Here in Portland, we have a blog/website dedicated to theatre known as followspot
It’s a cool thing. Theatre companies send in their info, get listed, snag a bit of PR, and followspot (or one of the followspot minions) reviews their shows with about 50 words. It’s a great way to both get the word out on a production and keep track of the bewildering number of shows Portland produces. Though we only have two full Equity houses–Portland Center Stage and Artists Repertory Theatre, and a couple more Equity-waiver theatres, there’s a ton of small companies–theatre troupes, community theatre, weird gypsies that come and go…and despite the economy, there seem to be more every day. I think the last count I heard, through the Portland Area Theatre Alliance, was something like 100+ companies, and, though they’re not all producing at once, it’s not unusual to have a dozen plays open in a single weekend.
Anyway, followspot is interesting and fun. And then…there’s the comments.
That is, unlike, say, this blog (which is run as a benign dictatorship), anyone can post anonymously on followspot. And they do. Boy, do they. At times with amazing vitriol.
Which is funny because the theatre people I’ve had the pleasure to work with in Portland are some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. They really care about the work, and I’ve seen them go so far above and beyond the call of duty that it’s blown me away. A number of them I’ve worked with years and have become my best friends…and the years have a way of adding up. Recently, I was talking with an actor about a show we did in the middle 90s, and I realized it’d been 13 years ago. How the hell did that happen? A couple of them go all the way back to 1991, when I started Third Tuesday Theatre, a monthly new play reading series, and I’m happy to say that I gave early gigs to folks like Lorraine Bahr, David Meyers, Scott Coopwood, Denise Wallace, Rebecca Becker, and Michael Fetters. Obviously, I’ve been lucky.
So I just have to wonder who the heck these anonymous furies are. They usually gang up on Northwest Children’s Theatre or Blue Monkey–both theatre for youth, but they also sometimes kick Lakewood Theatre around, and, of course, delight it slinging stones at PCS and ART, our Goliaths. Once in awhile they make a point, but much of the time they end up making themselves small rather than their targets, which is a drag.
I sometimes wonder if they’re young and full of piss and vinegar (and, like me when I was fresh out of college, absolutely convinced I was right and the world was wrong), but I think that sells short the many fine, dedicated young artists that have made Portland their home, and who often jump show to show, working impossible hours, making new, cratively crazy work because, in addition to having energy, they carry a passion for the art. And I note that the people who do comment on followspot with their actual names tend to be gracious. Which says something.
Who knows? Maybe they’re people I know who, behind the mask of the Internet, reveal the Hyde that lurks behind their Jeckyl. But I doubt it. Because, of course, my friends are all handsome, witty, and brave, and have far too much integrity to cower behind false faces.
Whatever. It makes for lively reading, even if sometimes it’s unnecessarily waspish and cruel. But I still can’t help but wonder if, when I go to the Drammies in a couple weeks (kind of our local Tony awards), I’ll look out on that sea of happy, slightly sloshed faces, and think: could it be…that one?
I know one thing: they probably won’t say it to my face. Which is just as well–I prefer to think of my colleagues as enlightened beings, until they prove otherwise.
Disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing to do with the followspot Web site, but they did do an extensive interview with me last year, which was very flattering indeed.