Probably not quite a fiasco!
December 11, 2007 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Atlanta's Theat(er|re) community is unloading on a local Christmas show.

Fun to read how awful it can get. This fellow explains why you probably won't read anything like that from him. And this, of course, shows just how awful it can REALLY get.
posted by bovious (32 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The article by John Barry was great. It struck me close to home, both figuratively and literally.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:53 AM on December 11, 2007

If your community doesn't have a local production of "Every Christmas Story Ever Told" (pdf of entire script - spoilers), then you are culturally deprived.
posted by wendell at 11:01 AM on December 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

It must be a viral.

After all, P.T. Barnum did say, "The bigger the humbug the better the people will like it".
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:02 AM on December 11, 2007

I'd add "hyperbole" to the tags.

I'm glad that TheaterReview will get some exposure out of this post, as it is a very useful site that does a fine job of keeping up with the various event schedules in Atlanta's sprawling theatre scene. But this "unloading" is less about reaction from the community-at-large than it is a pack of reviewer regulars from TR piling on a small scale holiday production that is probably no more mediocre than just about any other Dickensian attempt made this season.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:11 AM on December 11, 2007

Tiny Tim was 6' 4"! Scrooge wore a rainbow wig! The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was a Teddy Ruxpin doll in a pillowcase! The actors kept pronouncing Christmas as "crispness!" Jacob Marley was visibly lactating! The only items on the set were an air hockey table and an elderly, sleeping golden retriever! The stage manager kept walking right out in front of everyone to flip the actors off! Bob Cratchit's only lines were an obscene version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!

Plus the cookies sucked.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 11:16 AM on December 11, 2007 [23 favorites]

Reminds me of a production I saw of Dido and Aeneas about 18 years ago, at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca. They usually do some really excellent stuff, there. I saw a production of Equus there back in '80 or so that was fan-damn-tastic.

The orchestra was servicable, and the woman playing Dido had a lovely voice and a really nice interpretation. But that was almost all you could say in its favor.

The supporting parts were lackluster, to say the least, and Aeneas was just downright wimpy. It's not as though it's a fantastic part (Dido does get all the best lines and the best songs), but he did nothing with it other than show up and sing the right notes.

Then there was the costumes: They dressed all the principles in polyester knit tunics and togas with metallic lame disco-headbands. They looked like they'd just walked off the set of Stayin' Alive. Which was a neat trick, since I think it hadn't been made yet.

As though that weren't bad enough, the chorus was all dressed in sweatpants and t-shirts. Their own sweatpants and t-shirts. That didn't match. Each other or one another. And often had logos, slogans, or other print on them.

Finally, there were the nymphs. For no plot-related reason that I could discern, there were these two nubile young nymphs running around on stage for most of the opera, dressed in nothing but these very transparent shifts, and wearing no underwear. (Shaved.) During certain, um, climactic scenes, they would sort of collapse on the floor and writhe together in sappho-erotic wrestling match that I think was supposed to be a manifestation of the erotic in nature. Or something. Now, to a certain way of thinking, this was actually a pretty good part of the show, in that it distracted from the fact that the rest of it was crap and it gave me something pleasant (albeit a bit frustrating) to look at.

A friend and my sister in law were both playing in the orchestra. He took to referring to it as "Dildo and Anus."
posted by lodurr at 11:19 AM on December 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Imagine! Cattiness from theater-goers!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:28 AM on December 11, 2007

I'd add "hyperbole" to the tags.

Are you saying that theatre folks are prone to dramatics? A pox on your house!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:28 AM on December 11, 2007

The last production I directed ("Charley's Aunt") had an actor I could not convince to pronounce the name of the aunt correctly. Never mind his rich and ineradicable Southern accent.

Of all the wonderful things that happened during that show, my only real sense memory is of that guy fracking up my beautiful show. If I had to write a review of the show, I'd mention how awful he was.

Plus, he got more laughs than I did.
posted by bovious at 11:33 AM on December 11, 2007

David Sedaris' "Front Row Center with Thadeus Bristol" is great if you like this sort of thing. An acid tongued (penned?) theater critic reviews three local elementary school plays, really lays in to them too.
posted by Scoo at 11:37 AM on December 11, 2007

Tiny Tim was 6' 4"! ...

Dang it, Sjoberg, I nearly went into cardiac arrest having a laughing fit from that paragraph. I'd proclaim it the most creatively written thing on MetaFilter this year except for the likelihood that you have actually witnessed most of that in "Christmas Carol" productions over the years.

Then there was the production in the mall foodcourt that used corndogs and sbarro pizza slices as props. And the guy in the role of the Humbug. And the time Scrooge forgot his lines and started quoting "300" ("SPARTA!") And the gratuitous nude scene with the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. And Cory Doctorow in his cape ad-libbing a fundraising appeal for the EFF. (Dang, it, I can't compete.)
posted by wendell at 11:43 AM on December 11, 2007

The Barry piece really strikes a chord.

I recently left our local community theatre scene. Every few years, I would watch Waiting for Guffman and ask myself "have I become any of these characters yet." Two years ago, I realized I had. Specifically, I had become the embittered composer and music director who worked with Corky St. Claire. I was surprised by this, as I thought I was destined to become Corky. Anyhow...

I left and my life has been considerably better since I left.

In addition to not having to pull my hair out because actors, designers, audience members and critics had all started driving me insane (I still loved techies, though), I don't have to see as much bad community theatre as I used to have to see. There is this quid pro quo agreement in a lot of local theatre communities that suggests if I see your show, you are obligated to see mine.

My weekends and weeknights are free now and I'm doing things with them that I love doing.

Which brings me to my actual point. When I did scripted community theatre, it was because I loved doing it. I couldn't think of anything I would rather be doing than staying up until three in the morning painting sets and focusing instruments. It certainly wasn't for the money, since there was none there. Nor was it because I had any delusions that I was somehow going to be discovered and become a big star.

No, I loved the sense of community, I loved starting with words on a page and wrestling with them and actors and shaping it into something that an audience enjoyed. I loved it when the audience was transported into another world and I had something to do with that. I loved it when a young actor discovered something new and improved just a little bit. I loved it when somebody left my production of a Shakespeare play saying "wow, that didn't seem like Shakespeare - I actually understood that..."

Those magic moments where the familiar becomes unfamiliar, or the unfamiliar becomes familiar, as the saying goes.

Somewhere along the way, though, I stopped loving it but kept on doing it. You meet dozens of people in community theatre who are in this same situation. They are cranky, embittered and nasty. The love is gone, but they feel compelled to stay in the relationship, even though it is destructive for both themselves and for the people they have to work with.

I always used to ask "why do they keep doing it if they don't like it anymore?"

On day, somebody asked me that question. I had no answer, so I stopped.

The Producers aside, nobody sets out to create a lousy play. In fact, at that first audition, or rehearsal, or preview, everyone has their hopes up that the audience is going to have a great time. Audiences, bless them, lay down their money hoping that they're going to see something enjoyable. I think it is a little crushing to everyone involved when they realized that maybe what they're working on isn't up to snuff.

Or, worse, when they get huge laughs and a standing ovation and then the review comes out saying the show was dreadful and the audience stops showing up.

Or, worse, when they get huge laughs and a standing ovation and then the review comes our saying the show was *wonderful* and the audience stops showing up.

Community theatre has a sad relationship with reviews. On the one hand, they need them because they are afraid that they won't get an audience without the additional publicity. On the other hand, they hate them because if they are negative, they won't get an audience. On the other other hand, they can also have no impact on attendance whatsoever. Or they can demoralize that cast. Or they can validate the lousy, disruptive performance of the most annoying person in the cast, encouraging them to be even more disruptive the next time they work with a cast.

That all said, the audience has a right to know what they're laying $25 down for regardless of whether it is a community theatre piece or a professional piece.

Bah, long and rambling rant.

My point (and I do have one) is that love is what powers the whole community theatre engine. The theatre folks, presumably love (or once loved) what they're doing and the audience members generally come because they love (or once loved) people involved, or the story, or the idea of seeing live theatre.

I think this is why some reviews of community theatre can be so vicious. When something you love has disappointed you again and again, sometimes you can get a little bitter and angry. It takes an extraordinary person to be disappointed by something or somebody they love in this manner and still come back for more, still stay optimistic about it. Or still maintain the perspective needed to realize that community theatre folks are doing it for love, not for money, and treat them, perhaps, in a gentler way than they would the professionals.

Anyhow, good for Barry and sorry for the rant.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:50 AM on December 11, 2007 [9 favorites]

Dang it, Sjoberg, I nearly went into cardiac arrest having a laughing fit from that paragraph.

It was the lactating bit that put it over the top for me.
posted by empath at 12:24 PM on December 11, 2007

The article by John Barry was great.

Seconded; it would have made a nice post all by itself. And presumably it would still have inspired Joey Michaels' excellent rant, without which this thread would not have been complete.
posted by languagehat at 12:24 PM on December 11, 2007

Canton Theater??

Yikes... what the hell were these people expecting?

"Hey, I went to Moron Shitheel Theater and I was disappointed in the quality of the show. The production looked like it was created by morons and cast with shitheels."
posted by BobFrapples at 1:03 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fred how to put this nicely um well he just can't sing period. I don't know where his notes were & I guess neither did he.

That's putting it nicely??
posted by waraw at 1:16 PM on December 11, 2007

When I spell it theatRE, Open Office tells me that I am wrong.
posted by cazoo at 1:30 PM on December 11, 2007

Official Scale of Suckitude:

1: Going to see a professional production of A Christmas Carol
3: Going to see a community theater production of A Christmas Carol
5: Going to see a really lousy community theater production of A Christmas Carol
7: Participating in a really lousy community theater production of A Christmas Carol
9: Getting horrible reviews for your part in a really lousy community theater production of A Christmas Carol


1,000,000: A front page post on Metafilter linking to a website filled with horrible reviews for your part in a really lousy community theater production of A Christmas Carol
posted by designbot at 1:46 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I spell it theatRE, Open Office tells me that I am wrong.

Oh, that's an easy fix. You just have to go to Tools / Options and then set Pretention as high as it will go.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:58 PM on December 11, 2007 [10 favorites]

Just because the theatre is in Canton doesn't mean it's always putting on shitty productions. Hell, we are dreadedly "ITP" and I think we still do a more than serviceable job, but there are still people who won't go anywhere but Shakespeare Tavern or Dad's Garage, and view all of us out in the relative hinterland with disdain.

Community theatre is what you make it, so I personally try to refrain from slagging on these guys.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:15 PM on December 11, 2007

When I spell it theatRE, Open Office tells me that I am wrong.

Oh, that's an easy fix. You just have to go to Tools / Options and then set Pretention as high as it will go.

Hm. On a hunch, I tried that in the hopes it would also stop OO from saying "teh" should be spelled "the." But it didn't work. Please advise.
posted by poweredbybeard at 3:53 PM on December 11, 2007

There's no such thing as bad publicity.
posted by mkultra at 4:43 PM on December 11, 2007

Yeah, there's a similar problem with covering local bands—half the time, it's cheap shots at folks who try their hardest and still suck. Other times, it's lauding what would otherwise be a mediocre night out.

After a while, I just got to dreading going out, and it showed in my writing, and I feel really bad about that because I went after people with guns blazing just for having the audacity to play in a shitty band in a shitty dive bar in a town next to a college town.

That and the realization that all of the bands that I loved and tried my best to champion had still managed to break up in obscurity. I don't think anything I wrote ever had much of an effect, aside from more and more people writing in and telling me to savage other folks.

And the couple of times I covered theater? Oh, sweet Jesus.
posted by klangklangston at 5:00 PM on December 11, 2007

Working. Building. Never stopping never sleeping. Working. Making. Some for selling, some for keeping. It's the rule. Even Scrooge wants a stool!
posted by miss lynnster at 5:20 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

The worst community theatre production I've ever seen was probably the Sound of Music a few years ago. The girl who played Liesl was a sweet high school girl with a very nice voice. But the guy who played Rolfe was a 35 year old gay guy who... let's just say he wasn't quite right for the role of a young heterosexual Nazi soldier. At all. Every single "S" he sang in "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" was lisped and his movements were so effeminate and bouncy, it started to feel more like The Producers than The Sound of Music. When they had their big gazebo kiss, everyone was trying so hard not to laugh it was palpable. The girls in front of us (friends of the actress) were grabbing eachother and saying, "Eww! She had to kiss him and he's so ooold!" but meanwhile I was thinking how clearly he'd rather be kissing Kurt or Freidrich, although Captain von Trapp was a more appropriate age. In the end when he blew the whistle on Maria and the Captain, I half expected him to do two snaps up afterwards. He was trying SO hard to pretend to be this butch Nazi officer, but he just COULDN'T play straight. His overacting made me giggle something fierce, I have to say.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:37 PM on December 11, 2007

Go check out This American Life's essay on fiasco. I can't recall the exact episode, but it involved a production of Robin Hood that was the dictionary definition!
posted by Fferret at 9:29 AM on December 12, 2007

You mean... the one linked in the OP?
posted by mkultra at 10:37 AM on December 12, 2007

goddammit, miss lynster. that song gets stuck in my head far too often. curse you.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2007

Bill Mann responds!

The reviews calling me the worst actor ever and all the other things that were said came as a much needed cold slap in the face. When I said much needed, I meant that over time I have become over confident and have let my work slip. No one likes to be told that they are the worst at anything but sometimes you are and you need to be told so you can wake up and make the needed changes. I am sorry that I have let everyone down and I promise to do all in my power to give a better performance in the last two shows, and from now on. As for the english accent I promise to give it all I have but I don't know what is worst, my normal accent or a really fake sounding english accent, I will give my best. As for being the worst actor ever, I sincerely believe that somewhere there must have been someone that topped me. This has been one helluva wake up call and I will print it up and tape it to my desk as a constant reminder. If anyone does not believe me, just look at the time of submission 3:00 am Dec 12. I have not been able to sleep because this was on my mind, I will give the best performance possible with what is in the script.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:29 PM on December 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have to give that man some serious credit. He could've easily responded as a defensive victim instead of maturely taking responsibility for what people were saying about him and trying use it as an opportunity to grow. That's amazing. Good luck to him.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:45 PM on December 13, 2007

I guess the comments off the first link got deleted.
posted by Brainy at 9:14 PM on December 13, 2007

Brainy -- yep. The forum at the site is now swamped with folks asking where they went.
posted by bovious at 8:06 AM on December 14, 2007

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