Everybody Calm The Fuck Down. Love, GJR.
By Gregory Jacobs-Roseman (Composer-Lyricist)
Let me start this post with full disclosure: I don’t know Morgan James. It’s possible we may have been introduced at some time at one of the millions of shows/parties/gatherings you’re required to attend when you live and work in the New York theatre community, but I don't think so. Second, as for the production of Into The Woods currently playing at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, I donated to the Public Theater’s Summer Supporter Program so I have tickets reserved for this weekend, but have not yet seen the show. Also, I am aware that I am not the only Crazytown blogger to write about this (I’m not even the only Crazytown blogger to write about this today). That said, there was a little dust-up this week regarding a tweet Ms. James, a Broadway actor, sent out regarding said production of Into The Woods. A dust-up that I think was overblown. I’d like to add my two cents to the debate.
To recap: on July 24th Morgan James went to see the Public Theatre’s production of Into The Woods, a musical many of us theatre folk grew up on and have loved for many, many years because of the wonderful public television DVD (or if you’re as old as me, VHS) recording. It was the first preview of the show – quite the night to snag a ticket. And after what was reportedly a rough first performance (so I'm told), she took to her smartphone (I’m assuming) and tweeted that she really didn’t like what she saw. She wasn’t the only one. But because of her Broadway credits and fame in the New York theatre community, it immediately garnered a lot of attention.
However, I’m also a human being. I have emotions, thoughts, and opinions. Hell, the only reason I’m writing this piece is because I have opinions. Sometimes I have a hard time suppressing them – often that's when I have great displeasure with a performance I’m sitting through. The simple fact is that I love theatre so much that when it's not up to my standards I get frustrated because I'm rooting for the artists to do better.
I have been to Broadway flops where I’ve had so much trouble concealing my disgust my own friends have had to tell me to stop being so transparent. Many years ago I was at a friend of a friend’s showcase at a venue that no longer exists, and a “singer” whose name I don’t remember began their set. To say this “singer” was not good would be an understatement. My rolled eyes and guffaws could be felt across the room, and another attendee, who I assume was related to the “singer,” visibly (and audibly) took offense. While I’m sure this person couldn’t ruin my career, I was indeed being rude, and to this day I regret my behavior that evening. Another time, while seeing a show off-Broadway, I was telling an anecdote before the performance to a friend about a graduate professor of mine (not an anecdote where said professor comes off badly, but an anecdote none the less) and the person sitting in font of me whipped their head around and stared directly at me – they clearly knew who I was talking about personally. From that experience I learned the lesson: don’t talk about theatre while in a theater.
Now, with the advent of Facebook and twitter (and yes, I say “advent” – while I had already joined Facebook back in 2004, it wasn’t really a thing until after I moved to New York in 2005 – back then we were all on Friendster and LiveJournal, and “twitter” was something a bird did) and the addictive nature of these social webs, there’s even more outlets for you to vent your disdain for a show without thinking about whom it might offend – plus now the entire world is watching.
Now we come to the part that has to do with Into The Woods and Morgan James. And it’s also the part makes me crazy: Ms. James’s tweet garnered so much attention that playbill.com published a story about said tweet and her apology the following day in full TMZ-esque fashion.
I want us to take a step back here and analyze this for a second. While it’s true I could drop a deuce on the stage at the Duplex and playbill.com would publish a press release about it (it is playbill.com’s purpose is to report on such things, and we love them for it), I shudder at the thought that an actor who is not a Hollywood A-list star should have her tweets scrutinized in such a way by a news-gathering website.
I tweet about the stupidest shit. For those of us who use twitter a lot, passing thoughts become fodder for any 140-character-or-less update, often without thought of consequence. I’d be #horrified if anyone ever thought my tweets were newsworthy. In my head, I imagine Ms. James, filled with a passionate opinion on the production she just saw of a musical she loves, innocently typing a tweet into her smartphone and hitting send, much like I do reflexively when something funny or interesting or annoying happens in my day-to-day life here in this concrete jungle we call home. While her content might not have been the most diplomatic or polite, people are free to have both opinions as well as lapses in judgment. It has been discussed on Crazytown before that stuff like this has no place on the internet if you value your career. But that incident was between two individuals, and one of them was intentionally lobbing personal insults at the other. What we have here, however, is a case of an actor sharing her opinion with her thousands of followers – and because she’s not a critic and it was voiced in an impolite fashion, it caused a minor uproar.
I say minor because it occurred entirely within the New York theatre community. A community that is very, very small, and one where the idea of “fame” is warped like in a funhouse mirror. We all know who someone like Stephanie J. Block is, for example, because it’s our job as theatre professionals to know such things. But Stephanie J. Block isn’t famous the way Britney Spears is famous. Or Angelina Jolie is famous. Or Barack Obama is famous. Or LeBron James is famous (he’s so famous I know who he is, how to spell his name, and that he totally shafted Cleveland – and I could give two shits about Basketball (he plays Basketball, right?)) But that smallness of community means we all have to deal with each other, like it or not, and therefore we should be polite. Often it’s just better to keep our opinions to ourselves, or only dish them out with close friends over martinis at Vintage.
Reaction tweets to the tweet-heard-'round-Chelsea-Studios all agreed that it went too far. I concur, but I’d like to point out that responses like this:
Are far more helpful than this:
The fact is there is such a thing as bad theatre. We’ve all sat through it, and we know it when we see it (again, I haven't seen Into The Woods yet, so I'm not making judgements about that production). The idea that we can only say nice things or else we need to pack up and go home is flawed because without criticism we’ll never grow or get better at our art. The key is to make that criticism constructive, not mean. My friend and Time Out New York theatre critic Adam Feldman had what I believe was the appropriate reaction:
This should all serve as a reminder that tweets and status updates don't exist in a vacuum. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever tweeted anything negative about anyone except for public figures like Mitt Romney or a catty comment about some star’s Oscar dress. Nor have I tweeted something negative about a show. I save negative thoughts for Facebook, where I can control who sees them (and I probably shouldn't even do that). But that doesn’t mean I haven’t carelessly sent off the occasional tweet I regretted later, not thinking my actions through at the time. Luckily for me, I'm not famous (yet).
I believe the apology Ms. James gave on Wednesday is sincere. To fuck up is human. And to fuck up in such a public way must be nothing short of devastating. Should she have tweeted what she did? Probably not. Did she have every right to voice her opinions? Of course. Did she have the reaction from her followers coming once she did? Yes. Is the debate the tweet sparked about proper social media use in the New York theatre community an important one that wouldn’t have occurred had Ms. James not tweeted? Hell yes. Should we all calm the fuck down about it? Abso-fucking-lutely.
Lastly, if I were Morgan James I’d wear it as a badge of honor that playbill.com thinks that just like Kristin Chenowith I’m famous enough for them to publish a gossip column about my tweets.
Speaking of twitter, you can (and should!) follow me at @GJRoseman. I promise copious tweets about taxi rides, the gym, and Chinese food.
GREGORY JACOBS-ROSEMAN is a composer/lyricist and theatrical sound designer currently developing Save The Date: A New Musical Comedy. www.gregjr.com
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