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Premature Reviews

I am writing to express Charlotte Repertory Theatre's surprise and disappointment that Creative Loafing chose to print Perry Tannenbaum's reviews of the plays and musicals currently in development as part of the Rep's New Play Festival ("Playfest Finds New Frontiers," Apr. 30).

The purpose of the Rep's New Play Festival is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for playwrights to develop and improve their new works, with the guiding hand of the Rep's artistic team and the benefit of audience input by way of post-reading discussions. It is not beneficial to these artists to subject their works-in-development to critical judgment, as they are not completed works ready for full production. Creative Loafing's decision to run these reviews is, in fact, harmful to the Rep's ability to create a festival that is about process, not product. Local and national artists will be less inclined to participate in this festival if their works are subjected to such critical judgment, and the end result will be ultimately detrimental to the growth of Charlotte as one of the nation's sophisticated centers for the creation of exciting new theatrical works.

To be clear: Creative Loafing's decision to print Mr. Tannenbaum's reviews of these works-in-development flies squarely in the face of a national industry standard; this standard is hinged upon the journalist's willingness to restrain him/herself from reviewing readings of works-in-development, thereby showing respect for the development process of new plays and musicals. Mr. Tannenbaum's assigning of "letter grades" to these brand new, uncompleted works underscores a massively unprofessional judgment call on the part of your publication.

In addition to creating a safe home for recognized and emerging playwrights, one of the Rep's goals is to establish a nationally renowned reputation for our city as a sophisticated theatrical epicenter. I earnestly invite Creative Loafing to join the Rep in helping us to ensure a successful annual New Play Festival by refraining from printing premature reviews of our works-in-development in the future.

-- Matt Olin, Managing Director, Charlotte Repertory Theatre

Perry Tannenbaum Replies:

We have a purpose here at Creative Loafing, too, which is serving our readers. Over the past 16 years, we've done that by reviewing Charlotte Rep's New Play Festival nearly every year. Nine or 10 years ago, Rep producing director Keith Martin met with local media and brought to our attention the fact that members of Actors Equity participating in the Festival had a clause in their contracts assuring them of immunity from reviews.

Putting aside the absurdity of those two parties agreeing to something over which they have no authority, we graciously agreed to a compromise: local media would continue to review the new scripts that were read at Rep's annual event, but we would remain mute on the performances.

The idea that such reviews discourage playwrights from bringing their new work to the Rep, or stunt Charlotte's development into a theatrical epicenter, is not supported by the facts. Two years ago, we graded the scripts at Rep's festival. Two years later, Wendy Hammond returned to Charlotte after having her work subjected to criticism. Another participating playwright, Michael Eisman, even lifted a quote from our review to use as a blurb on his script and recently unveiled his latest work at Davidson College under Rep founder Steve Umberger's direction. Last year, we also reviewed the new works that were read at Rep's festival; this summer, one of those scripts will premiere in a fully staged production at Spirit Square with Umberger's new SummerStage company.

Mr. Olin's complaint comes to us despite the fact that Rep had never formally asked us to change our established practice. Even if Rep's request had been forthright and direct, we would have reserved the right of the Free Press to cover a public event as it sees fit. Our readers' interest in the New Play Festival -- which is, after all, a well-publicized, public event -- outweighs the dubious belief that our reviews could have a harmful effect of discouraging others to participate in the festival in the future. We emphatically do not believe we're in violation of a national industry standard, only in conflict with a new Rep regime. We're confident that this conflict can be satisfactorily resolved and look forward to that prospect.

Missed Irony

I apologize to Mandy Derglin and anyone else who failed to recognize my use of irony in comparing what happened at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, with the death of Rachel Corrie ("Rachel's Choice," Letter to the Editor, May 7). My point was that just as it would be absurd to call what Al Qaeda did that day an accident, so would it also be to label Rachel Corrie's death as such. Just as no one intentionally put him or herself in the path of a hijacked jetliner, neither did Rachel Corrie throw herself underneath the bulldozer that took her life. In both cases, in fact, according to all of the evidence, the victims were willfully murdered.

-- Richard Hornsby, Charlotte

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