Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Morning with Don Marcks and Douglas McPherson: Facing Big Top Lords Telling You How to Review Their Circus. Yes, They Try

 Big top boss to circus critics:Rewrite your idiot reviews or face my lions den!

To review a circus as movies and stage shows are reviewed is to risk the wrath of somebody in power.  In this instance we are talking Over There (aka: the UK).  In other times, it's applied to Over Here.  (My face at the moment does not bear  the tossed mud of aggrieved recipients to my picky shout outs).

Folks, cutting to the chase.  Don't you need to listen to somebody besides your best friend, kin, lover or ex?  My dear late mother was a wonderful source of unstinting support, but without the reviews I have received over the years for my various efforts from people I did not know, I would not be where I am now.  All creative people need honest feedback in order to grow.  Listen only to the fans and you risk stunting your full potential.  To create is to make demands on yourself, and who better to help you than those willing to point out areas for improvement?  Reviews can sting.  I guess some of mine do.  So do some of those I have received either for my books or stage musicals.  Some really hurt, but I did not allow myself to 86 the negatives, unless I deemed the entire notice a hit piece.  Only two times has that happened.

London-land stage, music  and circus critic, yes "circus critic,"  Douglas McPherson, author of the very fine book Circus Mania, took it on the chin from at least one angry lord of a big top.  McPherson had dared to issue a real review, not a puff piece, and in it, along with much good, he aired some acute reservations.  The owner went ballistic.  Here is a link to the full account and more, well argued.

As for here in the U.S., I believe that circus owners are ill-served, maybe not by the fans, who themselves have every right to support circuses as they wish, but by their own refusal to look and read and seek beyond the fans.  Circus owners only stand to gain by objective feedback, itself more likely to reflect what the masses sitting out there in the seats are thinking.  

McPherson came to learn what I have known for years:  To criticize a circus is, in some quarters, tantamount to snatching Santa's sleigh away, to smearing Mona Lisa with greasepaint, throwing darts at Sleeping Beauty.

"My crime was to single out the boss' son."

Writes McPherson,   "In the second instance I described above, the one where the showman really blew his top, I’d actually given the show a broadly positive review. My ‘crime’ had been to single out the boss’ son who had been promoted to a major role he was neither ready for nor particularly suited to. I’d obviously hit a raw nerve by attacking the showman’s kin. But the nepotism was hurting the show and surely by pointing that out I was helping him."

More about McPherson's story and views, at a later date.

And now, fast backward to 1986.  I have in hand Don's letter to me dated July 7 of that year.  He had published an article in his Circus Report about Matthew J. Gatti's American Continental Circus, titled "Circus On the Move."  Don, who regularly turned out affirmative notices on virtually all shows, was taken aback to receive a phone call from the Gatti office complaining about the write up and demanding practically a retraction. Yes, try to picture that.  Well, Don was easily rattled, so I can see a hot-headed circus owner trying to intimidate and manipulate him.   "I thought it was a nice article and said nice things about the show" wrote Don to me.  "Now they want me to run a bit that the show is much better than described. etc."

I doubt he moved on the request.

"I know Gatti's don't like publicity, and I always seem to get into a spot when I run something about their show, so in the most I try to skip them.  But now and then it seems like there ought to be something about the show - so folks know it is out there on the road."

"Lucky Gatti isn't' in the east where there a lot of fans writing things up - boy they'd go crazy for sure."

Since I do put out critical reviews myself, I should fairly note that I have never experienced these intimidating actions -- except for on one hysterical occasion, which may have been partly engineered by Feld Central.  When I wrote a looking-back piece on Irvin Feld after he died, which Don Marcks published, Don was harassed with an avalanche of hate mail and phone calls -- and ads.  He took over a dozen ads, some full pagers, mostly from Feld employees, condemning my piece, some in vile terms.  I was made to look like, well, lets skip that, may we?  Don did tell me of a few phone calls and notes received in praise of the article, which offered him and myself a degree of relief.

Reviews: Many say they "hate" them, but they can't lived without them.  "What were the reviews?" is often said by one person to another discussing a new film, a new record, a new Broadway show.  Why?  We seek a degree of honesty beyond PR, beyond hype.  Call it the "What did Simon Cowell  say?" syndrome.  Have I made my point?

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