Monday, 1 March 2010

The LWOT Panel

We asked our the LWOT Panel: What's the worst thing someone has ever said about one of your artistic endeavors?

Mike Allison - warrior/poet

To preface this story, the 'artistic endeavour' I'm talking about here was a dinner theatre show in Summerside, P.E.I. -- the kind of thing where the actors remain in character all night, serve you dinner at your table, and sing, dance and play their own instruments. It may not be fair to call this 'artistic' since the greatest 'artistic' decision I made on this project was to Google "Funny place names in P.E.I." to see which would get the biggest laughs. (Answers: Crapaud, Tignish, Miscouche.)

The show was called Summerside Night Live and it told the story of a sketch comedy troupe trying to carry on after their leading man goes missing. It was a musical comedy with the sort of dialogue that might have come from a fledgling Norm Foster (which is how I describe myself on my business card). It was quick and funny and had its moments: the underdog got his big break at the end, the bad guy got his comeuppance, and the leading man returned just in time to propose to his sweetheart. All those old chestnuts.

And for $35 you got three hours of live entertainment and a four-course meal including fresh bread and P.E.I. mussels. Even people who didn't care for the show still walked out the door stuffed with a good meal and usually drunk enough to concede it was the finest thing they'd ever seen on a Tuesday night in the basement of a restaurant in Summerside.

But not one guy.

My friend/co-director was picking up some equipment from a local store. A man who worked at the store, let's call him... let's call him "Highlights" because he's the sort of guy who thinks it's reasonable for a man in his late forties to have frosty blonde tips. So Highlights walks up to my friend, knowing he was involved in the local theatre scene, and without provocation went into a tirade on the disaster of a show show he'd recently seen in Summerside. He praised the cast for doing the best they could despite terrible writing and directing, and did not realize he was doing so in front of the co-writer and co-director.

But here's the kicker: the more Highlights went on about how bad it was, the more it became obvious he just didn't 'get' it. He couldn't understand a piece of regional theatre with the plot complexity and thematic depth of an Archie comic.

This is what he couldn't wrap his head around: the play was about a group of actors, which meant that an actor had to play the role of an actor, and this was obviously too much for him. For example, when the director character told the underdog he wasn't good enough, Highlights thought one of the performers was berating another performer in front of the audience and he couldn't understand how someone could drop character like that. Maybe we should have had a note in our programmes reading: "Mark Arsenault from Crapaud is playing the role of Alec, who is an actor in a sketch comedy troupe. WARNING: THERE WILL BE SKETCHES WITHIN THIS PLAY."

Anyway, Highlights went on for ten minutes about how bad the show was, which is:

a). Longer than it took us to write the thing.
b.) Certainly longer than anybody has ever ruminated on the theatrical value of a play during which you can drink buckets of beer.
c.) Definitely longer than he should have complained, given the fact that HE DIDN'T UNDERSTAND WHAT IT WAS ABOUT! Best to keep one's mouth shut and be though a fool than to open it and remove all doubt, Highlights.

To spare Highlights the embarrassment, my friend did not tell him he was speaking to the co-writer/co-director. I, on the other hand, am not so diplomatic, so in response to Highlights' mean-spirited attack on what was merely designed to give tourists a rainy day alternative to mini golf, I wish to say this:

I hope you find yourself at a production of As You LIke It, and the idea of a man playing a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman causes your head to explode.

Richard Scarsbrook - mirth maker

When I toured Manitoba for the Canadian Book Week Tour, a school canceled my appearance at the last minute because my book Cheeseburger Subversive contains. . . (gasp!). . . FOUR-LETTER WORDS!

Never mind that the nefarious four-letter words are spoken by characters who are bullies. I suppose the powers that be at this particular school would have liked it better if I had the bully characters saying things like, "Gosh, would you mind ever so much if I inflated my own self-esteem by subjecting you to taunts and abuse? Oh, thanks very much, old chap!" But NO! Bullies don't say things like that! They say, "I'm gonna kick your ass, cocksucker! Awwww, you gonna cry, ya fuckin' faggot?"

Regardless, these benevolent educators decreed that my book was obscene, despite the fact that the book is actually about a nice-guy main character who sticks to his personal morals and ultimately triumphs over obscenity. I wonder if they teach the concept of IRONY in this school's English classes?

I could have written, "Kids, the word 'fuck' is very, very bad, and you should never ever write it or say it, no matter what!" and they still probably would have canceled my appearance. Apparently the lesson on CONTEXT was also skipped.

I was really angry about this, until another school found out about the cancellation and booked me to speak to their students; apparently, some of them had actually read the story (rather that simply looking at the words). I received cheers for "telling it like it is" and "keeping it real". And Cheeseburger Subversive went on to be nominated for almost every Young Adult book prize in Canada.

So: Tell it like it is. Keep it real. The people who get it will get it. And those who don't? Oh, well.

And to drive my point home, I'll share a shorter, but related story:

I once played drums in a band with a guitarist who, at practices, was always expounding that I was "playing too fast". So I sneaked a metronome into rehearsal once, and when he asked me yet again to slow the tempo, I played it at exactly the same speed.

"Was that better?" I asked.

"Much better," he responded.

Another critic satisfied.

J.A. Tyler - net ball coach

For me, it is more about what people don’t say. You mail them a book and
never hear back. You shoot them a pdf of a manuscript and no comments are
returned. You ask for a blurb and silence prevails. You give
modest-acclaim for a press or a new novel or a publication, and no words
are said back. This to me is the greatest form of devious, devilish
remark. To say nothing about a literary work is, to me, to say everything
negative, all at once, in the loudest voice possible. To say nothing is to
say that this is bad, beyond bad, so bad that nothing in fact can be said
about it. We try to tell ourselves no, don’t worry about it, the email was
dropped, the mail was lost, the conversation was forgotten. It wasn’t. No
no. Their silence means they hated it, they loathed it, they were
disgusted by your words. Enjoy the silence is what I am saying, because it
will ring in your ears forever.

Craig Davidson - wise man

I suppose the meanest thing I ever got was a review ... it was
probably the worst review I've ever gotten, apart from the odd Amazon
screed, and it came in the New York Times on Christmas day, of all
times and places. It was for my first book. My editor called me up and
said, 'Hey, I heard it blowing in the wind that your book's getting a
review in the Times!' And he was excited, naturally, and so was I -
mainly because my editor was a pretty sedate guy and didn't get
overexcited about much. So Christmas comes and before sitting round
the tree with my family, before the presents, before any of all that
good yuletide stuff I head to the NY Times site and check the review
... and it's an absolute earth-scorcher. First of all, they assigned
it to this writer with a feminist outlook - which I have no problem
with, but it seemed to me like you couldn't have picked a reviewer who
would have less of an inclination towards the sort of stuff in the
book. It was like putting a weasel and a hognose adder in a gunny sack
and expecting them to get along. So she hammered the book; she
actually did that thing which I hate in reviews, which is: she took a
sentence I'd written and used it to mock me. The actual quote from the
review (and I hated to look this up to copy and paste, but whatever):

In "On Sleepless Roads," a repo man "wondered what it was about
property seizure that gave rise to soliloquies so melodramatic they'd
embarrass a threepenny hack." Once Davidson can curb the same impulse,
he'll be on his way.

Pretty brutal. But whatever. One needs a leathery hide in this biz.
Mine's pretty leathery, but like everyone, it's got its soft spots.

Stacey May Fowles - first lady of Canadian fiction


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