Should actors keep their mouths shut?

July 27, 2012
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As a critic, unless special permission has been granted by a theater company, I’m honor-bound not to write about a show if I see it prior to opening night . Case in point: I attended Goodspeed Opera House’s production of “Carousel” last week and, as impressed as I was, it would be bad form for me to say more here or in my print column.

For other audience members, though, commenting on previews has become standard, with the internet filled with opinions about not-yet-officially-opened shows.

Which brings us to Morgan James, a woman who had some definite opinions about the first preview of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s free, Central Park production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” starring Amy Adams and Donna Murphy.

Like many theatergoers have done and will continue to do, she tweeted her harsh thoughts, including “I fear musicianship is dead in musical theatre. And acting, for that matter.” She added the hashtag #horrified.

What makes this messy is that Morgan James is an actress, recently appearing in the Broadway revival of “Godspell” (which, FYI, didn’t get particularly good reviews). Now she’s faced with a strong backlash against the comments that she posted (and later, removed and apologizes for).

To be sure, the woman has a right to her opinion. But does that theater community also have the right to have its own honor the sanctity of previews? Is tweeting the same as publishing an opinion? Should fellow thesps at least hold their tongues until a show officially opens?

I’m curious to hear from the Indy acting community as well as from other IBJ readers about this. Did James violate a code of honor among artists? And would it make a difference if she raved about the show?

Your thoughts? 

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  • Honor code
    Anybody who's ever spoken with an actor off the record knows that they're seldom shy about their opinions of fellow actors. However, it is generally considered bad form to speak ill of one's colleagues in a public forum, if for no other reason than sheer practicality. The community of performing artists anywhere, even at the upper echelons of Broadway (perhaps especially there), is fairly small and insular. You never know whether the person you insult today might be on stage with you tomorrow -- or worse yet, you might be auditioning for that person. Ms. James has every right to say what she said. At the same time, she shouldn't be surprised if she gets the cold shoulder at parties for a while, or even finds it a little tougher to score another gig on Broadway anytime soon.
  • well....
    I try to avoid public negative commentary about a show, whether I see a preview or a show during a run. However, I appreciate truth when I hear it from others whom I respect. Paying good money to see lousy theatre is an experience I wish everyone could avoid.
  • Cut from the show?
    Sounds to me like Ms. Morgan might have been cut from the show, or was auditioning for the role of the Witch in the next revival.
  • Actually...
    I was there Tuesday night, the same performance as Morgan. Despite things that will be fixed during the preview period, I'm sure, the show was god-awful. And this is coming from a huge fan of the piece, as well. The concept including the costumes and most of the staging will not change during the preview period. To think it will is being naive. Shows don't start from scratch once performances start, they can only be tweaked. I won't go into details, I'll leave that for reviewers once it opens but this production was shockingly bad. If you like "Into The Woods" you probably won't enjoy this humorless and offensive take on the material. And I truly mean offensive. As in, during one of the songs a mentally handicapped "child" is sexually advanced upon by a shirtless adult in tight pants who we are supposed to imagine is a wolf (which is suggested only by his furry vest). Later this "adult" performs a simulated sex act on the handicapped "child" resulting in something that made my guest and I sick to our stomachs.
  • less than sweet tweets...
    I think Brian sums it up pretty well. I'm not sure that previews have much sanctity any more with the advent of Tweeting and Facebook where everyone gets to be a public critic. Since I haven't produced for Broadway I can only comment locally. We always invite a preview audience so the actors will be able to get a sense of true audience reaction other than the frantic scribbling of notes by the director. It's always stressed that what is about to be viewed is technically a final dress rehearsal and should be treated is as such. It's a gamble...should the audience love it, it starts a favorable thread of free publicity. Is tweeting the same as publishing an opinion? Absolutely. Your IBJ Blog has a healthy set of rules governing responders as they may be in print. Surely Ms. James knew what she was doing and may have had a public ax to grind against this production or it's members. If she just wanted to warn a couple of friends about spending money on something she didn't think was worth it, what happened to the telephone?
  • Telephone
    The use of a telephone is just as tacky. Have you seen Bye Bye Birdie? The entire second song in the score illustrates exactly how twitter and Facebook existed before the Internet. Times have changed. Either advocate for people not saying negative things EVER and thus creating a bubble where every artist is constantly told their work is gold and is never pushed to create actual quality art OR get with the times. Twitter and social networking are the new "telephones". Just look at the usage of smartphones, most of the usage being for everything other than actually being used as a phone. Morgan James, thank you for being classy enough to share your opinion in public rather than being a gossip queen behind everyone's backs!

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