But I just want to say: it’s been a weird gig.
I’ve always been a theater person — actor, writer and director, when I’m lucky — but I never thought I would ever take part in one of the most mysterious and maligned occupations around.
In the summer of 2010 I was in the first “Will Power! Shakespeare Festival” at the Vortex Theatre. I was asked to talk about it in an interview for the June 14 issue of the Daily Lobo. Incarnations of it still exist online somewhere, including a picture of me standing in a tree.
At the time, the interviewer was the culture editor, and I told him about the theater I’d done, and he was interested. Then I told him that I was a writer, and he was even more interested.
“Have you ever wanted to write for a newspaper?” he asked excitedly. “I’ll pay you!”
I hadn’t. I wasn’t a journalist, but being paid to write sounded seductive. I said yes.
“Great!” he said. “What would you write about?”
I had no idea. What seemed a more important question was, “What would I write that a newspaper would publish?”
“ ... there’s not a lot of good theater criticism in town,” I said, the words flopped out of my mouth barely in front of half-formed thoughts.
“Great!” he said again. “Write a play review and give it to me by Monday.”
And I was off. I had been on the other side of a review many a time, but to actually write one? I could recall countless green-room readings, where actors rolled their eyes at certain phrases or spat angrily at things forgotten or misrepresented. What was it like to be on the other side of that?
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I wrote what I believed to be true. And I made jokes — ones I thought would be hilarious and understood by all those involved in or who had seen the play. I always thought they were funny, but not everyone did.
Eventually, I became more confident in my style of critique. No one ever taught me; figuring it out has been pretty satisfying.
Standing in that tree and getting my picture taken seems ages ago. Well over 100 articles of mine have been published now, and I was paid to write every single one.
If what I wrote was true, I thought, no matter how harsh, then I couldn’t be hated, right?
I was wrong.
Although I’ve never gotten used to the hatred I receive, I’ve always done my best to understand it.
People get defensive. It’s art; it’s personal; I get that. But being a so-called “public figure” has been a deeply personal process, too.
Ever have people come up to you who know your name, but you’ve never met? Or have you been in a room where everyone knows who you are, where the nervousness or fear or anger at your existence is palpable, but still you’re utterly ignored?
I have. I’ve got to say, it is really weird.
I began being passive-aggressively blacklisted from theatres. First, the Little Theatre. Then the Vortex. The UNM Department of Theatre and Dance was the last to quietly begin an unarticulated stance of excommunication.
I always thought I was being honest. Who knows if anyone actually agreed with anything I said? If they existed, I hardly ever heard from them.
Mostly, I got hate mail.
People talk about the pressure of being reviewed; people never think about the pressure of being the reviewer. It’s my name that’s above every single word I print. People get to read and judge my work anonymously. I have no such luxury.
I’ve never felt like my opinion trumped other people’s. I just always hoped that whatever I write can carry the ring of truth with it. That maybe someone will hear me and understand and start a conversation.
Reviews bring attention to the existence of a particular play. Regardless of whether the write-up is positive, lukewarm or negative, if anyone reads it, they know about the production.
Even when I write about productions so mind-numbingly awful that I’d prefer eating broken glass to going back in for the second half, I’m still getting people through the doors.
So, you know. You’re welcome.
The unfortunate truth is that theatre in Albuquerque is terrible. Even the above-average stuff isn’t great. I guess when this is all there is, people get used to it. People get complacent and stop asking more of themselves.
Someone once told me that people in Albuquerque just like bad theatre. I don’t think that’s true — I just think the theatre people of Albuquerque, both creators and audience members, tend to be pleased with ‘good enough.’
I have always told the truth in my writing. But I never wanted to be a reviewer. And I’m okay with that.
Graham Gentz was the theater and film reviewer for the Daily Lobo from 2010-15. He graduates with a bachelor’s degree in English at the end of this semester.