Live Active Cultures

Dear "Orlando Peoples Critic":

I'm writing you this open letter for two reasons. First, I'm one of the few people left on earth without a Facebook account; I had my heart broken by MySpace, and I'm just not ready for another serious social media network relationship right now. (I'm having a rebound fling with Twitter, but it's not long-term).

Second, I've had a week full of root canals, broken cars and dress rehearsals. Since I haven't had a spare moment for art (excepting June 19's very fun People You Know and Things You Shouldn't exhibit at Will's Pub, featuring Miriam "Miriphoto" Lorenzi's vibrantly eccentric photo-portraits of local artists and Becky Osborne-Phillips' charmingly off-kilter toy collages), I'm short on subject matter.

Anyway, last week a friend told me about your Orlando Peoples Critic Facebook page. I was intrigued to hear you were causing a stir among some folks in the cultural community. So I decided to check out your page, and what I found there gave me pause. Your very first post on May 22 screamed, "JOIN THE RESISTANCE!!! UNLEASH YOURSELF FROM THE TROUGH OF THE CENTRAL FLORIDA CULTURAL INTELLIGENTSIA," followed shortly after by a manifesto in which you state:

"I have continuously been struck by how the theater audience masses (and I use that term loosely) seem to be led by the nose by certain newspapers and/or self proclaimed and self congratulating arts intelligentsia/clique. Is it just me, or are there a TON of talented actors, writers, directors, singers, set designers, techs, theater companies, etc who we never get to hear about because the Sentinel and Weekly review and highlight the same tired old acts at the same tired old places."

You go on to condemn "the local media `who` refuse to cover" certain "masterful" performances, attack an unnamed "clique of local Arts Legends who walk around like the some twisted bizzaro version of the Royal Family," and declare that "theater goers `and artists` should be able to decide FOR OURSELVES what/who is good or not and what/who is over rated."

I'll admit it; my initial emotional answer to your essay was effin' annoyance, if not outright anger. After all, between these regular ramblings and the reviews I write, I've probably produced the bulk of the Weekly's theater coverage for at least the last year. If I've been engaged in a secret conspiracy to manipulate the arts community all this time (presumably in cahoots with my editor Lindy Shepherd, the Sentinel's Elizabeth Maupin and the Freemasons), I should be getting paid a hell of a lot more money. And while I haven't been in a "clique" since high school, I've met nearly everyone who could be considered a "local Arts Legend" and can't think of one who resembles a backward-talking supervillain in a tiara.

But then I stopped and wondered if you might be right. What if I really have been omitting — either out of ignorance or iniquity — an entire subset of Orlando's artists from my mention? What if you've discovered an entire world I'm missing? So I eagerly read each and every item posted subsequent to your Molotov cocktail of an opening statement. Imagine my surprise to find nearly every entry on your site was for an event already covered by Orlando Weekly and/or the Sentinel. I looked for the hard-hitting analyses and fearless exposes of undiscovered gems, but all I saw were some cheerleading "10- second review" sound bites and recycled press releases, including (ironically) positive mentions of my own work.

So, while I'd have more respect for your bomb-throwing if you had the critical content to back it up, I appreciate that you're genuinely passionate about local theater. Our community needs all the enthusiasm it can get, and I'd be happy to welcome you with the super-secret reviewers' handshake, if only you'd take off the mask. I know you have your reasons for hiding, and if this were a matter of life and death I'd fully support your pseudonymous schtick. But this is about art, and if actors et al are going to expose their names and faces on stage, those publicly critiquing them should do the same for the sake of accountability, humility and simple decency.

I'm sorry someone sent you a nasty e-mail falsely accusing you of fronting for your friends at a local theater. I find the only way to combat the inevitable bullshit charges of bias is by being upfront about who I am and what I do. A critic's responsibility is to provide context and consistency, and without identity there can be no credibility.

I know I'm swimming against the tide: "Elite" and "intellectual" are insults now, the Sentinel is publishing nameless e-mails on the editorial page, and "Anonymous" assholes safely spew bile over the Weekly's website comments. Arts coverage in the traditional media may die out sooner than we think, granting your wish for a world where everyone's voice gets equal volume. Let me know how you like it.

[email protected]
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