On Why Lazy, Under-Researched Arts Journalism Just Sets the Diversity Conversation Back

31071033I wish I could say, full WASP, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.”  But I can’t; I’m angry, too.  This conversation about diversity that we are having as an industry is too important to be lazy about it, especially on the national stage.

Growing up, my mother always held me to a really high standard.  There was one time she asked me to straighten up our basement, which was full of my toys, and I did, made a strong 10-year-old effort, and when I proudly told her I was done, I for some reason also asked her to tell me what she thought of my work.  She, to her credit, asked me if I was sure, and then when I said yes, she went through the basement and indicated a variety of things that I hadn’t done–treating me like an adult who had been asked to do a task and hadn’t given it my full effort rather than as the kid who naively asked for input.  I might have been a bit young for that exercise, but in hindsight I take the point, and in general I feel like it’s totally acceptable to ask that people bring their A-game when I’m bringing my A-game–that people legitimately try, and try fully, and that if they don’t you call them on it, and if they do you respect that effort by making any critique from an informed and respectful place.

Which is why I am so frustrated by a piece on the play American Night that Lily Janiak wrote and published on Howlround a few days ago.  Ostensibly a “newcrit” review of American Night, it is a disappointing and lazy work of journalism filled with generalities framed as facts and veiled critiques about the way an arts organization that is legitimately trying to broaden its programming and audience does business that makes no attempt to actually investigate and lay out facts and takes no account of how incremental change happens or how arts non-profits stay stable.

To give you the quick flavor: American Night is a play that emerges from some of the folks at Culture Clash and that follows the dreams and hallucinations of an immigrant on the eve of his citizenship exam.  It is part of a larger concerted effort by Moscone and his staff and artists to actively shift Cal Shakes’ historically classic-driven mission toward one that explores the culture and diversity of California and that is more inclusive and engaged in the lives of all Californians.  I have not seen the work, and I think that’s important to say–my frustration with Janiak’s article stems not at all from her critical response to it (about the last third of the piece) and instead emerges entirely from the first two-thirds, when she says things like:

“Looking around at the audience at any given Cal Shakes performance, you can see why the company is expanding its offerings.”

“Many theaters want their audiences to be less old and less white in order to both have a more sustainable source of ticket buyers and to better reflect their communities. But with Cal Shakes, defining community isn’t easy. The company is near “Berserkeley,” famous for its diversity and progressivism, but “near” is a relative term.”

“Of course, it’s wrong to think of a theater’s community as limited only to its town, but Cal Shakes doesn’t exactly get a lot of foot traffic.”

“And once you arrive, there are other, subtler signs that this is a theater for elites only. Groups with five-star picnics take all the picnic tables, which can actually be reserved if you are of a certain subscriber status, more than an hour before performance. Certain theater seats have blankets waiting on them, while everyone else must pay to rent them. And at the lengthy section on corporate sponsorship during the curtain speech, everyone knows just when to shout, in unison, “Peet’s Coffee & Tea!” along with the speaker.”

“In all these ways, factors both intrinsic to Cal Shakes’s location and perpetuated by its culture contradict the company’s rhetoric about audience engagement. In reality, it’s the kind of theater where, if there’s an interactive exhibit outside the theater (as there is for American Night), the company must instruct audiences to interact with it; at a recent performance, the employees tasked with this unenviable chore looked uncannily similar to bright t-shirt-wearing, clipboard-wielding Greenpeace employees.”

I should say that a while back, while I was looking to hire a position in my previous job, I had the occasion to read a variety of samples of Janiak’s writing and found her an extremely intelligent writer, thoughtful and engaged in her subject most of the time.  This is, perhaps, part of the reason I am having such a strongly negative reaction to her piece on American Night–it goes for easy points, relies on a lack of knowledge, and ultimately reaches a facile and pat conclusion that does a disservice to the larger questions Janiak raises in the piece both because is under-represents the progress that Cal Shakes has made and because it does so with easy insults to Cal Shakes’ core audience and without any apparent recognition of the inherent risks of what Cal Shakes is trying to do.

Cal Shakes is, like all theatres, an imperfect one.  Some of their shows I have liked, some of them I haven’t.  Critics are going to criticize because that’s what critics do, and all of that is just fine.  But–and this is so, so crucial to remember–they deserve informed criticism, in particular because they are making an effort, bringing their A-game, trying hard.  Jon Moscone, in a panel I was on with him, told the story of doing Spunk, their first big foray into culturally diverse work, and it being such a success for them–most popular show on record, critical success, highly diverse–and feelings great about it.  And then he did what I did with my mother–he went and spoke to diverse artists in his circle, and he said, “didn’t we do a great thing?” and they said, “do you want me to be honest?” and to his credit, Moscone said yes, and they asked what the next step was, and he said he was considering doing Ain’t Misbehavin’ and they told him all about how terrible an idea that was–that that wasn’t representing culture and diversity of California, that was pandering to a new audience–that he needed to try harder, think harder, do more to make change that was real, systemic, incremental and permanent.  Moscone and his team are listening, and trying, and trying hard–and to have someone half-assedly snark about it because in two years Cal Shakes hasn’t flipped audience percentages, hasn’t done away with Peet’s Coffee as a sponsor, hasn’t whatever, well, it just sets the whole damn conversation back.

And so, to some of Janiak’s points:

  • Cal Shakes’ audience is very white and old and wealthy.  Okay, sure.  How old? How white? Is it getting less white?  And at what rate? Are the folks that are coming in, if there are any, equally wealthy and generous–if not, how are they dealing with that financial disparity?  What is the general rate of turnover in audiences for companies like Cal Shakes? What expectation can we have?  Assuming Cal Shakes wants to expand their audience rather than drive their wealthy white older patrons out of the fold (never a good business strategy, and also I imagine they like having them and speaking to them), then what is the rate of increase Cal Shakes can expect in audience attendance year-to-year?  How quickly, not to be morbid, will the older guard who might be resistant to a complete shift die off, and what is the plan for replacing the money that old guard provides in order to maintain the organization’s stability?  Per the folks at Cal Shakes (it’s amazing the information you can get if you ask for it), between 2011 and 2012, Cal Shakes’ overall audience went from 87% white to 86% white.  Between 2011 and 2012, they saw an overall 2% increase in their African-American attendance in the course of 1 year from 3% to 5%.  While it is unclear whether these shifts are permanent, they are incrementally positive.  What is frustrating is that, when I was given these numbers, it was with the pessimistic caveat that “we’re not going to win any debates” with them–which is a huge part of the problem.  When a company can essentially double their African-American audience in a year, they should be celebrated and encouraged to try and do it again in another year.  Not dismissed.  Change takes time, and comes in small increments.
  • Cal Shakes is isolated (even though it is very close to that bastion of liberalism “Berserkeley”) and folks that don’t have a car need to take a train or bus, which makes it elitist. Cal Shakes is pretty isolated, true.  But it also has a rather larger budget, advertises incessantly, and provides all sorts of options for easing the transportation hurdles that it has.  It sits in a county (much of which is closer than Berkeley, which is also incidentally not super diverse, just super liberal) that is 53% non-white, has an average age of 46 years old, is politically diverse and has an extreme mix of economic status from poor to ultra-wealthy.  And it draws, per the folks at Cal Shakes, 94% (!) of its total audience from farther away than Orinda.  Seems like a lot of foot traffic to me.  Again, I know this because I asked and they told me.  Cal Shakes’ diversity profile, from what I remember from the Bay Area Arts & Culture Census data, is actually remarkably similar to theatre companies that are performing in Berkeley.  All of which is to say, as I have said before, that being a good liberal is not the same thing as being diverse, and that caring about diversity is not the same as doing something about it, and that if you’re going to talk about a theatre company being demographically challenged because it is isolated, then maybe do the research on whether that is true, whether it had changed, whether they’re making the effort.  Because otherwise most people are just going to assume you know what you’re talking about, and then you’re poisoning an important conversation that is just beginning.
  • Cal Shakes has both picnic tables that can be reserved by people who give donations of a certain level (and covered, apparently, in lavish spreads of the kind only available to a certain class) and a sponsor, in Peet’s Coffee & Tea, that is so loyal that everyone knows them, says their name when they’re thanked at the top of each show–and both of those things indicate a strong elitist reality that pushes against what Cal Shakes says they’re trying to do in terms of diversification.  I don’t know where to begin here.  The idea that, because Cal Shakes hasn’t completely abandoned the fundraising model in which you get perks for supporting the organization at a higher level, they aren’t serious about diversification drives me up a wall.  The implication that lavish and delicious-looking spreads wouldn’t still exist on the picnic tables if those tables were more available to people who weren’t white and rich (which, incidentally, I believe they are, pending a donation) is an insult to the culinary aptitude of over 50% of the Bay Area population, and also seems sort of racist in itself.  The idea that because Cal Shakes has a loyal and fruitful long-term relationship with a sponsor–a sponsor who has allowed all sorts of things to blossom because it has provided money and service that keeps the organization, you know, stable enough to try new things–the idea that having that sponsor means they aren’t living up to their end of the bargain when it comes to diversifying is insane (and, again, the implication that that sponsor being Peet’s somehow makes it worse also smacks to me as sort of racist, as it seems to indicate that people who aren’t rich and white won’t connect with that brand).  Come on, people.  Is there progress to be made? Absolutely.  Does it involve figuring out other ways to recognize the generosity of high-end donors?  Maybe.  When we find a model that will allow a non-profit arts institution of Cal Shakes’ size to continue to be stable and to have the ability to take risks like, say, shifting from being a classical Shakespearean theatre to one that creates and performs contemporary work about the culture and diversity of California, then perhaps we can get critical of a program that gives people who pay for the privilege the opportunity to reserve a picnic table.  But for now, I say turn your focus back to the art, or do the research to understand what getting rid of those programs would do to the organization, and insert some reality around how incremental change is paid for and achieved back into the conversation
  • Because there are people in brightly colored shirts (that make them look like they’re from Greenpeace?) trying to engage folks in an interactive activity about the themes of the show–because such a thing isn’t just left there for people to do without help–Cal Shakes is failing at diversification.  So, two points here: (1) I wonder how many of the shows that Janiak reviews have any supplemental interactive exercise associated with them, and how often she notes that such things don’t exist at all, and that in not existing at all, those companies are far behind companies that are making such an effort.  (2) As it happens, I have had conversations in the past with both Alli Houseworth of Method 121 and Rachel Grossman of dog&pony dc, two of the people really pushing forward interactive exercises like the one created for American Night, and both of them actually strongly advocate for helpers wherever possible, not because people can’t figure things out (at least not always–and where that is the case, rarely because the people are old and white), but because people are disinclined to try unless they’re engaged.  People engage at a higher rate when someone opens the door for them–which has exactly nothing to do with the age or race of the people in the house.  I think that the idea that Cal Shakes–a theatre that 5 years ago was producing straight-up Shakespeare with traditional talk backs and pre-show conversations etc–is now experimenting with asking people to contribute their own stories, and is putting sufficient energy behind it to have a core of volunteers (who might actually enjoy the “unenviable chore” of helping someone deepen their experience of a piece of art) and 400 or so people who actually take part, is something that should be applauded loudly, not made fun of as a tool to fudge a point.

Ultimately, my frustration with Janiak’s piece is that, in it’s very laziness and it’s placement on a very popular community website,  I think it has the potential to really damage a powerful and ongoing conversation about diversity.  In hiding behind the “critique” nature of the piece (“I do,” Janiak says, “see my work here as primarily critical (reviews) rather than journalistic (features and interviews)…”), Janiak seems to have decided that her personal impressions can take the place of facts, and that’s problematic.  Whether she meant to or not, Janiak chose as a punching bag one of the few examples in the entire country of a LORT-level theatre truly making an effort, and then proceeded to punch away without acknowledging the facts of, and then from there thoughtfully critiquing, those efforts to change.  And then Howlround published it.  What sort of warning shot does that send?  “If you try, you’re a target, and you get no credit for taking early steps.”

In a comment on Janiak’s piece, Rebecca Novick, who runs the Triangle Lab for Cal Shakes and who is responsible for developing a lot of the improved engagement stuff for the company, starts by saying, basically, that she believes we should absolutely be calling out companies who aren’t trying to make headway on this work–and I agree.  And even with the companies that are–companies like Cal Shakes–I think we should be able to critique from a place of improving things, while also respecting progress made.  But…sigh.

This conversation can’t be had this way.  You can’t make stuff up and have this conversation work.  You can’t casually and uninformedly knock down progress because your impression is that it isn’t working.  This is a conversation that is fraught enough without also attempting to engage in it without bringing your A-game, without doing your research, and without understanding the potential impact that your half-informed words might have on the conversation itself.

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Comments

  1. Paul Cello says

    Hi Clay –

    Thanks for your thoughtful response on this subject. I have been watching this mostly from the sidelines and I have been struck by a few things.

    First, let me say that I think that Lily’s article (and I want to be careful to separate the article from the person) seemed to try to do two things at once: to provide a critique of a show while also contemplating the context within which the work was made. In Christine Evan’s response to Rebecca’s comments on HowlRound she points to the value of this kind of contextual analysis and I agree with her. And while one could argue (as you have done here) that this attempt was not pulled off successfully one could also try to appreciate the attempt.

    Having said that here are some things that have surprised me in a good many of the responses to Lily’s article:

    1) I have been more than a little shocked at what feels like a fairly reflexive, defensive, circle-the-wagons response to the observations Lily makes. I have reread the article and I have to admit that I don’t experience Lily as somehow bashing Cal Shakes. In fact, she makes an effort to laud them on their efforts. She talks about their seasons being “increasingly innovative”, and affirms the direction that Cal Shakes is moving in in which they “pay attention to broader societal trends and try to be a part of them”. So I have been surprised with some of the language being used to refute her article – much of which feels pretty personal (lazy, unfocused, student writing). One critique of the piece speaks to the point that “a jaundiced eye does nothing to help the field”. I would add to that an uncritical eye at our own attempts to move the field forward also does not help our field.

    2) I think that there may be a possibility that people may be missing a point that I found quite salient in Lily’s article. Part of the perspective that Lily’s article brings is the perspective of the “casual observer”. It speaks to the experience of attending this production without all the background information, perspective, and knowledge of Cal Shakes intentions that you and some people have. I think that Lily is pointing to a certain cognitive dissonance that could happen for people as they view the work in the context of it’s surround. A similar point was raised in the LaJolla Nightingale debacle last year in which the artists defended a point of view about the work that was at odds with the marketing surround on opening night. I think this is a very very important point – most audience members will not have the context that you or the staff of Cal Shakes have and the ability to consider that your current attempts to shift the paradigm of the work may be at odds with the way you market, promote, and present the work seems like a pretty valuable insight to me and one not just worthy of exploration but, in fact, critical. As the old saying goes, “Perception is reality”.

    Finally, you say in your post here that Lily’s “half-assed snark…is moving the conversation backward”. Here I respectfully disagree. I think Lily raised some perfectly valid points that have to do with perception and experience that we all could be taking to heart and talking about. However, whether her points were well researched or not, her journalism lazy or not, we could all try to uncover what the salient points are in her article and contend with them. Sadly, that is not what I have seen happen thus far.

    • says

      With respect, Paul, I don’t agree that the POV of a “casual observer” has a lot of value in the context of Howlround. Seems to me that this particular online space/venue/discussion is oriented to folks whose involvement in theatre is anything but casual. Whether they are “professionals” or not, reader-participants in HR and Artsjournal blogs bring passion, experience and sophistication to the table. I think the “casual observer” stance may, indeed, have contributed to what some of us find problematic in the review/feature.

      I do agree that characterizing Lily’s work as “half-assed snark” etc. is not helpful. Isn’t that sort of pejorative labeling one of the reflex behaviors that the new crit we hope to develop seeks to let go of?

      • Paul Cello says

        Yes Corey – we will have to disagree on this. I don’t see anything in HowlRound’s mission that rules out layering in a perspective that might be more approximate of a layperson’s experience especially when what’s up for discussion is broadening the reach of theatre. I personally don’t think of HR as a place that only the “sophisticated” can play in.

  2. says

    Wow, Clay, what an amazingly articulate, vital response! It should be required reading (along with Lily’s piece, to which it responses) for anyone who wants to write theatre criticism or journalism. I’m so grateful to have discovered your blog (via Jumper and HowlRound). Keep up this much-needed work!

  3. says

    Sigh. Must the left ALWAYS censor critics so reflexively? I knew Ms. Janiak’s independence at HowlRound was doomed from the start (naive folks in Boston sometimes begged me to apply for one of the critical roles she eventually got, only to have me patiently explain the intellectual hypocrisy behind the project). Still, I didn’t think her silencing would play out in quite so public a way. Back when I worked at the Boston Globe, producers went behind closed doors to silence critics. Now they do it right out in the spotlight, apparently.

  4. says

    Clayton, I’m dismayed by the tone of your response to Lily Janiak’s article, and by the fact that you criticize her work with the very tools that you dislike her using. If you want others to practice responsible, careful, thoughtful writing you should attempt it yourself. Your writing is far “lazier” and more “half-assed” than hers–for instance, accusing her of “using Cal Shakes as a punching bag.” Firstly, her article is far more nuanced than “punching” implies. (And she’d have to be punching way above her weight class here to land a dent, don’t you think? Cal Shakes has a lot more money, resources and access to publicity than a young freelance writer does.) You write “to have someone half-assedly snark about it because in two years Cal Shakes hasn’t flipped audience percentages, hasn’t done away with Peet’s Coffee as a sponsor, hasn’t whatever, well, it just sets the whole damn conversation back.” She DOESN’T actually say that Cal Shakes should have done any of these things, so there’s a certain irony to your accusing her of using sarcasm and exaggeration–and you conveniently ignore her acknowledgement of what Cal Shakes is working towards.

    There’s also an ominous implication that the conversation being “set back” is the one Cal Shakes is trying very hard to have–i.e. that Janiak shouldn’t say anything that will rock that boat. What Cal Shakes is trying to do may be a wonderful, noble thing, but it’s not a critic’s responsibility to serve their intentions. That’s what publicists are for. “The conversation” has to include people outside of any theatre’s circle of good intentions to actually be a conversation at all. The road to truthiness is paved with this kind of implied requirement of loyalty.

    As Paul Cello notes, Janiak’s aim in the article is to convey the experience of attending the show without already knowing the Cal Shakes viewpoint(s) about the work–something that most audience members will do. You may not like this approach, but it’s a coherent and fairly articulated position and (as others have noted) provides a way to demonstrate the dissonance between one (not all, or every) audience experience and the intended experience built by the company. I strongly disagree with your implication that she should only be writing positive things about Cal Shakes because they are “one of the few examples in the entire country of a LORT-level theatre truly making an effort.” Again—this is an exaggeration (“in the entire country”) of the kind you attacked in Janiak’s writing.

    I agree with Paul Cello on another point–there’s a defensive, circle-the-wagons tone to the criticism of Janiak’s article that is surely not conducive to building a conversation. A conversation has to mean respectful engagement with others’ views and you haven’t done that. You’ve misquoted, misrepresented and quite frankly, abused this writer’s first attempt at what HowlRound are calling NewCrit. Maybe our field is just too mired in truthiness for that attempt to succeed, but it would be nice to give it a chance.

    I thought Rebecca Novick’s reply to Lily Janiak was really classy, both in responding to what Ms. Janiak actually wrote and in the substantive and thoughtful way in which she offered disagreement with some points. Despite the fact that Novick works for Cal Shakes and her own initiative was the subject of criticism, she managed to do this without resorting to caricature or insult ( “lazy” “under-researched” “snarky” “half-assed”). You might have noticed a thoughtful and cordial reply from Janiak in return. I think their exchange is a good example of advancing the conversation, not “setting the whole damn conversation back.”

    • says

      Hi Christine, and thanks for your thoughts. It’s been interesting over these last few days to review all of the various commentary going back and forth about Lily’s article and its impact and implications, including the reactions to my post here. I think, at the core, my issue with Lily’s piece has more to do with what Polly Carl talks about in the apology that she issued on Howlround–namely, the fine line walked in this “new criticism” that they are trying to build. She notes that Lily’s piece wasn’t “a review,” while at the same time talking about it as criticism and journalism. The implication here, and it has run a thread through some of the other comments as well, seems to be that by calling it criticism we are releasing the writing from being journalism, and I just hope that isn’t the case.

      On the one hand, Lily writes from the point of view of the naif, which is an interesting experience–I agree with Isaac Butler that the Metamucil line was funny, though I also agree with his asterisk about cultural sensitivity–and to some degree I understand that in writing from the viewpoint of the naif Lily would see a mostly white organization. And at the same time, and here’s where it gets hard, she does enough research to make points about the stated diversity work of the organization while not going the extra step of figuring out whether that work is actually making headway.

      If my comments came off as stifling criticism–of keeping people from “rocking the boat,” I very much apologize. As you can imagine, perhaps, from the nature of things I write on New Beans and from the tone of this one in particulary, I am actually quite a fan of rocking the boat. A critic, you are right, doesn’t have a responsibility to the organization–but in this case, on Howlround, I think the critic does have a responsibility to the field, to a national field, many of whom won’t ever see a Cal Shakes show, won’t ever talk to Rebecca Novick, won’t ever hear Jon Moscone speak, won’t ever understand the nuance that Lily had the possibility, but not reality, of providing as context for her piece–all of which can be done from the confines of criticism, should that be necessary. “New criticism” cannot simply be made code for a critique of a full experience (for primarily an audience of people looking to glean professional advice from that full experience) that stops short of providing the detail necessary to round out the critic’s view.

      To a couple of your particular points:

      – I do actually think Lily uses Cal Shakes as a punching bag here, likely not deliberately, which may be something we just have to disagree on. And to your comment about weight, not really–the internet is an amazing equalizer, and Lily happened to have as her megaphone what I imagine is one of the most popular theatre industry websites available today. So no, I don’t think she had to be punching above her weight class–I think she just had to have on the right gloves. Which, I also think, she did–and to her credit, as I think she is a great writer and absolutely deserves the Howlround position (as I said in the piece, I actually have enjoyed greatly a lot of Lily’s writing that I’ve had the pleasure to read over the years.)

      – Regarding your comments around the important role of the critic–absolutely agree. I would love for Howlround to cultivate a culture of criticism that shines light on places where we all can be doing better, and I enjoy very much the fact that Howlround exists to do so. But as I said in the initial post, I also don’t think that Lily would have spent a long time writing about how white her experience was at another similar regional theatre–she wrote about diversity because Cal Shakes said it was trying to do something about diversity, and she decided that, by stating that intention, their efforts were more in need of scrutiny than another organization that maybe wasn’t doing anything at all. That’s frustrating to me, as it’s calling out the harbingers and leaving the others be. Perhaps I’m wrong–I would love to see Lily write more pieces that dissect the whiteness of theatre in the Bay Area and elsewhere, Lord knows we need it.

      – I never say in the piece that Lily should only write positive things about Cal Shakes. I say she should do research. I say she should write even-handedly about facts, and more elementarily should include facts instead of supposition where facts matter. I, in fact, say that Cal Shakes is an imperfect theatre and that some of their work isn’t my cup of tea. And perhaps fundamentally this is an issue about the role of this “new criticism” in the conversation. Critics should be critical–that’s the whole point. I guess, though, that criticism in my mind is as much about providing enough facts that others can engage with you and feel like they’re engaging with the whole conversation.

      – I don’t actually think it’s hyperbole to talk about Cal Shakes as one of the few examples of LORT-level theatres truly making an effort, but I would love for you to prove me wrong. I would love for you to tell me the ones that are, and what they’re doing–I would love to be able to talk to those people who are making that effort, and better understand what they are doing, and to disseminate the good work far and wide.

      – If I have misquoted something, please tell me. I did not intend to do so. As to the misrepresentation, I would love to better understand where you feel that was done–perhaps it is a question of tone or nuance that I am missing.

      All to say, my frustration is not around criticism as a concept. I don’t believe that people are fragile, I don’t think we all need to be wearing rose colored glasses. I want us to get a little less civil with each other, to get into the tough and truthful place that has emerged from other people commenting on Lily’s initial article. But I want to get there with nuance, with the respect that comes with doing all of the research required, with providing the full story, with navigating the line between pointed and constructive criticism and snark (a word, along with lazy, that I stand behind–although I should say that I never meant for either of those to be personal attacks on Lily, but instead comments on the tonality and effort within this one piece of writing. As someone who has written pieces in the past that have been termed both unnecessarily snarky and lazy, and who has ultimately come to agree, I apologize if the difference there got blurred. I disagree with the tone and substance, not the talented writer behind them.).

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Christine (and Paul, too, and everyone–I very much appreciated your thoughtful comments here and on Lily’s piece).

  5. says

    No. No, I’m calling BS on this, Clay. Just because YOU write long books based on research doesn’t mean every mention of a theatre has to do so as well. It was a short piece of criticism, not a dissertation. Even if she HAD done the research you mention, do you really think moving from 87% white to 86% white is something to crow about? Is that what you’d call a gamechanger? And are we REALLY supposed to think that writing a one sentence description of a family member who took a journey and placing it in a bottle is some kind of engagement? Maybe in 4th grade social studies class it is. This is trivial, and I’m not certain it is better than doing nothing. Although judging from what the artists in “Counting New Beans” thought of as engagement, I suppose this is an earthquake. But it might be a good idea to call in Doug Borwick on this one. And “foot traffic” is a specific term — it doesn’t mean “people who commute from elsewhere,” even if it is made easier by running a shuttle from the train. It means “the activity of pedestrians in a particular area” and “people coming and going on foot.” Perhaps if you had done some research, you wouldn’t have made that mistake. Cal Shakes DOESN’T have much foot traffic — it is a pilgrimage site (see Marvin Carlson’s book “Places of Performance”). Finally, the long-standing idea that institutions are like battleships and take a loooonnnngggg time to change even a wee bit has been repeated ad nauseum for decades, and it is long past time that it needs to be called what it is: a lack of intention and foot-dragging. It is time for some accountability. The fact that a young critic dared to raise a critical eyebrow is a very small step in that direction. We should be judged by what we do, not what we are TRYING to do. Nobody gets a free pass.

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