Monday, April 25, 2011

Larry Stark's open letter to the A.R.T.

I was surprised to receive an e-mail yesterday from Larry Stark, longtime Boston critic (and IRNE member), as well as editor of the website The Theater Mirror. His note included a link to a post that he said I "might want to glance at." Well, I took a glance - and found the post quite heart-warming. So the first thing I want to do is thank Larry for his support. The second thing I want to do is share his post with you.  It's an open letter to the A.R.T. - the kind of thing they're getting a lot of these days - regarding the recent brouhaha regarding yours truly.  The letter kind of speaks for itself, so I'll just let it do that - but again, thanks, Larry. [The IRNEs ceremony is tonight, btw. Things could get interesting.]

Regrettably, until further notice, I shall not be attending any productions by the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.). Let me explain:

I have frequently been critical of other critics. In some cases, this has been my "internal editor" quibbling about style; at other times, it has been an attempt to let critics feel the personal pain that damaging criticism can cause in people who must get up before another audience knowing that critics' comments have shaped what at least some in that audience might thus believe.

But, even admitting these opinions, I believe even the harshest of critics, deep down, really love theater --- that creators and critics are really "on the same side". Sometimes it may look as though a critic Loves Theater To Death; still, in an austere era many of my colleagues are continuing to write critiques without being paid to do so, their love is that strong. And they try to apply their personal standards in as impartial a manner as possible, though it may not always look that way from outside. That, I think, is the critic's job.

The job of a Public Relations Coordinator for any particular theater company, though, is necessarily biased. The goal there is to get that same potential audience to view the company's shows in the best possible light, to see and appreciate what is there, and to come back again and again for more. And it may seem that P/R people and critics are at war --- especially when they disagree, with one seeing only negatives while the other must accentuate the positive.

But those on both sides operate in what is called "The Free Marketplace of Ideas" --- and audience-members may decide for themselves which one is right. This, at least, is how I assume the game should be played.

Lately, I have heard rumors that a vicious "kill the messenger" attitude threatens this entire structure. I have often voiced my opinions privately or written them publically, but deliberate attempts to disgrace or disbar or silence someone's free voice I cannot tolerate nor condone. I therefore sent the following letter to the producer at the American Repertory Theatre protesting what I see as disgraceful behavior, stretching back over many years, that has no place in that "Marketplace of Ideas" which I fervently hope will remain Free.


Dear Ms. Borger:

Of late I have heard astonishing stories and rumors of the antics of a person in your employ referred to as "Catty" by those who have had contact with her. I undertstand that Public Relations work necessarily involves some sorts of manipulation; however, if even half of what I've been told
is true, this person has no ethical standards whatever. I am astonished that you continue to employ anyone who so totally misunderstands her profession, and mine.

You must realize that in the climate created by her actions, any positive reviews of your company's work can be construed as written out of fear of this woman's power to ruin the reputation of anyone voicing opposite opinions.

I cannot believe you are ignorant of this situation, but you must be aware that continuing to employ her in such a sensitive position can only be construed as approval of such behavior by the American Repertory Theatre, which I fervently hope cannot be the case.

But if you condone such actions, I cannot.

I cannot in good conscience continue to work with anyone who behaves with such vindictive misunderstanding of her job, and mine. To do so would suggest that I myself condone such behavior, which is decidedly Not the case.

Should there be a change in personnel in future, I would appreciate your notifying me.


===Larry Stark

of Theater Mirror


  1. Hi! I'm a long time reader and, as a PR person, I have to say that this is terrifying. I just want to comment and share that not all PR people threaten the institutes they need to support their organizations. You'd think that if anything, they'd try to foster a positive relationship with reviewers.

    And for the record, an institution that prides itself on awards isn't always the most invested in the art itself. Isn't is silly to make art with the sole intention of earning awards?

    Anyway, I'm really glad you didn't shut down The Hub Review. It's one of the most honest theatre review blogs I've read. I'm sad that your twitter account disappeared though. I hope that you weren't pressured into closing that by one of the theatres you reviewed. I am glad that you will supporting critics' right to share their opinions!

  2. Oh... I just realized this after posting that comment. You don't have to approve this one...

    Isn't it weird that you advocate free speech but have to "approve" responses to your posts? I'd think that you would allow people to say what they want back to you on your blog.

    Not demanding that you change anything, but just observing.

  3. Thanks for the kind words. As I've mentioned, Kati has always been a most unusual PR person - there are a lot of horror stories out there about her from a lot of people, and the sad thing is, her bullying ways have usually worked over the years. Note that Kati actually felt entitled enough to openly admit to what she'd done (everyone else that she corralled into this escapade is lying very low). That alone speaks volumes. Indeed, I hope that if nothing else comes of this whole affair, it will at least give Bostonians some idea of what goes on behind the scenes of the reviews they read, and how rough the ART plays with anyone who dares to loudly and consistently point out that the emperor has no clothes.

    As for why I have comment moderation on - I only have it there because otherwise the blog would be printing a lot of nasty comments along the lines of "You suck, douchebag!" or even "Get AIDS and die, you twat!" (Yes, I've gotten both those comments.) And does that really count as "speech"? I guess I don't think so. People are just less inclined to write that kind of thing if they know it's not going to get through.

  4. Larry Stark got it right: critics are part of the theatre community and must be free of intimidation to do their job. Would we be accepting of a situation in which actors were being intimidated regarding which roles they accepted? Playwrights intimidated regarding what plays they wrote? Companies intimidated regarding what what plays they produced?

    That said, as someone who has in the past been targeted with abusive invective (as well as commercial spam) on his blog in the past, I support Tom's choice of exercising comment moderation.

  5. That's interesting, Mr. Garvey. It doesn't surprise me that people are upset if you ever post a bad review about something they've done. I guess that's why you see food critics who operate anonymously. I wonder what would happen if there were theatre critics who did the same...