Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

December 6, 2010 at 11:18am

Mea culpa

Don't mess with TUSH!

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In interviews with professional critics, one question arises again and again: Is there a review you regret? Looking back, is there anything you wish you could change or take back? Well, I've been doing this for about a year now; and in all that time, over all those tens of thousands of words, after dozens of insensitive comments about the work of highly sensitive people, there's just one article I wish I could change-and it was one of my first.

It started innocently enough. A local burlesque troupe of fairly recent standing invited me to a performance, and I happily agreed to review it. I said so on Twitter and Facebook, and my editor, Matt Driscoll, tweeted it as well.

Unfortunately, as the performance date neared, I realized there were issues with our plan, the biggest of which was this particular show would only have two performances, one right after the other, on a single night. It'd close before the review could even run. As the primary job of a critic is that of consumer advocate, I saw little reason to weigh in on the show, positively or otherwise. Trouble is, this troupe was excited about getting reviewed. The dancers were proud of their show. My first mistake was neglecting to inform them of my reasonable change of plan. They were expecting a review. They got a bizarre puff piece, one that didn't go into specifics about how dazzlingly wonderful they were. My second mistake was relying on my memory when describing a previous event, which incited a factual error.

Was the show actually good? A few segments were; the rest, not so much. Even so, I wanted to feature the troupe, because I was happy it exists and I wanted to give it some press. The truth is I love burlesque. I've admired quite a lot of it, from the Velvet Hammer in L.A. to garage-level amateurs. But after what came next, my desire to do this troupe a favor was seen in public hindsight as anything but benevolent.

Tone is tough. With my limited alt-press experience, I thought it'd be clever to give the article a whimsical spin I'd seen in so much burlesque. I used fancy words like "ecdysiast." I attempted to sound vaguely Dickensian. Instead, I came off as what the British might refer to as a tosser. Meanwhile, Driscoll pulled an accompanying photo from the troupe's MySpace page, a photo which, it turned out, wasn't of a dancer in the troupe. Epic fail.

I went to bed the night before the article posted thinking I'd catch heat for a pan of a completely different show that opened that week. Instead, all tasseled hell broke loose. One dancer called me an "overeducated buffoon," a memorable phrase that landed so hard it damn near broke a rib. Another respondent went on at length about how I was, not just sexist, but reminiscent of a child molester. While none of these descriptions were true, they hurt like crazy for days-and not just me, but also my brilliant girlfriend, plus friends who had the audacity to defend me based on nothing more than knowing me better than my detractors. And the worst was my understanding that I had brought at least some of the abuse on myself.

I never meant any harm with the article, but criticism is always a dicey business. I've apologized for offenses I gave, however inadvertently or inescapably, and I guess that's really all I can do in any such circumstance. I am still remorseful.

I've attended burlesque several times over the last year; and while I enjoyed most of it, I never reviewed any of it, and I probably never will. It's still an emotional sore spot for me, try as I might to be Zen about what turned out to be, in the grand scheme of things, a mere hiccup in a teacup. Some members of the troupe offered olive branches, and I accepted them happily. Others haven't. That's their prerogative. But angry as I was about the pummeling I took, I'm over that now. I know most of what went wrong was my fault. Having said that, I also wish I'd never agreed to review local burlesque in the first place. I think it's probably impossible not to be sensitive when your chilly bits are exposed to the world; but even so, I should've known I was galloping merrily into a minefield.

Filed under: Arts, Theater, Olympia,
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