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Shut Your Trap! Save It For Behind Closed Doors

Photo by Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash

There is a critic in all of us. A voice that wants to express its opinion on everything. As I discovered this weekend, there is a time and place to share that opinion with others.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I had just enjoyed a delicious meal of french toast and biscuits with sausage gravy at the Old West Cafe. I was blessed with the company of my girlfriend and old roommate who had invited us to go see a friend in the musical production “Cabaret.”

Knowing nothing of this show, but a big fan of musicals I was intrigued.

For better or worse, the production was a part of a performing arts school with students of varying ages.

We crammed into the small crowded blackbox, dim with red and blue hues. The actors loitered on the stage gossiping about who knows what. I sat in my plastic chair atop the highest row and gazed across the scenery.

To my direct left was a small open window housing a spotlight. Far upstage in the left corner the orchestra serenaded us with a electric guitar, a keyboard and the lovely saxophone. And various set pieces litter the rest of the stage.

I swiftly reminded myself to focus on the content. This was community theatre on a budget after all. These were not actors with degrees in theatre who studied Stanislavsky or Brecht. They were here to have fun and enjoy the magic of make-believe.

The show begins.

And what an interesting story Cabaret is! The setting: 1920 in Berlin Germany. The scenario: An american novelist experiences the life of partying and putting away one’s worries. He finds love and perhaps… inspiration. Yet by the end of the first act, reality of politics shatters the illusion of happiness, a temporary escape from the challenges of everyday life.

At intermission my friend beside me asks me what I think so far and I wish I never opened my mouth. What words came out in the middle of the shuffling audience carrying flowers for their beloved cast members, they were words most unkind.

The Floodgates Open

I criticized the main actress for her inability to project, falling flat on notes, and failing to sell the illusion of realism on intimate moments during pivotal monologues. I remarked how out of sync the chorus members were on dance choreography, each with slightly different timings. I questioned the directors choice on crosses the actors did during certain scenes that seemingly made no sense.

There was a torrent of harsh notes better saved for behind the scenes, something akin for after rehearsal constructive criticism. I am most assuredly ashamed of my blatant chastising of a theatrical production in an open forum.

While those in the audience were polite enough not to call me out, I could feel their hurt and pain from my declarative denouncements. This may seem a small matter to the casual reader, but surely you have found yourself in a situation where biting your tongue may have saved you future heartache?

I was inspired to write this after reading one of Shani Silver’s stories on her everyday existence. It’s a liberating feeling to express oneself’s personal story without having to dive into the analytics, heavy journalistic or persuasive marketing writing I seem so saturated in my daily writing.

We are all judgmental. It is in our DNA to have opinions about things. But there is a time and place to share opinions with others. Knowing when and where and having the discipline to delay and channel opinions is the key.

Moving forward, this experience of humiliation was good for me. It taught me a valuable lesson. For you see, I have recently been signed on as a professional critic for the metroplex of which I live in. And one of the warnings I received from my editor was that everyone will be watching my every reaction when I come to their shows. So it’s very important I learn to not say anything during a performance.

It strange, you know. A theatre critic holds so much power, yet wields no professional credentials except their name (or the name of the organization they review for.) What is a critic but someone who decides whether a show is worth seeing or not? He/she can make or break a production and producers rely on that opinion to drive sales.

I am often reminded of “The Greatest Showman” portrayal of James Gordan Bennett. He is often seen as an enemy of the theatre but good producers know how to spin critical reviews into favorable outcomes. Yet Hollywood can mislead the casual viewer so I want to do the journalist justice:

The Greatest Showman is one “Bennett,” portrayed as a stiff-collared, high-toned theatre critic of the New York Herald. The actual James Gordon Bennett was the publisher of that paper, who proved more than happy to go along with hoaxes and sensationalism himself, using both to help cement his newspaper’s position as the first penny newspaper that catered to the broad masses.

Like it or not, being in the public spotlight warrants a more strategic approach at interpersonal communication. I can imagine the stress and strain our politicians must endure in maintaining a favorable image.