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June 06, 2009

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Andrew Hobgood

Thanks for adding to this conversation. It's one that I think we will be seeing more and more in the near future. The democracy of the internet is allowing and forcing everyone to change. And our Point-Counterpoint was very much intended to do just that.

This is what I wrote on Isaac's posting in response to Paul's comment. I find this whole thing so fascinating - and I'm really interested to see where conversations like this will take us.

***
As the Artistic Director of the company Paul is referencing (The New Colony), and one of the people who devised the Point-Counterpoint response to TimeOut's review - I would like to weigh in and explain why we did what we did.

Paul's comment is not the first reaction of its kind to our Point-Counterpoint. In fact - there are plenty of these comments on the review page at TimeOut (http://chicago.timeout.com/articles/theater/72472/frat-the-new-colony-theater-review). I stand by our decision, and think that the why and how make the difference between calling upon our fans to throw tomatoes at the critic, and opening the reviewing process up to conversation.

I have always believed that the reviewing process should not be a closed door system. A critic is only one person. Critics hired by publications (which is a different scenario than a critic who starts their own blog) have been hired for their expertise. When they review a show, it is coming from a place of experience and education. All good and well, but they STILL are writing one person's opinion. So why should they be protected from having their own criticisms criticized? If we can publicly criticize and denounce the President of the United States on bumper stickers - why should critics be protected?

I believe that a critic's job (and the internet is making this more and more a reality) is to BEGIN the discussion about the art. They offer their opinion, and then encourage audiences to weigh in.

We're all aware that arts audience numbers are suffering. What better way to engage audiences into seeing theater than to strike up compelling conversations. Put the successes and futures of shows in the hands of the people. Then, instead of one person telling the world what to think - they are creating a platform where the world can also share their thoughts. This not only inspires people to read reviews and think about art critically, but it helps people find the right art for THEM. I've certainly seen a show after reading a bad review and thought, "Well I don't agree with that review." But that's because I represent my own part of the arts audience. We don't all like the same thing. I love an edgy, wickedly dark comedy. That's not for everyone. If a critic doesn't like that and gives a show that I love a bad review - it stops the momentum for audience members like me to FIND that show. But if I voice my opinion and someone like me reads it, I've helped them and the artist out. What's wrong with that?

This was the philosophy behind our Point-Counterpoint. The inspiration came when I was reading the Tribune and TimeOut reviews side-by-side. It was incredible - every time Nina said she loved something, Zac said he hated it. We had 3.5/4 from the Trib and 1/6 from TOC. I thought it was amazing! So we decided to go line-by-line and show how each critic felt completely differently about the same aspects of the show.

Our campaign wasn't to prove that Zac is a bad critic. I will happily have Zac to any of our shows. Each one is different, and just because he didn't like FRAT doesn't mean he hates The New Colony or all of our future shows. It was to show HOW DIFFERENT opinions can be. So we figured - why not actually show this to the public? Why not publish a bad review on our website? If nothing else - it will help people who would hate our show from wasting their and our time, and it will help people who would love it get excited. We're not interested in tricking audiences into seeing our shows, stealing their money, and then closing the box office so that they can't get a refund. That does us no good. Doing what we did completely opened the doors. A goal in our company is to bring transparency to the arts. If we want audiences, they have to be able to see what we really are and what we really do. So rather than pull the classic move of ripping four words out of a bad review and spinning the quote as a good review - we decided to publish the good and the bad to the world. And yes, we encouraged people to speak up and share their opinions. By doing so, we also took the power of spin out of our own hands and created an opportunity for people to say what they really thought. If you look at the TimeOut page, it's not a string of perfect 6 star audience-review comments. There are positive comments, negative comments, some really nasty cut-downs to our company, arguments between commenters, etc.

I think that THAT is truly exciting. And I think THAT is the future of arts reviewing.

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  • Kris Vire
    I write about theater for Time Out Chicago. I write more about it here.

    Any opinion expressed here is solely that of the author or commenter. No opinion expressed here can be assumed to represent the opinion of Time Out Chicago magazine.

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