Speak softly and carry a big stick. — Theodore Roosevelt

Before we begin, if you haven’t already, read a cautionary tale about comments by the artistic director of Edmonton’s Teatro La Quindicina and then his explanation of those comments.

I can wait.

Are you back? Okay.

There’s a difference between earnest defense and hissy fit.

Nobody is saying Mr. Haslam doesn’t have the right to defend his company against a reviewer or a blogger or, well, anyone.

Nobody is trying to censor him or remove his original comment.

Much as he’d like to frame it as such, this is not a question of free speech.

It’s a question of respect.

If you work in theatre, you’ve gotten criticisms, both just and unjust, reasoned and glib, fair or unfair. It goes with the territory. Some of us can shrug them off and keep going. Others can’t let them go.

Having read the reviews that “hurt his feelings,” I see mild criticisms that aren’t meant to deter you from seeing the shows in question. On the contrary, these are comments from longtime patrons who’ve been supporting the theatre. They are, at worst, constructive criticism from the average theatregoer. And in the grand scheme, they are few and far between.

But fine. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter what the reviews and blog posts said.

What matters is how Mr. Haslam reacted to them.

He chose to react to what he saw as personal attacks by retaliating in kind. Let’s look at his original comment for reference.

You come across as snotty and arrogant. I absolutely despise your pretension that you are “a reviewer” in any professional way. In fact every time I read one of your posts I think “I am not smitten with this weird women like her icky friends seem to be. I wish she’d stop subscribing to my theatre company, because she seems like such a pretentious doof. I wonder if she knows that her endlessly stuck-up self-important little reviews are deeply offensive to those of us who bust our buts for next to nothing to bring a little entertainment to this distant northern city? I wonder if she knows that her crappy 19 bucks goes to less than 40% of what it costs to pay all the artists she isn’t always smitten by? Do us all a favour lady. Write about food and take your entertainment dollar elsewhere.

Bad enough for an actor or another employee to have reacted that way, especially in a public forum. But the theatre’s artistic director?

Every interaction you have with the public–especially in a situation like this–reflects on your theatre company.

Once more with feeling, because I can’t stress this enough.

Every interaction you have with the public–especially in a situation like this–reflects on your theatre company.

That’s why it’s important to have good social media guidelines for your theatre company.

If he had reacted earnestly and honestly, noting that he felt the criticisms were petty, unwarranted or hypercritical, that would have been fine. If he had asked for more of an explanation or tried to open a genuine dialogue about them, again, he’d come out looking like a rose.

It doesn’t mean he has to like the blog posts or the bloggers, their friends or any of their opinions, but by reacting calmly and intelligently, he could have “killed them with kindness.” Or, as my mother would say, “Smile and heap coals of fire on their heads.” He could have shown a little respect, he could have shown his theatre company was willing and open to engaging and interacting with its community.

Oh well.

He’s absolutely correct when he says he’s within his rights to have said what he did.

Freedom of speech means you can shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

Common sense means you only shout it when the building’s actually burning.

It’s a shame that most people aren’t going to look for a larger context. Most Edmonton theatregoers are only going to hear the artistic director of a theatre telling patrons he doesn’t want them or their “icky friends” to come back, he doesn’t want their “crappy” money.

But there’s more at stake than the paying customers and the 40% of the budget they bring in. This is also going to be seen by all the sponsors and granting organizations that provide the other 60%. Certainly, his board is going to hear about this from every angle.

I can’t imagine any of them will be too impressed by his idea of audience development.

  • August 18, 2010
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