Of reviews and responses.
Since we launched The Log Journal last week, we’ve posted a handful of reports from recent performing-arts events: three of them labeled review, and two under the heading response. What’s the difference? That’s a good question, and one I think we should address openly here for the sake of complete transparency.
As we’ve stated elsewhere, National Sawdust executive and creative director Paola Prestini and I determined in our earliest conversations about our new venture that lively, constructive criticism would be a part of the mix. The reviews you’ve seen of two Next Wave Festival presentations at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, David Lang’s the loser and Donnacha Dennehy’s The Hunger, are my own work, and are just what’s billed: the same reviews I’d have filed were I still engaged by The New York Times (minus the “Mr. Lang” and “Mr. Dennehy” formality – which, I confess, I always kind of enjoyed) or employed by the Boston Globe. Same tone, same attention to detail and factual accuracy. Even, I hope, the same discipline with regard to language and style – I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot from the superb copy editors with whom I’ve worked in my previous employment situations.
One more review, covering Opera Philadelphia’s production of Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves, was assigned to Amanda Angel, a New York freelance writer with whom I’ve worked for many years now. Full disclosure: This, too, I’d intended to review personally. But when I fell ill the day of the performance, I decided to proceed with the coverage and hired Amanda, a rigorous, insightful professional, to do the job. As time goes on, we intend to add more voices and perspectives to our critical mix.
For obvious reasons I won’t be reviewing performances produced and staged by National Sawdust. There’s too much room for misinterpretation, whether my response might be enthusiastic or not; I am, after all, a paid employee of the same presenting organization. Likewise, I won’t be hiring critics to review National Sawdust shows. Were I to engage a journalist to cover something we produced ourselves, even with all the good faith in the world a reader could still wonder whether we’d stacked the deck by intentionally soliciting a writer likely to view the project at hand favorably.
Even so, we absolutely do intend to foster public contemplation and discussion of our own events, both to bolster awareness and to provide the artists and creative crew involved with useful, objective feedback. That’s where the idea of responses comes in. The two essays we ran about our opening night double bill of Lullaby Movement by Sophia Brous and Requiem for a Tuesday by Helga Davis and a cohort of gifted collaborators are a case in point: We solicited reactions from Carl Hancock Rux, an esteemed writer, singer, and poet, and from Siddhartha Mitter, a seasoned arts journalist and critic who also writes about current events and matters of cultural, social, and political resonance.
We engaged them not for analytical criticism, but rather for impressions and visceral responses to what they’d witnessed. Compensation for time and labor was a part of the offer, but no restrictions were imposed, no specific requests made. The results, I think, speak for themselves, and we’re grateful to have vivid, contrasting accounts of what I thought was a powerfully moving evening. Had I been in the position to review the opening-night events for some media outlet, I’d very much hope to produce something as perceptive and poetic as what Carl and Siddhartha provided.
We’ll continue to publish both reviews of outside events (and, soon, recordings) and, when warranted, responses to our own productions. No doubt we’ll continue to refine both ventures as time goes on. As ever, your comments are welcome. – Steve Smith