As if the Tboy Toby stuff in that last post weren't enough indignation fodder, one recent post on We Love Toby! references a flap involving Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss, a new-musicals workshop, and an outraged pack of A-list names from Lynn Ahrens to Maury Yeston.
Again, Tboy suspects some of you, especially those with Chicago contacts, have heard about this -- it blew up last week, when Dramatists Guild president John Weidman wrote a stern letter to the Sun-Times' editor and publisher.
But for those who haven't, the basics are this: Weiss' dismissive Aug. 16 review of eight new musicals at Chicago's Stages2006 festival aroused the ire of festival organizers. Those were workshops, they wailed, and we told her they weren't for review!
Enter Weidman, the longtime Sondheim collaborator, with a magisterial complaint in his official capacity as He Who Speaks for the Writers. His Aug. 24 letter was accompanied by variations on the theme courtesy of Edward Albee, Marsha Norman, Tony Kushner, and more than a dozen others, all crying "Foul" and "Shame" and worse. The letter and the playwrights' endorsements are here and here.
Tboy would happily join in the condemnation--reviewing a workshop uninvited is bad ethics, bad criticism, and probably bad karma, too--except that as usual, things don't appear to be that simple.
Weiss responds, in a note to the Romenesko media-criticism site, that she was never warned off from reviewing. In fact, producers gave her a press kit. Then they gave her additional photos. Besides, she says: I reviewed 'em last year, and so did others. And they didn't bitch then.
Tboy's favorite passage from the Weissnote:
"My assessment of last year's showcase just happened to be far more positive ... and I would bet anything that a copy of my review was submitted as supporting evidence for grants, etc., that the Musical Theatre Writers' Workshop made to funding organizations this season.
"You simply cannot have it both ways, though that seems to be precisely what the producers of Stages2006 want."
Oh, and these workshops were (a) open to the public and (b) not free, she says. Tickets were sold. To the public. So why should they be off-limits to critics?
Weiss hadn't replied to an e-mail query by the time Tboy pushed the publish button, but he imagines that her mood can be gauged by this line from the bit on Romenesko:
"[N]o one from the Dramatists' Guild had the basic decency to ask me about the entire situation before issuing the extremely damaging tirade against me. ... [T]hese writers are very quick to believe what they are told ...."
Ouch. That's gotta sting. Especially if you're Kushner, and you like to think of yourself as the I-don't-buy-the-government-line type.
Weidman, for his part, returned Tboy's call almost instantly--from Rhode Island, Tboy thinks he said, where he's delivering offspring to school.
He allows as how the Stages2006 producers originally represented the situation in stark terms--they "said categorically" that Weiss had written despite a no-reviews injunction. Now, he says, they're waffling on that point--and if they'd waffled earlier, he mightn't have taken quite the same tone in his complaint.
Weidman would still have made the observation, he stresses, that the type of review Weiss turned in--"thumbs up, thumbs down, in a major daily," about a series of workshops she hadn't fully seen--was "unprofessional, inappropriate," and unworthy of a veteran critic at a big-city paper.
Without having talked to Weiss, Tboy's gonna hold off on that one, though he sees a glimmer of rightness in it. That NEA/Annenberg arts-journo listserv he mentioned in the previous post is hopping with this story today, too, and most of us agree that there are better ways to cover a new-works showcase.
And in case any of you are wondering, well, yes: Tboy will be trying out a few of those ways at the Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival. The folks over at CP had so much fun with the Fringe blog that they've asked Tboy to cover this weekend's frolic.
So stay tuned.