Theater Around The Bay: Shh, I’m Trying to Create Here

The guest posts just keep on rolling in, with today’s coming from actress and cross-stitcher extraordinaire, Tonya Narvaez, who starts her blog off with a quote from no less than Noel Coward.

“I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.” – Sir Noël Peirce Coward

Earlier this month, I heard one too many people be told their opinion is invalid. I hit my threshold. I found that sassy quote and found myself thinking, “You tell ‘em Noël”! Honestly, I don’t know enough about Noël Coward to be sure if he was joking or sincere. I suspect a bit of both. But I see that quote and hear it as sarcastic for my own purposes.

Noël Coward is too cool to care about criticism.

Noël Coward is too cool to care about criticism.

I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by thoughtful, intelligent, kind-hearted, fiery and opinionated people. Obviously, some of those qualities can stir up a bit of trouble from time to time, but I’ve noticed it a lot more frequently this past month. I’ve seen several brave, fair, honest, emotional, and generous pieces of writing this month. And whether it was in a Facebook post, blog, personal exchange, or otherwise, I’ve seen these people be told to shut up. I don’t want to dredge up each situation individually or in any sort of detail. I just want to go over a few opinions that were shared that I find to be incorrect or ridiculous or harmful to our theater community and explain why I feel that way.

1 – You should give a play multiple viewings before forming an opinion on it.

I wholeheartedly believe that if people want to see a play more than once and have the resources and time to do so, they absolutely should. Otherwise, I cannot agree to this. Seeing a play multiple times is something you can’t expect out of an audience member. Firstly, the time commitment is unrealistic. Between the other plays to see in the city, making a living, regular life stuff, and the lure of Netflix, I feel honored if someone sees my work once. Secondly, the financial constraints. If I gave every piece I was unsure about more than one chance, I would need another job to help pay the bills. Thirdly, it just doesn’t make sense! This point will need an example, and the best real life comparison I can think of is my aversion to olives. I love a surprising number of salty and briney foods. They are right up my alley. But every time I eat an olive, I just want to spit it out and tell everyone the olives have gone bad. So I’m not about to go out and buy more olives. If I happen across an olive, and I’m feeling adventurous, sure I’ll try it. I will not go hunting for more olives though. It makes no sense to do that.

“Nobody drink the beer! The beer has gone bad!”

“Nobody drink the beer! The beer has gone bad!”

2 – You should give extra consideration to a work when a person who you admire is involved.

This is called blind favoritism. Even the twinkliest of stars can be dimmed by a foggy night. Can I just cite Johnny Depp in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and move on?

I just try to forget this ever happened.

I just try to forget this ever happened.

3 – You should do research on a show prior to and after seeing it before you can consider yourself a person who is interested in the arts.

I don’t believe anyone should dictate how a person chooses to be involved in the arts. If researching a play before you see it makes you happy, go nuts! Personally, when I see a play (with a few exceptions) I try to know as little as possible about it. I love having as blind an experience as possible at first. Then, if there’s an intermission I’ll thumb through the program. I also try to engage in discourse with my fellow theatergoers afterward. If I liked something enough, or if it spurred an interest in me somehow, I would research it more. If not, I’d move on with my life, feeling no less artistically inclined than anyone else.

Watching an amazing play that you weren’t at all prepared for feels like this.

Watching an amazing play that you weren’t at all prepared for feels like this.

4 – You should stop expressing your opinion because my feelings are hurt. You should probably also apologize.

It’s all well and good to apologize for someone’s feelings being hurt, but if you’re honest and fair, an opinion shouldn’t be silenced or apologized for. Sometimes the truth hurts. I am sorry for that.

I have no caption. This picture makes me sad.

I have no caption. This picture makes me sad.

5 – Your opinions are invalid because they come from an emotional place.

When people see your work, you typically want them to have an emotional reaction. When I send a script I’ve written to someone, I want to hear his or her whole reaction to it. I’m not asking them to proof it for mistakes in structure, grammar, and spelling. When artists create and put something out into the world, they have no actual control over how it might affect someone. Viewing art can be a very personal and individual experience, influenced by a number of internal and external factors. It’s what makes art so wonderful, in my opinion. We can’t view and create art without emotion. Okay, we CAN. It’s not impossible, but it has a tendency toward dull and uninfluential. I want to call on Meryl Streep for some backup here. At the January 8th National Board of Reviews Awards, she said some controversial things about Disney, and some poignant things about Emma Thompson. Here is an article with the speech in it’s entirety if you’re interested.

“She has real access to her own tenderness, and it’s one of the most disarming things about her. She works like a stevedore, she drinks like a bloke, and she’s smart and crack and she can be withering in a smack-down of wits, but she leads with her heart.”

These are my opinions. While they are not wrong, it’s very possible some of you out there disagree with me. You are not wrong either. I’d like to engage in a dialogue about this because I don’t really know what the answer is here. Except that it seems if we were all a bit like Emma Thompson, things would probably be better.

Un-captioned for your enjoyment.

Un-captioned for your enjoyment.

Tonya Narvaez is a Bay Area actor and writer. You can see her work at the San Francisco Olympians festival – http://www.sfolympians.com/?page_id=1830

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