Sunday, August 15, 2010

Killer Klowns

Am I old fashioned?

Could this be true?

I just heard that there are actors who actually contact critics and invite them to review shows in which they are performing.

I would just NEVER do that!

First of all, I just don't have the balls: critics are second only to clowns for scaring the crap out of me.

Second of all: isn't it just inappropriate/a conflict of interests?

I have (politely) invited directors and artistic directors and other theatre professionals to come see my work in the past.

Friends and family, of course.

But Critics?

That's like putting a half-loaded gun to your head and pulling the trigger.

That's like spending all your rent money on lottery tickets.

That's like asking John Wayne Gacy to be the clown at your kids birthday party.

At best, you are playing with fire.

Of course, it could turn out just fine, I suppose.

I hear Gacy was a regular Patch Adams at the Childrens Hospital...


  1. I find it ironic that clowns terrify you. You're a terrific clown.

    I even invite critics to my staged readings (and a couple have taken me up on it.)

  2. Well thanks, Ian. I am afraid of myself, certainly. All the time.

    But I guess I'm talking about those circus clowns, and specifically, those oldey-timey Barnum-ey ones. tThe Cirque de Soleil clowns don't scare me at all, for some reason.

    As for inviting critics:

    I think it's arguably OK for a PLAYWRIGHT to do such a thing, and to do it at a staged reading (as opposed to an actor in performance).

    In that sense, I could see the point, as the play is new, not yet in production, and could benefit from the response/comments of someone who has seen a lot of plays. You want as much feedback as possible, as you are still working on the script.

    But I was thinking here of ACTORS inviting critics to a play in which they are performing: that's different. At least to me.

    I guess I just feel that actors and critics need to maintain a professional distance.

    I also have trouble assuming that a critic would ever WANT to see/write about me, so the thought of seeking them out and asking them to come see me perform in a play seems a bit impertinent to me.

    But maybe I'm just being old-fashioned!

  3. That's precisely why I invite critics. I like the informed feedback.

    I'm told that a lot of playwrights, however, have a knee-jerk antagonism towards critics and fear that a critic will kill the work in progress while it's still in the incubator-- but it seems neither you nor I are of that camp.

    It's true that it feels different to invite a critic when wearing one's actor hat than it is when one is wearing one's writer hat. As an actor, it's only happened once (twice, if you include the staged reading where I had to fill in for the actor who had a personal emergency.) It made me more anxious than normal, but I just made myself do it and it was definitely not as bad as I feared it might be.

  4. Since I guess this post is about me, I have to wonder - what, exactly, is so wrong with a performer asking a critic, in this way that's so newfangled to Mr. Kuntz, to see a performance? And actually - what's even newfangled about it, frankly? It's been happening since the dawn of time, it just always happens under the radar, because folks like you see critics as "the enemy," etc. I'm not going to debate that one here, because, of course, a few people in town are quite right to think of me as opposed to their tactics! But there are at least a half dozen actors in the Boston area who regularly ask me to see performances on the down low. There are even more playwrights, and singers and musicians (and even more visual artists, when I don't even review gallery shows anymore!) who ask me to see their work. Some of these people have endured savage reviews from me, but you'd be surprised how a certain kind of respect can survive that. And a lot of them just have thick skins! And after both a roast or a rave, I often follow up with the performer or writer in question. Perhaps as a result, I have to turn people down constantly, because there's only so much I can see. Although amusingly, performers and writers are often pitted against their presenters in these situations. One major theatre shut me out of their play development process, even though the playwright in question wanted me inside it. A similar situation recently occurred with a nationally known playwright. It's too bad, but it goes with the territory. So when your friends shake their heads in horror and say, "Oh my God, I'd never do that!," take it with a grain of salt: some of them are fibbing.

  5. Dear Thomas,

    Please, call me John. "Mr. Kuntz" makes me feel a thousand years old!

    I really didn't know this story was referring to your blog: I just heard someone talking about it recently (ie, that actors had asked a critic to come in and review them, and that it was written about) and I was just writing my personal thoughts on the subject.

    I didn't mean to sound like it was absolutely wrong: Those actors can invite whoever they want, of course! I only suggest that they do so at their own peril.

    I would never do it, personally (though I guess I'm doing it now...)

    Here's why:

    I'm assuming that these actors are reading the reviews DURING the production, and that can be quite dangerous, at least for me: the show is already up, it's been rehearsed, directed and teched. For better or for worse, it is what it is, and while it may grow as the run continues, it really can't be drastically changed.

    Any review, good or bad, can effect what you rehearsed by making you self-conscious. You become hyper aware of a line delivery that received praise, a moment that earned scorn. It might even tempt you to alter your performance, which is really unprofessional and unfair (and in some cases where fight choreography might be involved, dangerous)to the rest of the company. It's also not very respectful to the director's vision.

    I'm not saying that these actors would do such things, neccessarliy. I'm sure they probably wouldn't. They are "thick-skinned", as you would have it. And I guess I'm just not, at least when it comes to a role that I'm currently performing.

    I also think that by personally contacting a critic, these actors are, in a way, forming a personal relationship with that critic. And while there might be nothing wrong with that, per se, it still seems, to me, to be a conflict of interests. At best, it becomes complicated.

    Which is why, perhaps, these actors are contacting you on the down low.

    I have always tried to keep a professional and courteous distance.

    That's just me. Maybe I'm wrong to do that. I probably am.

    That doesn't mean, however, that I think critics were "the enemy". Not at all! I respect your opinions (after the show is closed, that is) and feel we need even more people writing about theatre!

    It's out of respect - I thought, anyway - that I leave you alone.

    As for the relationship between playwrights and critics, well, I think that's different and more complicated, perhaps. I was really only writing about actors in this case.

    Many thanks for your comments, I really appreciate it!


  6. Dear Thomas,

    I wanted to add just another thought to my comments, after reading your review of Othello: it doesn't sound to me, frankly, by your account, that these actors INVITED you.

    "Inviting", to me, means a postcard or an email.

    It suggests an equal status.

    But it sounds in your review - to use your own term - that they "begged" you. And when you said "no" initially, they kept at you until you finally gave in and went to the show.

    Critics DO have a lot of power, I will not deny that.

    Actors, meanwhile, have none.

    Our only power is to say "no" when offered work, which really isn't a lot of power at all.

    So, I want to repeat that while I certainly do NOT think critics are the enemy by ANY means, I also DO NOT want to feel that I have to get down on my hands and knees and beg them, or kiss their ass, or send them notes and chocolates, or pretend I love them so maybe, just MAYBE, I'll get an IRNE this year.

    I think we are peers. That we are equals. That we both love and are passionate about the same things. (I assume that, anyway.) That we should treat each other with respect and distance.

    I think that is just fair-minded.

    And I truly believe that is the best way for an actor to manage their relationship with critics.

    Again, just my opinion.

    That's all.

    Thanks again,

  7. John, that last post seems beneath you, frankly. And please re-read my review - several people "begged" me to write about "Othello" - most of them non-actors, in fact. You might be surprised (or not) to discover that as I'm the designated "truth teller" around here, people often importune me to give the straight dope about productions or theatres they feel they can't discuss openly themselves. As for changing performances in the middle of a run - I never advocate that, but many people (not you, I understand that) are hungry to understand why their performances aren't working, and sometimes I can explain.

    The rest of your post is pretty slimy, and I'm disappointed to think that with all your "Oh dear me, I didn't mean anything by that at all!" posturing, this whole exercise has been a fishing expedition of sorts, and an insinuating one at that.

    I can tell you're writing out of hurt feelings, so I'm going to ignore the whole thing. Good luck with your next production.

  8. "Slimy"?


    I can't believe a theatre critic is actually calling me names on my blog! What did I do?

    Seriously, I'm actually sorry you seem upset and I'm pretty baffled: I can't think of ANYTHING that I said in either post that might be considered slimy.

    I was being polite and honest, in my opinion. I never called you names.
    And I was trying to respond to your comment as best I could. So I'm really at a loss.

    And I'm not sure how my feelings might be hurt.
    About what, exactly? Your post wasn't offensive to me at all.

    I also never said that you advocate changing a performance. I only stated that reading reviews while IN performance is a dangerous practice for an actor, (as it could lead to such things), is a distraction, and I don't endorse it.

    I'm also unclear as to what I'm "insinuating" or "fishing" for? I'm doing no such things here.

    I think you are seeing something in my posts that really isn't there.

    But thanks for your comments, once again, and thanks, too, for ignoring me: I think that is probably best!

    Good luck to you as well!


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