Tuesday, August 17th, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Cutting Ties with Teatro la Quindicina

I saw my first Teatro la Quindicina play in 2001 – the summer after I graduated high school. Cocktails at Pam’s had received a 4 1/2 star review in the Journal, and it seemed to be on everyone’s must-see list.  At the time, I was a volunteer, and redeeming volunteer appreciation Fringe bucks at the time meant waiting in line twice – once to get tickets at the door, and again to get seats. My friend and I waited over three hours total to see the production, which probably didn’t help our expectation level. Both of us came out of the show not having understood the humour – when the audience laughed, we didn’t even know a joke had been made. It happened to me then, and it has happened since then – sometimes a show just doesn’t jive with an individual because theatre, like other forms of art, is subjective.

In 2004, I attended my second Teatro show,  a remount of Shocker’s Delight during the regular theatre season. The show, about growing up, friendship and love, featured Ron Pederson, Jocelyn Ahlf and Josh Dean, and to this day, remains one of my all-time favourite productions. Every theatre patron has those handful of plays that they go back to, year after year, to be referenced as what cemented their love of theatre. Shocker’s Delight was one of those shows for me, so much so that I purchased a copy of A Teatro Trilogy: Selected Plays by Stewart Lemoine soon after.

Since then, I’ve been attending Teatro la Quindicina productions regularly – Pith!, The Oculist’s Holiday and last season’s Everybody Goes to Mitzi’s!, have been highlights over the past six years. Two years ago, because Mack and I were finding that we were attending most, if not all, of Teatro’s plays, we decided to purchase season subscriptions, figuring that was one way we could support the company.

For that reason, I was shocked to read Teatro Artistic Director Jeff Haslam’s comment, written on Saturday:

You come across as snotty and arrogant. I absolutely despise your pretension that you are “a reviewer” in any professional way. In fact every time I read one of your posts I think “I am not smitten with this weird women like her icky friends seem to be. I wish she’d stop subscribing to my theatre company, because she seems like such a pretentious doof. I wonder if she knows that her endlessly stuck-up self-important little reviews are deeply offensive to those of us who bust our buts for next to nothing to bring a little entertainment to this distant northern city? I wonder if she knows that her crappy 19 bucks goes to less than 40% of what it costs to pay all the artists she isn’t always smitten by? Do us all a favour lady. Write about food and take your entertainment dollar elsewhere.
Sincerely
Jeff Haslam

When I started this blog back in 2006, I wrote about many things, including theatre. One reason for this was so I could maintain a log of memorable shows, actors and playwrights as a personal reference guide. Another – which has become the driving force of my blog – was so I could showcase all that I love about Edmonton – local restaurants, area producers, festivals, and yes, theatre.

I have never claimed to be a professional reviewer. But like anyone who watches any production, I will have an opinion. Sure, most theatregoers may not take the time to express their opinion as I do, but they likely do so in other ways – telling friends, commenting on a review, updating a Facebook status. Though I doubt they would believe me anyway, I never meant to hurt or offend any of the Teatro actors; my intent wasn’t malicious, or personal, even though he has interpreted it as such. I was, in my mind, recording my experience of the shows (my posts about Teatro can be found here).

Mack wrote more about the process of confirming that comment was indeed submitted by Jeff Haslam, and I thank him for willing to be the go-between. I will admit to some cowardice on my part – as personal as their reaction seemed to be, mine was equally so. Six years of history with anything can do that to you.

Perhaps what’s most upsetting to me is when and how Jeff Haslam chose to disclose his feelings about my blog. There are numerous other routes he could have taken – an e-mail, for instance, or, in person, at one of Teatro’s shows (as a subscriber, I would have to call in to reserve my seats, so he would have known when I would be attending the plays). Also, last November, when I contacted him by e-mail for a post I wrote about shopping locally, he responded, but did not mention his opinion in his reply. The most opportune time in my mind, however, was in April of this year, when I renewed our subscription to Teatro. Could he not have communicated to me then of his preference that we stop attending his shows earlier, and save us from all of this? I think about all of the productions I have attended in the past few years, sitting in the audience unaware that the theatre company putting on the show really didn’t want me there.

He will ultimately get his wish – I can say with confidence that any production Jeff Haslam is involved in will never earn another dollar from me. And though I am saddened by how this happened, I look forward to supporting other theatre companies with my patronage in the future.

August 26, 2010 update: Mack and I received a handwritten apology from Jeff Haslam in the mail today. It was accompanied by a signed copy of Stewart Lemoine’s At the Zenith of the Empire, and a refund for the unused portion of our season subscriptions.

  • an alberta actor

    ILook people, what makes theatre so exciting is the very fact that you have so many different types of audience members watching every night. They each bring a different perspective to whatever they’re watching, and that’s part of wh

  • an alberta actor

    Typing on a Blackberry Storm is somewhat trying…
    To finish-
    That’s part of what makes theatre so damn exciting. So I welcome disagreement and dissent. It’s great, too, when they love what you do. But for God’s sake, let’s not drive people away because our feelings are hurt. We struggle foe audience members enough as it is, sometimes. Let’s start a dialogue with them instead. Their might be something in their opinion that you can use. And if not, then at least you respected them enough to hear them out.
    If someone doesn’t like my work or the show I’m in, I find out why. I might even agree with them from time to time. So Sharon, please keep on going to the theatre. Keep opening yourself up to what is out there. And NEVER, NEVER, NEVER stop sharing with others what you think. Because it matters. Always…

  • Leslie

    Jeff has a right to say what he wants on your PUBLIC blog that allows comments. If you want to control what people write on your blog, make it private. I have never been to Teatro at the Varscona but I’ll make a point of going now.

  • paul biloudeau

    The theatre scene in edmonton is filled with elitist cliques that will stop at nothing to backstab each other and bring each other down. I have never seen such a divided community, and with the likes of Mr. Schmidt running things it only gets worse…oh woe the dark times.

  • @el_monton

    I like being an Icky Friend.

  • Penny

    I like Jeff. I don’t know him, but I like him. He is funny, he is smart and he is an artist. He is also an human being entitled to an opinion, just as the annoying Sharon is. I have come across Sharon’s blog before and it always left me somewhat queasy. Until this point though, not queasy enough to comment. Hooray, my quease has reached a commenting level! Leave Jeff alone, write your silly blog and we will all be happy.

  • A Real Edmonton Actor

    The irony here is that you got your apology for him hurting your feelings…and yet, no word from you apologizing for offending those he cares about.

    In addition, I agree he shouldn’t have been so rude. It belabored his point. His point, however, is sound. You came across as rude and snotty and you are not invisible. No one deserves to be insulted, not you NOR the theatre professionals who are working for $10,000 – $20,000 a year for YOUR entertainment and scrutiny. Cristicism is important; Being crass and rude is a waste.

    Both of you should grow up.

  • Saskplanner

    Basically the same as some other people.

    People see plays. People formulate opinions about them. People express their opinions – email, coffeeshops, over dinner, on the ‘net.

    For anyone to suggest they don’t have the right to an opinion and express it is ludicrous – regardless of whether you think they’re whiny, or annoying or pretentious, or their ticket purchase only pays part of the production cost…whatever…. it’s irrelevant.

    I like Jeff as an actor. He’s good, but as a person the few times I’ve met him he’s a bit of pretentious dick in his own right. SUre Jeff also has a right to an opinion but not to be such an ‘a-hole’ about it.

    So, Jeff – if you’re tired of busting your butt for no money and for people being able to judge your work when YOU put it out there, maybe it’s time for a career in grocery bagging.

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  • Not to dig up old books again,but I just happened to come across this post. I agree with you 100% Sharon. Well written response.