Why Edmonton’s Teatro La Quindicina and actor Jeff Haslam will never get my business again

With one exception, Sharon and I had a great time at the 29th Edmonton International Fringe Festival this past weekend. Unfortunately, all that sticks out in our minds is that exception. Before I explain, a little background.

Sharon is the person who introduced me to live theatre in Edmonton. Though the first show she took me to wasn’t a Teatro la Quindicina production, it wasn’t long before we were regularly attending their shows. I don’t write about theatre as much as Sharon does, but I do mention it from time to time, such as when we went to see The Talking Turk back in March 2005. Over the years I have come to really enjoy local theatre, and Teatro in particular. I wrote my Edmonton Story about local theatre, and specifically mentioned the company. In fact, Sharon and I found that we were going to so many of Teatro’s shows that we subscribed to the 2009 season, and did so again this year. We thought it was a great way to support the company.

Though she probably started watching Teatro productions in high school, Sharon only started blogging in 2006, so her first related entry was about Eros and the Itchy Ant in November 2006. Since then, she has written about nearly every local production we’ve ever been to, including at least twelve Teatro shows. She says it better than I can:

The best thing about a personal blog, of course, is that I don’t have to limit my content. I do still enjoy commenting about the arts scene, and in particular, the wonderful plays staged by the theatre community. And so, despite the proliferation of food-centric posts, I will continue to think of myself as a blogger who simply happens to write often about food.

Without a doubt, one of our favorite local actors has been Jeff Haslam. A Teatro regular, Jeff took over as the company’s Artistic Director in 2009. Neither Sharon nor I have been shy about calling him our favorite, and one of the reasons we decided to see Edmonton Opera’s H.M.S. Pinafore was because Jeff was in it. Sharon actually reached out to him in November last year to help with her post on Shop Local Month (he did).

All of this made what happened on the weekend even more disappointing, inappropriate, and hurtful.

It started on Saturday while we were in between shows at the Fringe. Sharon was checking her email on her phone, and discovered a comment from Jeff Haslam on her recent post about Teatro’s The Ambassador’s Wives. We were both shocked after we read it:

You come across as snotty and arrogant. I absolutely despise your pretension that you are “a reviewer” in any professional way. In fact every time I read one of your posts I think “I am not smitten with this weird women like her icky friends seem to be. I wish she’d stop subscribing to my theatre company, because she seems like such a pretentious doof. I wonder if she knows that her endlessly stuck-up self-important little reviews are deeply offensive to those of us who bust our buts for next to nothing to bring a little entertainment to this distant northern city? I wonder if she knows that her crappy 19 bucks goes to less than 40% of what it costs to pay all the artists she isn’t always smitten by? Do us all a favour lady. Write about food and take your entertainment dollar elsewhere.
Sincerely
Jeff Haslam

Had our favorite local actor really written that? Needless to say, Sharon was pretty disturbed by the comment. I refused to believe it was actually from Jeff Haslam (though the email and IP address didn’t suggest anything to the contrary). So because we were friends on Facebook, I sent him a message to make sure the comment was actually from him:

Did you actually leave a comment on the Only Here for the Food blog’s review of The Ambassador’s Wives?

Instead of the “no way” I was hoping for, so that we could take the comment down, I received this reply:

Yes. Yes I did. Sorry if I insulted you and Sharon, but you cannot BEGIN to imagine how offended I am, and we all are are, by Sharon’s "reviews". You people are not, I’m sorry to say, invisible. The Internet stretches far and wide. I do not need or want your money, especially if you have the GALL to review us so sarcastically and with such bile. Your review of our work on Dial M was particularly sickening. Actually there isn’t a single thing that Sharon has written that hasn’t made me wonder why you people even go to my shows at all. I’d prefer you never darken our door again. Sincerely, Jeff Haslam

I received that reply just as we were getting ready to line-up for Die-Nasty. Knowing that Jeff was in it, we decided to go home instead, still confused and upset by his comments. When we got home, I went on Facebook to reply, only to find that I could no longer see Jeff’s account. Evidently he had blocked me. So I emailed him instead, asking for clarification and offering to meet for coffee to chat about his issues. Today he replied, calling us “Internet bullies.”

Jeff’s comments are inexcusable, to say the least. Sharon and I have talked it over so many times this weekend, and we still can’t make sense of it. She has never written anything that could be described as “sickening”. What could possibly have compelled Jeff to write what he did?

Our first question was why he chose to share his thoughts publicly? Why leave a comment on Sharon’s blog instead of emailing her directly? Even though I think Jeff’s comments on Sharon’s reviews are completely unfounded, they’d have been better shared privately first.

While there are many differences between a theatre company and, for example, a clothing store, both are businesses when you get right down to it. Both rely on delivering a product to customers. And if you want those customers to return, you need to treat them well. There’s a reason everyone has heard the phrase “the customer is always right.” From a business perspective, what Jeff said is unfathomable: “take your entertainment dollar elsewhere” and “never darken our door again.” In what world does that make any business sense? And why did he decide to say this now, after happily accepting our money as subscribers for the last two years? It certainly sounds like Jeff has been reading our posts for quite some time.

For some reason, Jeff is really offended by what we’ve written in the past. Here are some of the specific posts he mentioned in his email reply: On the Banks of the Nut, East of My Usual Brain, The Big Kahuna: Day 2H.M.S. Pinafore. As I said, I don’t think anything we’ve written has been unfair or overly negative (quite the opposite actually). Read the posts for yourself and tell me if you’re disgusted. You’d think that someone like Jeff, who has been in theatre for so long, would have thicker skin. You can’t please everyone, after all. On the other hand, it seems as though Edmonton’s most visible theatre writer, Liz Nicholls of the Edmonton Journal, has never written anything negative about Jeff or Teatro (seriously, look it up – you can search The Journal’s archives here if you have a library card). Maybe he’s gotten used to that. Here’s what Liz wrote in a 1998 profile of Jeff:

“Audiences at every theatre in town know the Lethbridge-born 34- year-old for his smart, stylish, inspired performances in Lemoine’s comedies, in Citadel musicals like Hello Dolly! and Lady Be Good, in new Canadian plays, in classics. There’s a certain panache la Cary Grant or Warren Beatty about Haslam onstage in a romantic comedy.”

In her review of Dial ‘M’ for Murder, Liz said of Jeff: “Haslam positively cavorts through the intricate footwork of the role…it’s a juicy performance.” She called the production “a marvellous night of theatre.” Sharon (and I) felt somewhat differently. It seems only natural that some people will enjoy a show while others will not.

Theatre, like food, is subjective. You can come up with checklists and guidelines and look for techniques and planning and passion, but none of it really matters. The result will be interpreted differently by different people. Here’s a recent food example. There’s a well-known restaurant in Paris called L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. It has two Michelin stars. In one recent review, a blogger described it as “a totally stunning meal.” In a different review, it was described as “very disappointing.” It’s all about personal opinion.

If Jeff wrote what he did because he feels that Sharon’s reviews as a blogger are somehow less important or relevant than Liz’s reviews as a writer for the paper, he’s in for a rude awakening. It’s 2010, and everyone has the ability to easily publish online. Everyone can share their opinion, and increasingly people turn to the thoughts of other people like them, who paid full price and got the typical experience, rather than the “professional” reviewer who got it for free and likely has an existing relationship with the restaurant or theatre company or whatever it is that they’re reviewing. That’s why sites like RottenTomatoes, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Epinions, blogs, and heck even Twitter, have become such popular destinations for people looking for reviews.

If Sharon’s reviews have done anything, I think they’ve increased awareness about Teatro and its cast members. If you search for Teatro la Quindicina for example, Sharon comes up third. Searches for “Mark Meer” and other Teatro stars regularly appear in her incoming search keywords. People increasingly turn to the web when they want more information about something, and for Edmontonians looking for more on Teatro, Sharon’s blog has been an important destination.

That’ll change after this, no doubt. You can bet that we’ll never give our money to Jeff Haslam or any production he’s involved in ever again, even if that means we miss out some otherwise great theatre. Given that this is how he treats his customers (fans even) I would encourage you to also think twice before you part with your money. When he says he wants you there, he clearly doesn’t mean it, especially not if you’re planning to write about it. We’re saddened and hurt by this turn of events.

So Jeff, while you can take comfort in the fact that we won’t be writing about your shows anymore, sooner or later you’re going to have to wake up to the reality that others will.

You can read Sharon’s post about this here.

UPDATE: Apparently SEE Magazine was banned from attending Stewart Lemoine plays about two years ago. Thanks to Sally for the link.

UPDATE2: Brittney over at iNews880 interviewed Jeff for his side of the story today.

UPDATE3: I’m rather surprised at how many people have written about this. Here’s an article in the Globe and Mail, and here’s Todd’s piece in the Edmonton Journal.

UPDATE (August 26, 2010): Sharon and I received a handwritten apology from Jeff Haslam in the mail today, along with a signed copy of Stewart Lemoine’s At the Zenith of the Empire and a refund for the unused portion of our season subscriptions.

  • Martin

    PH (#99) I have a couple of issues with your comment.

    First of all, what does your comment have to do with what this post relates to? If you have an issue with the photographs on Sharon’s blog then make note of that in a photo related post on Sharon’s blog.

    Second, Canada’s privacy laws require that the person being photographed give their consent to the pictures being published, unless they are being taken for “journalistic, literary or artistic purposes.” A blog can be considered journalistic or literary so I am not sure that those photos you question need to have releases. If that was the case then 99% of all photos posted in blog posts in Canada are breaking the law. In addition, anyone can request specific images be removed from a site if they want.

  • IUW

    Feel the need to weigh in on this, much of this has already been said but I’ll add some of my own thoughts.
    The reason why bloggers are not the same as journalists and critics is reflected exactly in this whole episode. Real journalists are used to backlash, it’s an occupational hazard when it’s your job to uncover the truth, express an opinion or to criticize. They don’t spend the whole weekend crying about what some reader or the subject of their critique said to them and try to start a smear campaign and win everyone to their side. Take a page out of Jon Stewart’s book, when someone tries to strike back, deflect with humour and FACTS.
    For anyone to call Haslam thin skinned and egotistical is rich considering that the author of this blog mentions his TOP 40 & TOP 10 nominations in the second paragraph of his home page. That’s usually where real journalists list their credentials. I think MASTERmaq’s ego is the one that’s been bruised. How dare anyone not find his comments valuable and insightful? Maybe change your name to Mack D. Wuss.
    On the subject of your TOP 10/40 nominations, I find it interesting in July’s post on Edmonton’s Future Leaders, you were sure to highlight these accolades to all your readers, thus reminding everyone that you are one of the bright lights in this city. I also noticed that your list was basically your friends, supporters and people you meet at network functions. You DO have the makings of a politician. A real journalist would have done some research and discovered that Marcus Gurske was the driving force behind CUC which eventually became interVivos. He was also a founding member of NextGen and works tirelessly for many other causes. No mention of Jim Rudolph who also worked on CUC and interVivos and does great work for the GO community centre project. The people on your list are for the most part just carrying on the work initiated by people like Marcus and Jim. Not to mention the fact that Marcus and Jim’s contacts and networks have aided in furthering the careers of more than one of your ‘future leaders’. It was interesting that none of them mentioned Marcus or Jim or others like them when accepting their inclusion on the list. Real leaders don’t wait around to accept nominations and gratitude, they move on and let others carry on the work. This city celebrates mediocrity, congratulations, you’re the top 10 most mediocre or least, doesn’t really matter which.
    I’m guilty of the same thing as Jeff, waiting too long to make my feelings known and then lashing out. But then again, I’m not a journalist.

  • “Never give a gun to a Duck”

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  • Roxana

    As a regular reader of Sharon’s blog, I feel that I need to comment with my own personal dose of reality. If you take it upon yourself to make public comments about something, (whether it be dinner, an event, or theatre), you are far from invisible. Sharon and Mack have a presence in our city – this blog, and Sharon’s, are certainly not unknown to a large proportion of our city. When your opinion reaches a large portion of the demographic, it has to be expected that the subject of the review won’t be happy, especially when dealing with an ego as large as Mr. Haslam’s.

    Consequently, either of you may occasionally be subjected to rebuttal. Although I don’t agree with Mr. Haslam’s method of personally insulting Sharon, (and our city), you both can’t honestly be surprised that a person would feel slighted by a less than stellar review. I think you take a chance when stating an opinion, whether it be online, in person, or in print. There will always be backlash – but if you believe in what you are doing, you need to handle it with thick skin and move on. Adult bullies certainly are obnoxious, but hasn’t Mr. Haslam already done the bulk of the damage to himself at TLQ by ingniting this backlash?

    My last point – it was incredibly unprofessional to even mention Liz Nicholl’s name in discussion of this issue. She is a professional, paid to review these productions, and not even close to the same category as Sharon when it comes to her background, realtionships, and ability to handle politics such as this.

  • Tony

    I decided to go back and read all of Sharon’s reviews of Teatro Quindicina’s performances and the one phrase that comes to mind is “death by a thousand cuts”. True, yoshe was favourable on occasion and you and Sharon certainly provided the shows with additional exposure via your blogs, something you didn’t have to do considering you paid for your tickets. However, with almost everyone of Sharon’s reviews, there was some sort of little jab, most of them silly or petty jabs that I would not agree with, having seen the shows as well.

    I could understand Jeff’s annoyance after years of reading your reviews, which, via the power of the internet and the social media scene, have now become almost as powerful as a traditional review in a newspaper. So, whether you want it or not, you now have responsibility as a theatre critic and as such you are accountable. And, although Jeff’s note to Sharon was over the top, I feel it was ultimately justified. Could he have handled the situation in a better way? Probably.

    What you and Sharon have done to Jeff and Teatro Quindicina since then, however, is unconscionable. You knew that through the power of the social media, your opinions on Jeff’s letter would be transmitted world-wide. And you facilitated that transmission through your own blogs creating a villain out of Jeff and martyred heroes of yourselves. And someone like Jeff, who perhaps is not so tech savvy because he’s been too busy entertaining you for the last two decades, would not know the true ramifications of the shit storm that would follow. He may have hung himself, but you certainly provided the rope.

    I’ve talked to several people who have decided to side with the all powerful voice of your social media and will not be going to Teatro’s show. So, Madame and Monsier Defarge, you’ve exacted your revenge on a fragile little theatre company that had the gall to leave a comment on your blog. I hope it feels good.

  • Roxana – I completely disagree about your comment on mentioning Liz. It’s absolutely relevant to the issue, as I have already mentioned above.

  • Tony – This is not about revenge, and its unfortunate that you interpreted it that way.

    “Could he have handled the situation in a better way?” Absolutely, not probably.

    I’m not out to get Jeff, but I won’t spend my time or money on shows where I am clearly not wanted.

  • Roxana

    Mack, I respectfully disagree with your comment. You can’t call someone else out to make your agruement more valid or relevant. This issue, which was between yourself, Jeff and Sharon, shouldn’t have to include people who have provided reviews. They are entitled their own opinions, as are you and Sharon.

  • Tony

    Mack, this is all about revenge. You’re hurt and you want to hurt him back by letting everyone know how he hurt you. Perhaps you didn’t intend it to be about revenge, but you can’t control the optics. If you wanted this to remain a contained personal issue between you and Jeff, you would’ve not made this page on your blog and started the tweeting campaign. Just like you expected Jeff to come to you with a personal e-mail airing his feelings, perhaps you should’ve gone to him after he’d posted his commented and said “fine, we’ll not go to your shows” and left it that. But you took it several steps beyond that and amplified the situation which has now turned into an international smear campaign. You’ve placed a fatwa on their heads whether you meant to or not. Teatro’s bottom line will probably suffer. This is revenge.

  • I didn’t start a tweeting campaign. I tweeted a link to my blog post, which I do for every blog post I write. I had no idea it would be retweeted so many times. Honestly, I’ve written about far more controversial things in the past and never received this kind of response. It’s clear to me that I struck a nerve here.

    I wasn’t happy to leave it at “you’re an artist who thinks you’re above having bloggers write about you, so we’ll just ignore this.”

    Did some emotion creep into my post? Absolutely. Did I highlight something important, that needed to be said? I believe so, yes.

  • Jill

    This is so not about revenge. Sharon posted her opinion about her experience publicly, giving due respect and even kudos to a theatre production. Jeff took serious offence (apparently growing over the years)and posted his opinion. Only his opinion had no shred of respect in it, and his name represents his theatre company. Sharon and then Mack again posted about their experiences – that’s what bloggers do.

    If it’s become an international issue – maybe that’s an indication that theatre professionals and consumers are struck by something in this situation. And it seems like most are struck by the unprofessional, damaging words and behaviour of Mr. Haslam.

  • Mel

    I tend to agree with the crowd that thinks this has gotten way out of hand on both sides. As both a blogger and a professional reviewer, sometimes I get comments from people who disagree (sometimes quite nastily) with my opinion. This is just part of it. So you post a follow up comment thanking them for their opinion, and you move on with your life. Maybe additional action should be taken if they continue to badger you, but that’s not what happened in this case.

    This entire ordeal has given Jeff Haslam exactly what he wanted. I mean, what do you THINK he meant, by posting such a forcefully venomous comment? He wanted to piss people off. And he succeeded.

    For every person who declares they will boycott Haslam’s plays/theatre company, there are two other people who are now going to buy tickets just to see him in action. Score one for Haslam.

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  • Kim

    @Tony

    You say that “whether you want it or not, you now have responsibility as a theatre critic and as such you are accountable.”

    So is the responsibility of the theatre critic to publish nothing but glowing reviews about every aspect of every production to make the company feel good, or is the responsibility of the theatre critic to publish considered opinions that will help their fellow theatre-goers find the best experiences for their entertainment dollar? I believe the critic’s responsibility is to their fellow patrons – especially when the critic is paying for his or her own ticket.

    And while I don’t know Sharon at all and have only been recently introduced to her blog, have you considered the possibility that the “death by a thousand cuts” that you mentioned might be an attempt to inject some balance into the reviews so as not to be seen as a TLQ sycophant – particularly when she’s made little secret of her admiration for the company in general and Jeff Haslam in particular?

    Can bad reviews sink careers and company fortunes? Sure, depending on the source and numbers of other people saying the same thing. Can bad behaviour sink careers? Sure can.

    I’m not suggesting for an instant that Jeff Haslam’s career and that of the TLQ company are over because of this incident – the established quality of the product (and maybe even this whole issue) will continue to draw people in the door – but consider for a moment the following:

    One commenter has mentioned that Sharon’s previous reviews had kept her from seeing TLQ plays in the past. Does the lack of sale of that one (or two) tickets have a measurable impact on the company’s bottom line? Maybe. And have any of Sharon’s reviews made people decide to check out a TLQ show instead of catching a movie? Maybe. Perhaps the two numbers balance each other out.

    However, the effect of Jeff Haslam’s comments to Sharon and Mack has resulted in a large number of people vowing to never see one of his productions again. Will this lack of ticket sales have a measurable impact on the company’s bottom line? Quite likely.

    Is Sharon accountable for the reviews she posts? Sure, and Jeff Haslam’s comment was his way of holding her accountable for these reviews – fair enough. However, Jeff is also accountable for his own words, and this controversy is the larger community holding him to account for his harsh post. Had he expressed himself in a different way there would be no controversy at all.

    Is Sharon and Mack’s posting of the events a revenge campaign? Depends where you stand – there are people on both sides as the comments show.

    And people aren’t siding with the “all-powerful social media” – they’re making a decision based on the information in front of them. Any decision I make as to whether or not to support Jeff Haslam will have nothing to do with how many people on Twitter or this blog have decided to boycott – it will have to do with how I personally feel about how customers should treat businesses that treat other customers poorly.

  • TaraLee

    I can’t understand what he was thinking! I read Sharon’s blog regularly and her reviews of Teatro are always positive, if not effusive. She will give her opinion that certain parts, characters or production could be improved, and why, but again she is always positive overall. In a city like ours, with our theatre community, there is no such thing as “any publicity is good publicity”. Jeff Haslam shot himself in the foot this time and unfortunately his entire company will pay for it.

  • MRK

    It’s simple, Jeff Haslam just doesn’t like women.

  • isfaijdasjdka

    I am a theatre artist in Edmonton and personally I would be thrilled if Sharon came to see my work and actually took the time to think about it and write about it. It shows a level of engagement that goes way beyond the ordinary audience response. Don’t we want people to think about our work and engage with it? That’s what I want at least. I guess others just want to be adored.

    Posting anonymously for fear of backlash…

  • BloggingClown

    IUW: who’s Marcus Guske and WTF does that have to do with this post? Crawl back under your rock please.

  • Lis

    It’s really interesting to see how this has evolved….

    Mack wrote: “I didn’t start a tweeting campaign. I tweeted a link to my blog post, which I do for every blog post I write. I had no idea it would be retweeted so many times. ”

    Jeff said (on iNews880): “If you want me to say, ‘okay, well, I probably went too far when I said don’t darken my door, or don’t come to my shows’, I think that’s a legitimate thing to say. Am I going to stand there cross-armed and escort you from the theatre if you try to enter? No, I’m not. But, that’s how it came out.”

    This whole thing started out as conflict between the two parties involved, and now it looks like it’s turned into a bit of a shared experience. A good reminder for Mack of just how much exposure his blog has the ability to create, and a learning experience for Jeff too?

    I actually think this is pretty awesome, and I think you guys should get together for a beer 🙂

  • James

    blogger: “This afternoon I went to TD Canada Trust. Deposited a cheque. The service was friendly, the atmosphere bright and welcoming, and the bank manager was his usual helpful and cheery self. If your looking for a good bank to meet your needs, I’d recommend TD Canada Trust…”

    Bank Manager: “You come across as snotty and arrogant. I absolutely despise your pretension that you are “a reviewer” in any professional way. In fact every time I read one of your posts I think “I am not smitten with this weird women like her icky friends seem to be. I wish she’d close her account at my bank, because she seems like such a pretentious doof. I wonder if she knows that her endlessly stuck-up self-important little reviews are deeply offensive to those of us who bust our buts for next to nothing to bring a little financial service to this distant northern city? I wonder if she knows that her crappy savings account goes to less than 40% of what it costs to pay all the staff she isn’t always smitten by? Do us all a favour lady. Write about food and take your banking dollar elsewhere. 

    Sincerely 
TD Manager”

    sheesh!… Is it just me or does that bank manager sound like he’s off his rocker?

  • Matt

    I think Jeff was entitled to respond to a blog post reviewing his work. I think he did so in an awful way. And did nothing to remedy the situation despite being provided ample opportunity to do so by Mack and the radio. The controversy that has resulted is a result of the power of his words and not any power wielded by Mack and Sharon.

  • Aly

    As a former professional actor, all I can say is that Mr. Haslam is burning his bridges here. Yes, he works hard. So do most people, and they don’t get a round of applause at the end of the workday. Yes, performers are sensitive people, but you MUST take the bad reviews with the good! So, someone doesn’t like your show; GET OVER IT!
    Do you REALLY want everyone who mildly dislikes one of your productions to never come to your theater again? Well, you’re gonna lose your entire audience. Do you want to p*ss off your paying customers? Keep on as though you are doing them a favor, and you’ll get there in no time.
    IMO, this guy doesn’t deserve his audience.

  • John B.

    Note: Jason’s comments referenced here are from Sharon’s original review of AMBASSADOR’S WIVES.

    Just to let people know, this story was just sent out on Thomas Cott’s “You’ve Cott Mail” daily theatre listserv, read by thousands of arts professionals in the U.S. (and possibly Canada as well).

    @Jason: You say “Should Jeff Haslam be judged harshly for this one comment… No, he shouldn’t. I’ve met him on a few occasions and find him a very generous, friendly, hilarious man. I wouldn’t use that one comment as a means to define who he is anymore than I would use the few moments that I’ve spoken with him to do so.”

    True, one comment does not a person make, but this comment is particularly vitriolic, and for those of us who have not had the opportunity to meet him, it casts him in a very poor light and we will judge him in that light.

    You go on, “Should people stop going to Teatro shows. No, they shouldn’t. Teatro is made up of a number of artists (Jeff included) who work extremely hard for little money and little support, they love their audience and they know that the audience is the backbone of their company. And they do awesome work. I don’t think I’ve gone to a show there where I haven’t walked out happier than when I walked in.”

    There’s a little restaurant down the street from my office, where they work extremely hard and make great food. If the owner told me (online, in person, or in confidence) that I was “snotty,” “arrogant,” “pretentious,” “weird,” “a doof,” and “endlessly stuck-up,” I’m afraid it wouldn’t matter much to me how hard the employees or the owner worked or how good the food was, I wouldn’t go there, and I’d tell everyone else not to go there, because ***in a service industry like theatre or restauranting, you don’t insult your customers*** and if I am being treated in this manner by the organization’s leadership, I fully expect that others may receive the same treatment, and would feel perfectly justified in letting people know about it.

    “Should Jeff apologize… God no.”

    Actually, he should apologize. Publicly. And profusely. As the Artistic Director, he is–like it or not–the primary public representative of his organization, and a comment like this damages both his own integrity and that of his organization, as we have seen from the follow-up comments. I’ve never seen ANY representative of ANY theatre send a message with this tone to a patron. Ever. Quite honestly, he should probably be fired by his board.

    “Reviewers walk in and critique a piece of work that has taken months of dedication, and then pass judgement within a few seconds… they should be held accountable for what they write.”

    I was an actor for 10 years and had my share of bad reviews. I’ve been an arts administrator for five years and have had my theatre receive bad reviews, from reviewers of varying degrees of competence/integrity. Sharon is not asking NOT to be held “accountable” for what she writes: clearly, she stands by it. And if Jeff disagrees with her, he is certainly permitted to say so. The problem here is that she reviewed his play in a perfectly professional manner (I don’t see the “snark” that others reference), and he wrote back with a nasty personal attack, in which he doesn’t even take the trouble to explain why he believes she is wrong. Dispute her opinion all you like, but don’t be a jerk about it. Be respectful: is that too much to ask?

  • Hi Mack. Seems to me Jeff is either:

    1) really smart about how the internet works and is using you for an attempt at viral marketing (never heard of him but I kinda wanna see him perform now).

    2) really dumb about the internet and really meant the things he said.

  • Tiran

    Can someone explain to me how that was a negative review? Maybe since I am not a theatre person I am missing something? I thought it was very positive, and I was even considering seeing the show, and I almost never go to live theatre. As I said before I guess it is a good thing I am not a reviewer, because I am not usually that nice when I like something!

  • Rose

    @Tony sounds a lot like Mr. Haslam.

  • James

    I am utterly baffled by Jeff Haslam’s outburst (and his hollow follow-up “apology”), which seem very out of character to me in addition to making no sense either in or out of context. I also agree that his position as Artistic Director — and his explicit claim to speak for other members of his/our community — make his comments that much more odious to their targets and harmful to those for whom he claims to speak, either officially or otherwise.

    I also agree with Mack that Edmonton is in need of better theatre criticism: the ceaseless accolades from the two daily newspaper critics contributes to an atmosphere of self-congratulation that is almost sickening sometimes. I’m not confident that blogging is the solution to this problem, since the internet is a medium that encourages perfunctory, knee-jerk responses, but Sharon and Mack both seem very humble and honest about where they’re coming from. The web SHOULD be a valuable forum for audiences and artists to talk about art, since those discussions rarely happen anywhere else except in the aforementioned back-patting newspaper reviews; sadly, that isn’t the case yet.

    Finally, although I agree that Mack and Sharon are perfectly justified in ditching Teatro (I stopped going years ago, not because I was banned but because I got bored of their style), I dispute the assumptions that maxims about customer service apply here. Art is not, or not only, a commodity, and the arts are not a “service industry,” even though they certainly serve us. Hopefully your exodus from the Varscona will enable some more interesting creative/cultural forays.

  • Oh my…what a storm. As a member of the theatre community (and the on-line community), I’m sorry to see this unfold. I can’t make excuses for rash behaviour, but I would like to pass on the following story:

    A beloved family dog suddenly attacked one day, when someone reached out to stroke his ear. The family was distraught but, for the safety of their children, made the decision to put the animal down. Searching for answers, they asked the vet to perform an autopsy and discovered that the dog had an undiagnosed (and very treatable) ear infection.

    Lashing out is a sign of pain.

    I saw Jeff this week at the memorial service for another fellow actor, Larry. We all grieved the loss of this fine, comedic actor and the tremendous gifts he brought to our lives.

    Again, I’m not excusing the behaviour, merely trying to understand the pain.

    Finally, as an actor myself, I can tell you that we don’t have very thick skins at all. In fact, our emotions are, by design, rather immediately accessible. That’s WHY we can cry/rage/cavort night after night on stage… it’s all very close to the skin.

    A great local actor once said to me: “I never read my reviews. If it’s good, I think I should have my own television show. If it’s bad, I think I should never act again. And probably, neither is true.” I’ve followed this advice ever since as a way to enjoy the process of acting, without looking over my shoulder and correcting mid-stream.

    I’m sorry this whole exchange has caused such bitterness. I hope you will continue to be theatre patrons. It is one of Edmonton’s greatest assets.

  • james murgatroyd

    nice to see najib 103 commenting on this post

  • James

    Hello audience. Look at that actor. Now back to me. Now back to your actor. Now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me, but if he stopped accepting criticism and alienated audience members who weren’t extreme sycophants he could act like me.
    Look down. Back up, where are you? In a distant northern city being publicly criticized by the actor your actor could act like. What’s in your hand, back at me. I have it, it’s an oyster with season tickets to the privilege of not sharing your opinions. Look again, the season tickets are now revoked. Anything is possible when your actor berates his fans and isn’t apologetic.
    I’m cleaning a toilet.

  • W

    Local theatre story gets coverage in national newspaper. Local paper theatre critic seems to miss story.

    How very odd.

  • Andy Grabia

    “Never give a gun to a Duck”

    Sorry, is this the retort courteous? Or maybe the reply churlish? These theatre sports confuse me so.

  • Marliss

    @Sue Huff

    Beautifully said, Sue. Although I don’t know Jeff personally, I am a part of Edmonton’s warm and wonderful theatre community – most recently as a reviewer, funnily enough. And while I can identify with Sharon’s pain, as I’ve been on the receiving end of vitriol as well (goes with the territory), I am admittedly more concerned about the people involved here, rather than the myriad issues that have presented themselves out of this lengthy dialogue, as interesting as they all have been.

    Indeed, lashing out is a sign of pain. I hope Jeff gets the help and support he needs. And for Sharon, I hope she has the courage to keep writing, honestly and with passion, as that is as much of a gift to our city as a fine and sensitive performance from a talented theatre artist.

  • Andy Grabia

    “You’ve placed a fatwa on their heads whether you meant to or not.”

    Priceless. A fatwa. Guy’s an asshole to two of his customers, the customers say they won’t be buying his product anymore, other people agree that guy was an asshole and won’t be buying product anymore either, and now we’re at fatwa. So instead of blaming the asshole who told two customers he didn’t want their money anymore because one of them had the gall to write overwhelmingly positive reviews about his shows, you accuse the customers of being Muftis? I don’t think you’ve gone far enough, Tony. Why don’t you just call them terrorists? Oh, wait. You dropped the Defarge reference from Tale of Two Cities. Never mind. Since you have such a flair for the overly dramatic, I have to ask: have you considered working in the theatre?

  • W

    Is the Varscona Theatre still owned by the City of Edmonton?

  • fyrefly

    @James (#131)- nice 🙂

  • Tom Murray

    Some good comments here about being too close to the community; it’s one of the reasons why I like reading bloggers, the perspective they offer. That being said, I’ve enjoyed Haslam and Lemoine productions almost as much as Liz – too bad that as a writer for SEE back when I wouldn’t have been allowed to review them.

    Mack, I’ve been writing as an amateur and a professional for 1 billion years, and hate mail comes with the territory. It’s never pleasant, it’s sometimes unfair (and sometimes very fair, much as we hate to admit it), but it’s part of the deal. Sometimes it even comes from people you admire – I was once torn a new asshole for giving glowing praise to a group I long considered one of my favorites. It just wasn’t the glowing praise they wanted, I guess.

    Anyways, enjoy the fun while it lasts; better to know that you’ve touched a sore spot than to be blogging into a void.

  • Shermie
  • Icky Friend

    Shermie:

    Yep, the Journal is finally on the story, and in true Journal fashion, they’ve refused to say a single bad thing about Haslam or Teatro. In fact, astonishingly, Todd Babiak manages to find a way to use this situation to compare Jeff Haslam to Pablo Picasso! (“We don’t ignore Picasso paintings because he was unkind to his wives. Why should we, when there are paintings to consider?”)

    If anything, the thing Todd disapproves of in this whole brouhaha is not Jeff Haslam’s horrible, unprofessional behaviour, but the fact that Sharon’s reviews of Teatro’s shows rank higher in a Google search than Liz Nicholls’ do.

  • Just me

    I’m sitting in my living room in Washington, DC spending my Sunday morning fascinated by this whole situation. I was sent this link from a professor of non profit arts management. Do you guys realize that this is running rampant all over our country as a lesson in how not to run a non profit theatre company? I’ve been a profession actor in regional theatre for 35 years now and have managed two theatre companies. What I am stuck by is that Mr Haslam mentioned that ticket revenue accounts for less than 40% of his annual operating budget. This is true for most theaters. The majority of his funding comes from individual donors and funding agencies (I’ve been to the “donate” page on their web site). I will simply say that these agencies are very particular about who runs the institutions to whom they are considering giving their money, and how they are run. If we have all heard about it, surely they have. My concern with Mr Haslam is not as an actor but as an artistic director of this theatre company. He is the voice and face of this company but the board of directors is his boss. It is they who are responsible for making sure that the “front man” is consistently representing the theatre in a positive light to the community and follows the mission statement of the theatre. Ultimately if the Artistic Director cannot be trusted to do this, for the good of the theatre, he should be removed. In my humble opinion.

  • Wets

    Why do I not find it surprising that one of the IPs that keeps frantically removing the Controversy section of Jeff Haslam’s Wikipedia entry belongs to the Varscona Theatre…

  • Just for some levity on this whole thing.

    http://newglobe.blogspot.com/2010/08/writing-theatre-reviews-for-non.html

    Let the vitriol continue. 🙂

  • Pingback: Edmonton Notes for 8/22/2010 at MasterMaq's Blog()

  • b ford

    This reminds me a bit of the worldwide response to the sliding flight attendant. (Not sure if this was mentioned in the many comments here).

    Many people who had been abused in a service position felt his pain and sympathized with his “I not gonna take this anymore” attitude. (some theatre company sympathizers think critics should take criticism here, ignoring that it was personal invective).

    Others, who felt professionals should be professional and not verbally abuse customers and airplane equipment, thought the flight attendant should have dealt with his real difficulties in a more private manner. Most, including Sharon and Master Maq, obviously thought Mr. Haslam could have handled things differently. Certainly less personally.

    That flight attendant had recently dealt with his mother’s death from cancer. Mr. Haslam recently attended a friend’s funeral, according to Ms. Huff. The attendant had apparently been hit by a passenger’s bag and Mr. Haslam felt hurt by reviews.

    One important difference is that the flight attendant is not the pilot or co-polot as Mr. Haslam seems to be as artistic director.

    The flight attendant apparently wants his job back. That’s about as likely as it would be for the fast food worker who bathed himself in the large restaurant sink and told others about it. He regrets the bath I heard. Don’t wash your dirty self in public is the saying I believe.

    Should we, or the theatre community, permit the pilot to conduct himself as Mr. Haslam did? Well, he is permitted to do so of course; actors can get theatrical (and bloggers can blog). What we patrons and his theatre’s board/managers do in response is another matter. Instead of swearing at passengers like the flight attendant, we hear the would be pilot telling passengers their friends are icky and they should not return. Friendly skies indeed.

    This airline won’t fly. Not well anyway. Not without some apology.

    May you will get a better response from this airline like the experience of those who youtube about their crushed guitars. That airline never got such bad press and meaningful apologies were made.

    If you don’t get an apology, it might appear some believe they can run an airline serving mostly their friends and the unaware. And audience be damned (at least a thinking or opinionated one).

  • jason

    Note: this is a response from Sharon’s original review of AMBASSADOR’S WIVES.

    @John B – comment 124 – John I can totally see your point of view here. But let’s say you were going to that little restaurant down the street. You’ve been going there for five years. You enjoy it. The owner/head chef seems really nice. You don’t really know him. You just eat some special meal he creates for you. A recipe he came up with himself. You order something new everytime you come in. Something he’s creating for your eating enjoyment.
    But everytime you leave this restaurant you go up to the head chef and say “Mmmmm that meal was marvelous. I licked my plate clean but what was the deal with the vegetables. I didn’t understand them. Was it some French fusion thing?” Or maybe you said “Oooo… delicious meal…but I think that new cook is a little weak. The appetizer he made just didn’t put a smile on my face.” Then let’s say you went home and wrote it on your blog for the world to see. You decided to comment on these wonderful meals with the occasional comment thrown in about how Mary, the daughter of the cook isn’t quite as good as her Father. 5 years of this. And suddenly he decides he’s had enough. He’s been cooking you meals for five years and while you’re enjoying them, you also are criticizing them. He’s a chef because he loves cooking, it’s not just a job, it’s something personal. It’s his family business.
    Well, yes, I do feel that Chef would be justified in his anger towards you. You’ve chosen to criticize his work. He’s entitled to be angry at you. And he chose to do so on the PUBLIC forum that you’re writing your PERSONAL blog on. As professional as you write out your reviews… you are not a profesional food critic. Your just someone saying some nice things with an occasional stab in the back of the person cooking you a nice dinner. Yeah, that Chef should be entitled to tear a strip off you. And no you shouldn’t go back to that restaurant. YOU shouldn’t. This was an experience shared between you and that restaurant.
    This is a situation being shared between Jeff and Sharon. It really has little to do with me or you or anyone else. Sadly, it is on a public forum… but, hey, that’s great ’cause we all love a good scandal.

    Should you still go and support Teatro. Yes I still think you should. One bad banana, doesn’t mean you should throw the rest out. The bad banana here is the situation… not Jeff.

    And yes I do stand by my statement of don’t judge a man by his one comment. You don’t know the whole story. Go talk to him and then pass judgement. My point here is that it’s so easy to form a mob mentality and jump on that band wagon without understanding the full story.

    As I said before, stop and think about yourself and times that you’ve blown a fuse or lost your temper. It happens. It doesn’t define who you are.

    Should he apologize? Yeah maybe I’ll retract that and say yes he should in part. Some things were said that were a little uncalled for. I have a feeling though it wouldn’t have mattered how he worded his comments, the backlash would have been similiar. I liken the internet to road rage. People feel like they can say whatever they want without repricution. But, I do believe the apology should be done in private… it really has nothing to do with us.

    And Sharon… I do support your blog. But you’re not a reviewer (not an insult). You’re somone who has chosen to make her opinions public. This is going to mean that you have to expect that comments are going to be made in retaliation. Try not to be upset by them and keep doing what you’re doing. My comments are more about looking at the whole picture and not just grabbing a torch and forming a lynch mob at the first sign of trouble.

  • Aly

    @Jason: you make some good points (especially about the nature of the internet!), but a theatrical production is VERY different from a meal created especially for one person. If the artistic director at our company had ever done something like what Mr. Haslam did, he would have been fired. An AD is the face of a company, and the representative of that company for the community. Mr. Haslam did not just insult the blogger, he insulted the entire town. If he was offended over the years by the reviews, he could have, at any time, approached her. Privately. She is a blogger and, although not a professional critic, entitled to voice her opinion.
    I am sorry for Mr. Haslam’s loss. But he is a professional, and in his position he speaks for the company. We in the theatrical profession may not like that bloggers can say whatever they want and have it read by anyone, but that is part of the new reality.
    Sometimes we forget that the audience is the reason we do what we do.

  • Wets

    @Jason: On your Journal cross-post you asked “Who are these professionals that you speak of (who are using Haslam as an example of how not to run a theatre company)?”

    Do you still want an answer?

  • Jason

    @Aly … thanks for the response. I actually don’t think the meal analogy is that far off. The point of this whole issue boils down to this for me: This blog is not a medium for a professional review. Sharon has said so herself. This blog is a way for her to chronical her thoughts. It is personal. She has said that she had no intention to offend anyone with her comments. Well, if you go back and read all of her reviews. ALL of them… not just the Teatro ones, and put yourself in the shoes of the people she’s criticizing can you tell me that you yourself would not be offended. Who threw the first stone then? I’m sorry but Sharon did…. and then she continued to throw stones… some flowers as well but also some stones. Jeff eventually chucked a big rock in retaliation. And he had the right to do so. Jeff has been performing for a long time, he’s had good reviews and bad. He was not attacking a reviewer… he was responding to personal slights against himself and his friends. And I’ll say it again, for those of you that have become so enraged by Jeff’s one comment… well you’re doing the exact same thing Jeff did…. except instead of responding to one comment, he was responding to four years of comments.
    To clarify… once again though…. not against the art of blogging or this blog, but if you start smack talking people… and yup, Sharon, you did do some smack talking. You’re going to get it in return. That’s not to say you shouldn’t speak your mind… just be prepared.

    @wets – I don’t really want to see a list, but I found it odd that you were able to say that companies across North America were now using him as an example. It just made me curious as to how you knew this information, are you in contact with all these companies? Or were you just assuming that after this mob attack companies across North America will probably use this as an example (and I should hope they will… yikes).

  • Jason

    Sry, that should say “To clarify, once again… I’m not against the art of blogging” 🙂