only two chairs comprise a set?

7) Dramatic action = active blocking? The third piece was a monologue not a Busby Berkley production.

8) Point 7 is irrelevant, anyhow. Dramatic action refers to subtext in the script.

9) You clearly do not understand the term 'L'Enfant terrible.' You've taken the term at face value and ignored its evolution.

10) In short, your critique has effectively undermined your ability to critique Bastion. If you wish to further a career based on the position of pervasive positivity perhaps you should consider a lovely little town outside of Orlando.

Spike Gillespie said...

Brett, Brett, Brett,
ah, yes, i remember when i was a disillusioned 20 year old male myself! oh, wait, no i don't. look, i think it's very adorable that you are attempting to defend TI. everyone needs friends.

here's my biggest hope for TI-- that one day, he'll understand that it's okay to let go, sit back, and enjoy the wonderment of being transported to some other place all courtesy of a performance he's taking in. in order to do this, he'll need to turn off that little noisemaker in his head, the one that goes off every single time he thinks of some "clever" or negative or sarcastic remark.

we are beyond fucking lucky to have the utter luxury of not only getting to see all sorts of great theater here, but also to have a chance to write about it. allow me to channel mi madre and say: think of the worse off, honey. TI has been handed this magnificent opportunity-- to live and direct and write in a theater community that could, if he would open his eyes, really teach him something.

sadly, he's got it backwards, thinking he is a gift to Austin theatre.

i genuinely, genuinely feel very sorry for him. having once been a terribly angry young person myself, i can see now (thank you middle age, thank you therapy) that much of the anger i was directing outwardly reflected a lot of inner turmoil. maybe TI hates himself and is taking it out in his criticisms. I don't know.

As for me-- yes, it's true I am a middle-aged wedding officiant (not "official"). It's a job I very much love for the way I get to embrace language and theater. Along the L&T lines, I've also had a few other gigs that some might say qualify me to, say, critique a young'n like TI. If you'll email me privately I will supply you with my resume. Or if you'd like, you can go to Amazon and order my six books. Or you can pop on over to the NYT website and search for some of my writing there. (Sadly, you can no longer see the show I conceived, produced, directed, and co-starred in for two years (selling out most nights)-- we closed last summer.)

As with our last anon poster, Brett, I leave you with your own words, and give you this homework assignment: Think about what you wrote about Spike, and how this comment might apply to TI's "criticisms." Then, write a 500 word essay debating whether or not this constitutes irony. Papers due on Friday. 10 points off for each day late. Here's the comment:

5) What's the point of seeing a show you've geared yourself up to hate?

Brett said...

Thank you for validating my post. I know who I feel sorry for now.

Ryan E. Johnson said...

Full disclosure before I begin: I have attended an event which Ken Webster also attended, and have been quite a fan of many of his productions, I am friends with a friend of Bastion's (which was more coincidence than anything else), and do believe I sat next to Spike at a performance of Body Awareness. I am also a theatre critic for the Austin Examiner.

It seems the problem here is that we are looking at two critics who view the art of criticism in two very different ways. Bastion and Spike have two VERY different world views, and their critiques show that. I also have a different worldview, and so my reviews are different as well. We all view things through our own particular spectacles, so no matter if we all see the same show, we'll all form different opinions of it. That's why I'm glad our city has a such a large community of critics, so that we can get several different viewpoints of the same play.

For every production, it seems there's always one critic praising it, one critic damning it, and another critic walking the middle road, and I think the city needs it. These different points of view help to show a complete 180 view of the production, letting us see it from all angles.

Sure, Bastion's negative reviews ruffle my feathers from time to time, but when I stop to think about it, he usually gives us well-reasoned, well-written arguments for his stands, which is the best we can ask for in a critic.

For what it's worth, I'm a twenty-something male, and enjoyed Body Awareness, almost as much as Spike (though I DID find a few issues), so let's not pigeonhole an age group quite yet.

Spike Gillespie said...

Hey Ryan,
If you don't mind, please post a link to your review. I'll check it out myself but think it could be a good point of reference here as well.

Suggesting you "know" me based on just my posts here is akin to me saying I "know" you after having watched your 1 second performance in a video about sex addiction. (
no thanks,

Spike Gillespie said...

Here's a link to Ryan's thoughtful review:

Olivia Pepper said...

Actually, it is mademoiselle. I didn't mean to post anonymously in the first place, I'm just not super great at blog stuff, but I'm getting the hang of it.

Unless you are suggesting that theatres are the same as individuals (and somehow I don't think corporate law applies here), I have never read a personal attack from Bastion against anyone involved in the scene - any actor, director, or fellow critic. Yes, I have read his remarks about the Vortex. I disagree with him, honestly. I actually think the Vortex often produces fun, beautiful, intriguing work and I like going there. But, like I said before, I'm an optimist and I enjoy the poncho dude.

My point still stands. Bastion openly criticizes (perhaps even bashes) the Vortex. You openly criticize (perhaps even bash) Bastion. There's a difference. You can trash my work or my workspace, and I'll be the bigger person, suck it up, maybe cry a few tears of disappointment, move on, and make something better.

But if you trash me as a person, assigning ignorant monikers (no, monsieur doesn't quite count, that's just assumptive), suggesting that I love myself and hate everyone else, that I have no grasp of the language I adore, and on and on and on...then you have only succeeded in hurting my feelings, ruffling the feathers of my friends, and becoming known about town as someone who launches personal attacks against those they artistically disagree with.

Spike Gillespie said...

Mme, thank you for growing a pair and posting non-anonymously. And with this, folks, comments are officially closed. I so prefer to spend my time writing about all the wonderful things in this town. All this TI talk makes me weary. That said, if you TI supporters feel cut off from an opportunity to unleash your feelings in my general direction, please know my email account is always available for private conversation. I'm not promising I will write back. Just making it clear you can keep those cards and letters coming to

Au revoir and on to cheerier topics!