Happy Seventh Anniversary to Bitter Lemons!

3985407
Yup. 

Hard to believe, but on this day (or tomorrow really), April 24th, back in 2008, Bitter Lemons was born.

Notice anything different?

Yup. Somebody gave us a whole new design for our birthday party. Howz about them lemons?!?

Be sure to take a spin around the place, check out the new bells and whistles, maybe put up a show page, or register a venue, post a wanted or for hire ad, maybe get your show reviewed, see what the critics have been saying, or maybe offer your own review to a show that you’ve seen, or heck buy an ad and get your own shizzle in front of a whole bunch of LemonHeaded dizzles who are just aching to see your stuff.

Meanwhile, I’ll give you our play by play below on how Bitter Lemons was born. It’s about as grass roots as grass with roots. Check it:

It started with an angry post on the Big Cheap Theatre List Serve. A list which now boasts over 2,500 members strong, consisting of a variety of Los Angeles Theater folk, actors, writers, directors, producers, designers, a list that has been alive and kicking since 1999 and continues to this day.

It Began, April 24th, 2008, 9:13am

Apr 24, 2008
9:13 am
It is about time someone stood up and wrote about L.A. theatre
reviewers.
I have been reading some of the most terrible, wretched reviews I
have ever seen in my life since.
They lack integrity and they lack support.
Some of these reviewers have gotten used to financially supported
theatres with more than a hundred seats. They find an interesting
plot in a 50 seat theatre, then assign themselves to review that
play or musical. They do not think, “Hey, this is a different type
of space. A different type of performance.” instead, they set out to
destroy what they didn’t enjoy. (and unfortunatly have that power)
In my opinion, reviewers have a responsibility to not only let their
readers understand their opinion of the play or musical, but also to
uphold the ingrity of the theatres/companies who support their
publications.
Any author who cannot respectfully do both, does not have the talent
to do what he or she thinks that they have.
Please do your own research on these reviewers. In the past year,
the only large fnancially funded play or musical to recieve a bad
review was “Atlantis”, and even then, the writers remained
respectful.

Thomas Webb,
Theatrelover

Apr 24, 2008
9:50 am
I agree. It used to be that being a good critic was an art in itself.
I recently read a review in the absolutely horrid Tolucan Times that
actually used the word “crapola” to describe a piece. Regardless of
what they felt about the piece, surely there are wittier ways to put,
never mind ways that might impart some form of respect for the huge
amount of effort that even goes in to that piece of “crapola.”

While I’m using the Tolucan as a whipping post, let me say this for
the record — DON’T GO TO THEM! Not only do you have to pay to get a
review, but you get shoddy reviewers. I can’t count how many poorly
written reviews I’ve read in the Tolucan. My own experience with their
staff critics have included a drunk who tried giving my actors notes
after the show (I’m not kidding), and another who took phone calls
during the show.

vwats02

Apr 24, 2008
9:54 am
What you say may or may not be true about reviewers, but it’s really
irrelevant.? In the end, there is little one can do about it.? Whether the?issue
is bad reviewers or bad theater, the problem is that most theaters are dependent
on them to get an audience in.? It’s free publicity and often the only publicity
most theaters can afford.? The answer then is not to stand up to reviewers and
call them bad, but to find a way to succeed without needing them.? I suggest
this is where the discussion needs to start.?? Everyone who opens a play should
start with the assumption that they are going to recevie bad reviews and figure
out what to do to get around it.??

Howard Casner

Apr 24, 2008
10:08 am
Hate to be a stickler on this, Thomas, but in my opinion LA critics aren’t hard
ENOUGH on theatre in LA. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either seen a
show, then read a review after and wondered if perhaps there wereTWO shows by
the same name running, OR read a review that was favorable and then gone to see
the show and wanted to track down the critic and sentence them to a month of
“According to Jim” re-runs.

My main complaint with reviewers in LA is their utter lack of sophisitication
and education in theatre. Which is an area in which we both perhaps agree.
That said, they are essential and we are at the mercy of their “taste” their
“aesthetic” if you will – and there’s nothing we can really do about that. We
need them and they need us. What I like may not be what you like. If we were
reviewers we would have different responses to a similar show.

Bigcheap has had this discussion on numerous occasions: how does one quantify
the quality of theatre? What are the core essentials of “good theatre”? I have
opinions on this of course and I bring them in with me when I go see a show -
and because of those “standards” I’m able to, say, see a show whose subject
matter bores me or doesn’t interest me, but I am able to appreciate it for its
quality acting, or creative design and production qualities or innovative
direction or solid dialogue.

People have difficulty making this leap of “quantifying quality”, one, because
it is difficult, and two, because art is such a subjective medium. But, in my
opinion, that is a bit of a cop out. There ARE elements to theatre that make a
show “good” or a “quality” production, and when they are missing, the show is
always lacking. Again, there is nuance and grey areas in here as well, but to
just say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is intellectually dishonest in
my opinion, and is a dialogue killer much in the same way that “it is what it
is” is.

Because there are so many shows in LA, spread out over such a wide geographical
expanse, publications need LOTS of reviewers – hence, you’re gonna get some
not-so-studied critics. Supply and demand. Quality will suffer. Some of them
can’t even write complete sentences. I once had one of my shows reviewed and
the entire first paragraph was dedicated to the description of the neighborhood
and parking arrangements OUTSIDE of the physical theatre itself. On other
occasions, reviewers simply have repeated the plot, point by point, and then
listed the actors and creative team and then the review is over. Pathetic.

Okay. I need to take a nap. Let the fire storm begin!
Best,
Colin

Apr 24, 2008
10:35 am
“Please do your own research on these reviewers. In the past year,
the only large fnancially funded play or musical to recieve a bad
review was “Atlantis”, and even then, the writers remained
respectful…”

who are they specifically?

do you have examples of the questionable reviews?

xo
pt

Apr 24, 2008
10:54 am
It seems appropriate for me at this time to repost what I wrote
several months ago in response to the story of the artistic director
who punched out a critic for unfairly trashing his show. I broke up
the paragraphs a little for easier reading but the idea remains my
steadfast opinion about critics in LA and would love to hear some
feedback:

As a former theatre critic both at the professional level and in
college, I can certainly see things from the critic’s perspective. As
a writer/director/producer of independent theatre in Los Angeles and
Boston, I can also see the other side.

The problem that I have with many theatre critics in general is what
you touched upon in your article… their motivation. I have found,
on several occasions, that an abundance of theatre critics are
frustrated former directors and playwrights who have made their
careers out of critiquing others but simply don’t have the guts or
creativity to put up their own work.

On the other side of the coin, there are also many whose opinions
should have no credibility or merit whatsoever because in fact they
have no training in theatre, dramaturgy, or literature. They are
merely in their elevated positions because they have seen a lot of
plays.

Most often I have found that with both sets of backgrounds, a too
large number of these reviewers are dreadful writers that use
seemingly clever cliché turn of phrases at every opportunity,
cavalier words to condescend from their lofty towers, and do in fact
often use humor to put down a production, a company, or in their
minds, a personal nemesis. Even when they are writing positive
reviews, their actual descriptions, opinions, and entendres are
nearly always Writing 101 platitudes laced with biting sarcasm or
sugar-coated eulogy. Frankly, this is simply not good enough.

The biggest problem that I have with many theatre critics is that
they don’t adhere to a code of ethics that is very basic to public
writing and to work that is often the sole voice of commentary for a
particular production, work of art, or venue. I agree that the critic
writes for the subscriber but this means that the critic must
differentiate between the $100 per ticket professional touring
showcase and the $10 per ticket experimental workshop.

In Los Angeles, I have witnessed reviewers throw heaps of lush praise
on sold-out, heavily financed shows at the Ahmanson, Mark Taper
Forum, and Pantages while in the next breath destroying a new
original work that was asking for donations at the door and had
clearly advertised itself as a work-in-progress. What is the
motivation here? What is the point? What purpose does this serve for
the entire community?

As you said, there is no how-to on writing reviews but it seems that
some of it should be pretty basic. Even as a college student, I
managed to teach myself some fundamentals based on integrity,
fairness, and common decency.

It begins with recognizing that you may be the sole public voice of a
project’s worth and with that comes a tremendous amount of
responsibility and (hopefully) humility not arrogance. In essence,
never write anything that you can’t defend with a whole heart if you
do happen to bump into that person in the grocery aisle.

The problem today is that many theatre critics do not see themselves
as a part of the artistic community and this anonymity and self-
imposed immunity allows the critic to run roughshod over a project
like a kid or a radio DJ making prank calls without retribution.
Having to possibly see that person in the grocery aisle or the
theatre lobby, (and the Los Angeles theatre community is smaller than
one might think), provides the Caller ID that makes the critic
accountable and responsible for their very powerful words and
opinions. And that’s the way it should be!

I have always believed that the theatre critic has to come to the
theatre with as objective a slate as possible yet also with a sense
of enough connection to the community to be emotionally rooting for
the production to succeed. And if this is too ideal, than the critic
should at least want the production to be good enough to satisfy
their own selfish desire for an enjoyable experience. Too many
critics come in with their predisposed prejudices, their arrogant
stances and demands, and their often unrealistic expectations of
privilege and professionalism.

What good does it do to review a musical if you hate musicals? Why
attend a production you already feel is beneath you because their
press kits were not glossy enough? What good does it do to anyone if
you are in the house begrudgingly, with notebook in hand, and somehow
feel the overconfidence of being able to write the review based
solely on the First Act as you leave early to meet your deadline?

These critics are ready to judge from on high as opposed to allowing
themselves to engage in the experience as a common audience member
and trust their own skills to later recall how they were moved or not
moved by the work. Having been a scriptreader for a major motion
picture studio, I also wonder how many of these same theatre critics
also write overly negative or overly positive reviews because they
are simply faster and easier to write.

When I was in college, I wrote reviews with the idea that positive
reviews would give the names of the actors, director, writer, tech
people while negative reviews would mention these folks by character,
title, and whenever possible, without using their names. Subtle
perhaps but still this attention to detail and sincere concern was
often deeply appreciated.

Whether this is possible in a professional publication or not, the
idea behind it remains the same. Give praise to the people that have
worked hard and have succeeded in what THEY were trying to accomplish
instead of shaming the attempts that, in the critic’s often poorly
expressed opinion, have quote unquote… failed.

The best way the critic can serve its readers is to give constructive
criticism to the production in their review. This serves the dual
purpose of helping to inform the subscriber of where the production
needs improvement while aiding the production in how to correct or
improve upon these areas, (if possible), by the time the reader
arrives at the theatre, if they opt to do so. The reader should
always be allowed to choose on their own terms. It is not the
reviewer’s job to convince the reader of anything nor to kill the
production. It is to give fair, accurate, and beneficial information
based on carefully considered and compassionate truth.

Some of the best reviews I have ever read, especially the ones of the
productions I was involved in, were neither general pans nor gushing
praises but actual meticulous, selfless, and often poignant criticism
that instantly served to improve the remaining run for the ensemble
and its audiences. These pieces had insight that was original,
thoughtful, and artistically delivered.

The worst reviews are the ones that repeat what we all already know,
good or bad, but do not take into account time restraints, internal
conflicts, financial challenges, the way the show is being marketed,
or a whole host of other struggles that are more prevalent in
independent productions not funded by arts grants, chamber of
commerce commissions, or wealthy philanthropy.

When the critic begins to see their fair market value (nothing more,
nothing less), as a member of the artistic community then perhaps we
will begin to see the improvement of fair criticism that serves the
community of artists and its diverse audiences. When the critic takes
pride in their writing ability and not just in their pronouncements,
then we will begin to see critiques of substance not just spectacle
that can help bridge the gap between artists and those that appraise
them.

What if someone began a website that critiqued the critics? What if
these reviewers were subject to the same present standards and
methods used to determine the artist’s worth? Would they finally see
and feel for themselves the power of words and their own
responsibility to fairness, accuracy, objectivity, and consideration
in their own work?

Maybe then we could limit the attacks of the written word and their
retaliations in the theatre lobbies of America and leave the real
dramatics where they belong… on the stage. Perhaps then we could keep
the dialogue open and create a new collaborative script between
performing artist and reviewer artist. Then in the end, we could all
leave the fisticuffs to the entertainment source that embraces and
thrives on it, in the worlds of boxers, UFC combatants, and WWE
wrestlers.

Always,

Joshua Galitsky
Artistic Director

Apr 24, 2008
11:07 am
I love the idea of a website devoted to critiquing critics (as post modern as
that sounds). There’s only one problem with it, but I don’t think that should
stop someone from proceeding: the purpose of it, from my perspective, should be
to circumvent the critics and get the information to the potential audience.Â
How one could do that with this website is unclear (you can lead a horse to
water, etc.), but might be worth the effort.

I also think it might be interesting to start a website like rotten tomatoes
where reviewes (both professional and non-professional) are gathered in one
location.Â

Howard Casner

Apr 24, 2008
11:42 am
The gist of critiquing the critics being that if critics were held
accountable, they would be more thoughtful and less mean-spirited in
their reviews, just like a “Letters to the Editor” section forces
editorial writers to really think, check their facts, and stay
accountable. Maybe call it “Bitter Lemons!”

I also love the Rotten Tomatoes idea. I love the idea of opening up
reviews to any audience member, thereby at least getting many opinions,
having them all in one place, and decreasing the power that the so-
called professional critics have. And with some pretty good non-
professional writers out there, it may force the pros to write better
in general.

Any takers?

Josh

Apr 24, 2008
11:46 am
I like the idea of more critiquing critics not?so much?because we disagree with
their opinions, but for their mean spiritedness, errors and not well thought out
reviews.? That could really have a lasting effect.

Howard Casner

Apr 24, 2008
12:12 pm
Excellent ideas all around. The “Bitter Lemons” site could post all the reveiws
of the plays, similar to Rotten Tomatoes, and then there could be a comment
section for each review where the theatre community at large could vent their
spleen about the quality of that particular review.

And yes, I agree with Howard – don’t want to turn this into a whining site, or a
personal vendetta site, but an actual “critique of the critique”. I personally
would find such a site to be incredibly helpful as an artist and a fan.

Wish I had the time and the no-how. But I would be more than open to discussing
with a more tech-savvy savante about how something like this could be achieved.
I can be reached at [email protected]… if anyone is interested in chatting
more.

Colin

[It was somewhere between this last post of mine and this next one by Enci – yes in exactly thirteen minutes – that Enci contacted me and said that she’d set up the Bitter Lemons site and would I like to start posting? CM]

Apr 24, 2008
12:26 pm
You people inspired me and I set this up for anyone to contribute.


I’m going to work on the design but if anybody wants to contribute,
email me and I’ll set you up.

Enci

Apr 24, 2008
12:32 pm
Great job! I think we have something here!!

Josh

Apr 24, 2008
1:13 pm
Interesting discussion – our dilmenna of late is getting them to our shows

15 years old company doing interesting different work still can’t get the two
major papers to opening weekend at major house in the city .. or even the
smaller ones – lucky for us we did get theatertimes.org and alas The Tolucan -
/ although have to say the writing has gotten -

Here we are into weekend 2 and nothing from LATimes, LAWeekly or Backstage
West. This with 4 weeks advance notice, press invites & release, faxed,snail &
emailed, even handdelivered…

Our life in the theater – a constant challenge.

Here’s to everyone’s good work and efforts – may they be supported by
someone!~

Nancy Cheryll Davis-Bellamy
Artistic/Producing Director
Towne Street Theatre

Apr 24, 2008
1:27 pm
Hi this is Robert Machray whose reviews appear on my own website
stagehappenings.com and also on blogcritics.org or stagemage.com which reaches
70,000 day. I am not going to defend my reviews or my right to write reviews. If
you want to know why I write see my Letter on stage happenings.com. Since I
started my website I have invited other critics to join me so more reviews could
appear on one site. I even sent an email to this yahoo group requesting people
to review shows since as an actor i feel that the shows deserve response, good
or bad, especially since the LA Times has all but eliminated the critics.I only
got two responses. I added those to the few critics I had already. Some shows
are reviewed twice on my website so you can shop and compare. If you want to
give a response to one of my reviews you can do so on blogcritics.org and it
will be posted. I have some long counter -reviews as well as some praise. Some
actors and directors have contacted me directly. If there is a mistake and I
correct it as quickly as possible. My model for reviewing is Sylvie Drake who
used to write for the Times. She was always fair but supportive because she knew
the effort that went into the shows. I don’t think it is fair to attack all
critics per se. If you are going to put yourself out in public ,as I continue to
do as an actor, you must expect to get misjudged both positively and negatively.
As for reviews ,I have written both negative as well as glowing reviews. Ther
are many vanity productions out there and just because you want it so it doesnt
make the production good theatre. Likewise there is some extraordinary work done
in some of the smaller theatres, with new companies springing up all the time.
They deserve to be covered.,But it does take effort and dedication to be a
critic. So my offer still stands, if you want to be a critic and spend the time
and energy for no compensation (yet) please send my your details as well as a
sample of your writing. With respect and gratitude Robert Machray at

[And, yes it was somewhere between Enci setting up the site, contacting me, announcing the launch of the site on BigCheap, and this next post – yes all of 2.5 hours – at 1:08pm to be exact – that I published the first post of Bitter Lemons. CM]

Apr 24, 2008
3:01 pm
Okay, Bigcheapers,

The official website on the Critics subject is up and ready for your
comments and discussion, with the first post already up by Colin.


I’m still working on the design and I’d love to invite you all to
give me suggestions on what you’d like to see on this site. I will
take all suggestions into consideration and I’ll discuss this with
those who are going to volunteer their time to contribute posts to
the site.

Everybody is able to comment on www.bitter-lemons.com .

I would also love to collect photos that you would like to see on the
header. We will rotate them once the site is completed. If you send
in photos, they need to be formated to 860 × 260 px in .jpg format.

Enjoy and happy discussion on the first post,

Enci

Apr 24, 2008
3:04 pm
P.S. Disregard the bitterlemons.wordpress.com blog. I bought the
domain so that Bitter Lemons won’t have the wordpress extension. So
officially it’s

http://bitter-lemons.com (bitterlemons.com was taken unfortunately ;-( )

Enci

Apr 24, 2008
3:05 pm
As an additional note on this interesting critic’s thread, and in support of
the comments about critics being often too easy on productions -

There are so many Critic’s Choices, Picks, Gos, Recommendeds, etc, that it
renders most of them irrelevant. If each publication were much more choosy
about their endorsements, it might actually help patrons and producers get
more impact and guidance from them.

I am wholeheartedly, by the way, a supporter of the idea of the critics
becoming part of the artistic community again – writing with the goal of not
only informing readers, but providing constructive suggestions and ideas for
artistic advancement of the companies they visit. As long as producers only
see critics as marketing tools, and critics see themselves as reporters,
there won’t be a healthy exchange. When both parties respect each other and
feel that their work impacts the others’, we might see an increase in
quality both onstage and in print.

My two cents.

Doug Clayton

Apr 24, 2008
3:18 pm
I wholeheartedly agree. This should not be seen as an opportunity to degrade
and insult the critic in Los Angeles, it should be an opportunity to challenge
them, challenge them to raise their standards and include themselves in the
creative process. Not as nannies or glee-club supporters or indifferent
outsiders, but as a neccesary component to the creative process and the Los
Angeles theatre community at large.

Damn. Should’ve saved that for my next post on Bitter Lemons.

Colin

Comments (5)

Default user

Ooooohhh, snazzy! Congratulations!

U 35088 t 4659361

Thanks!

Default user

All the old archives are gone… any plans to reconnect them to the new site?

U 35088 t 4659361

archives are still available either at losangeles.bitter-lemons.com or via the archive button in the lower right hand corner. We will be transferring some more recent articles over, but until we’re rolling in money we won’t be migrating the majority of the content over.

Default user

Gotcha – just want to make sure they’re available to theater historians :)


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