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.
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.

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

  1. “Even though I think Jeff’s comments on Sharon’s reviews are completely unfounded, they’d have been better shared privately first” Why is that? Since it’s “social media” if Mr. Haslam wanted to share socially what he felt, I think it’s fair he did it in a public manner.

  2. Liz Nicholls of the Edmonton Journal, has never written anything negative about Jeff or Teatro

    Or anyone else in the Edmonton theatre scene. Liz Nicholls is a sycophant. Welcome to the incestuous world of the local theatre scene, Mack. Good news is you and Sharon will now have more money to spend on artists who welcome your feedback and patronage.

  3. We’ve sought the opinions of a few others in the scene Andy, and you’re right, we’ve learned it’s hard to be a reviewer. Everything is too close. That’s really unfortunate.

  4. Why that post? Why not each post?

    Perhaps Mr. Haslam was awaiting for a pattern of consistently lukewarm reviews to appear so that he was justified in leaving that comment. Perhaps, he was waiting for a glowing review that never came.

    After having so many lukewarm reviews, he probably felt you were probably not a high value customer. Just because you pay money, but subsequently provide lukewarm reviews may be impacting his business negatively.

  5. He is in for an even bigger rude awakening when he sees that this blog post is already the 5th result that turns up in a search for Teatro la Quindicina. 🙂

  6. If Sharon is serious about reviewing plays, why would she back down from reviewing this company, just because an actor had a snit fit?

  7. David – Read Sharon’s post here: http://www.onlyhereforthefood.ca/2010/08/17/cutting-ties-with-teatro-la-quindicina/

    In particular:
    “I have never claimed to be a professional reviewer. But like anyone who watches any production, I will have an opinion. Sure, most theatregoers may not take the time to express their opinion as I do, but they likely do so in other ways – telling friends, commenting on a review, updating a Facebook status. Though I doubt they would believe me anyway, I never meant to hurt or offend any of the Teatro actors; my intent wasn’t malicious, or personal, even though he has interpreted it as such. I was, in my mind, recording my experience of the shows (my posts about Teatro can be found here).”

  8. I have met a lot of actors in my time, and unfortunately some feel that they deserve adulation for no other reason than they are actors. I have seen some people give great performances and then ones that were so horrible that they were hard to watch. I have also met some actors that realize that what they do is a job and they will have good days and bad days and will always strive to get better.

    I am getting the feeling here that Jeff feels that he should be revered solely because he is an actor. If you don’t love him as much as he loves himself, then he doesn’t want you around.

    Good post Mack. Keep us posted if there are any other updates.

  9. That’s really unfortunate that the situation went in that direction.

    I’m not sure why a reviewer working for a published newspaper or magazine would have a more credible, professional or educated opinion than that of a blogger.

    Liz Nicholls for example, has a BA, a diploma in Education and a MA apparently in the Shakespearean stage according to Legacy. Having that type of background may make her qualified to review all plays by Shakespeare, but not necessarily other genres. So how did she become a “professional reviewer” of all genres of plays? Because she is published?

    One could argue that as she does not have a degree in journalism that she’s not a qualified or professional journalist, but no one would ever argue that considering her years of experience writing for the Edmonton Journal.

    There isn’t a school that reviewers go to in order to learn how to assess a play, food, movies, etc. It’s just their opinion (supposedly unbiased, though I know from experience at times it is not), published in print.

    Speaking for myself, he does not speak for everyone who “bust our butts for next to nothing to bring a little entertainment to this distant northern city”. I find it very presumptuous that he has even attempted to speak on the Edmonton Theatre communities behalf.

    I am so sorry that this experience has occurred and hope that others from the theatre community step forward to show that they want your business.

  10. @Kevin – re: rude awakenings – this post is the 6th top result if you Google “Jeff Haslam” as well ;-). Have to wonder what on earth he was thinking, can’t possibly be good PR for him or for Teatro.

  11. Wow! Maybe Haslam has some sort brain lesion?! Teatro la Quindicina is so cliquish, actually, no – a cult really. I never feel like one of the “cool kids” who “gets it” at their shows, so always feel like I’m watching through a opaque film or something. Clearly, even the gentlest of criticism is taken as heresy – “Emperor Haslam has no clothes” – so it is off with Sharon and Mack’s heads! Edmonton is waaaay too small a town to treat people badly. Thanks for posting Mack.

  12. 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?

    Jeff Haslem goes Lina Lamont:

    “If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’. Bless you all.”

  13. In what world does that make any business sense?

    One in which you can piss off people who pay money because those of us who don’t give a shit about theatre are forced to support it with our tax dollars.

  14. I find it quite amusing that neither of you have taken this opportunity to examine yourselves and ask whether he was perhaps justified in what he said about your pretention and self-importance. This entire episode smacks of a lack of self-awareness on the part of everybody concerned.

  15. Jeff presents his rant like he speaks on behalf of others. Is he speaking on behalf of Teatro and the artistic associates and board of directors? Or is he speaking on behalf of local actors when he references “those of us”? I would be interested in knowing, yknow since he’s their artistic director and all.

  16. I find it quite amusing that neither of you have taken this opportunity to examine yourselves and ask whether he was perhaps justified in what he said about your pretention and self-importance.

    Pretty sure that’s what Mack did in taking a look back at old posts, and linking to them so others could judge. Can we take it for granted that you’ve stepped back and taken a look at your own sense of self-importance in making this comment?

  17. Fyrefly – Although I’m not an actor, I’m a stage manager, I definitely don’t feel that Jeff speaks on my behalf. Sure actors bust their butts on stage, and everyone behind the scene does too and we all want the show to be a success. However, we realize not everyone’s going to like everything and everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    I personally think that the majority of the reviews printed in the Journal, the Sun, Vue and See regarding Fringe shows this year have been overly generous with the stars. So reviews are definitely subjective depending on what you are expecting, what genre you do/don’t enjoy, whether or not you “get” the humour, etc.

  18. What a disappointing story to read about as this is the first year I have been around to enjoy the Fringe. Thanks for the heads up about this super rude dude Mack. After reading his comments he is not an actor I wish to support and I will be steering clear of his shows. Sharon however, is a gal I do wish to support so please pass along a big hug.

  19. Wow is the only word that comes to mind as I am actually speechless. While Jeff Haslam is certainly entitled to his opinions and thus able to express them anyway he chooses, one has to seriously question why if he legitimately felt this way all along he did not bring them up before now and in a more appropriate venue than in the public eye?

    I am not a believer of the “any press is good press as long as they spell your name right” in part because in these days of global accessibility and the enduring memory of the web it means matters such as this live on tarnishing people and influencing perceptions forever.

    Mack, you demonstrate considerable restraint and balance in your attempts to make sense of Jeff’s inexplicable and highly personal tirade against Sharon and yourself.

    Everything is subjective and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. My individual estimation of Jeff Haslam and Teatro La Quindicina is no more or less valid than anyone else but I will state it is a very low opinion and I will hazard to guess anyone reading your excerpts would agree.

  20. Blogger pro-tip: Mr. Haslam, if you want to be taken seriously in your ego driven, insecurity-fueled rants, make sure you spell the word “BUTTS” properly.

  21. Why stop going to their shows? If you like them, just go, that would be the best thing to do. His feelings shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying theatre the way you want to.

  22. Sharon does come off completely pretentious and arrogant. I would have felt the same way if I were him or if I was involved in the production and all I would read about them on the internet were snarky comments like hers. But I would never have had the gonads to have commented like that on her blog.

  23. I agree Haslam’s response is rude and detrimental to his business. But maybe it’s rooted in his confusion about the role you play. You and Sharon are patrons, and his usual feedback from patrons is simply applause. Getting a response other than applause, in the form of blog posts that are sometimes not glowing, is kind of a new thing. (OK, not that that new, but believe me, a lot of people are still adjusting. He reminds me a bit of the journalist who is used to getting feedback only from letters to the editor and the occasional phone call, and is shocked to find criticism in comments, message boards and blogs.)

    Because he (misguidedly) sees your writing as less valuable than that of a mainstream newspaper’s theatre critic, he’s seeing you as hecklers. And since, in his head, heckling is really rude, he may feel justified in being rude back. Maybe. I probably shouldn’t put myself inside his head. But in the past, you have encouraged compassion and education for those still getting up to speed. He may be such a person.

    To Staples’s point: If Haslam had blasted Liz Nicholls in such a way, I believe she would still review Teatro, and I believe she would evaluate the plays and Haslam’s performances according to whether she thought they were good, not whether Haslam was mean to her. That’s what she gets paid to do. People say nasty things to and about mainstream journalists all the time; if we’re any good, we don’t let it get in the way of the job.

    This isn’t your job, and you should spend your time and money on things you enjoy; Haslam’s comments have made it impossible for Teatro to be one of those things. But I do wonder whether you should care this much about what he thinks. As bloggers, you are highly accountable to your readers, and this is as it should be — for bloggers and for mainstream journalists. To me, your responsibility is to give your readers a fair and honest assessment. You did. He didn’t like it. So be it. Instead of being hurt, why not shrug?

  24. Fascinating situation and just as I am about to talk about social media and the changing face of education, association and production models in Alberta. Thanks for the awesome timing Mack!

    Karen’s thoughts resonate for me. In fact, I am describing live tweeting as closed captioning for hecklers & colour commentators. 🙂

    Something that is happening more and more is that the voice of the prosumer is having greater and greater impact on all media. Sharon is a prosumer. She is a producer (her blog) and a consumer (food and theatre). Prosumers are a new breed completely unfamiliar to those who are slower to get up to speed.

    If it were me in Jeff’s shoes, I would have engaged Sharon in further conversation. For me, as an actor, awareness of my audience is vital. Engaging an audience requires a finely tuned sense of empathy. That is the magic of theatre. Talented actors connect with their audience. It doesn’t always happen. We all have off nights. Had any of my patrons ever commented to me directly their thoughts, I would have listened politely and offered an opportunity to come back for another performance.

    Something that we, as prosumers, must remember is the veil of anonymity that exists in the Internet. Had this been something Jeff overheard at the coffee shop, it’s highly unlikely he would have reacted they way he did. If he had, he would have looked like an ass in front of whoever was in the coffee shop.

    Well it seems this virtual coffee shop has 29 commentators and 20 re-tweeters… That’s about half a house at the Fringe. Something to think about.

  25. Great, balanced and well thought out post Mack.

    The only entry I disagree with is the addage “the customer is always right”. Only people who’ve never owned a business think that!

    As a business owner, I have had to grow some thick skin to handle some negative feedback I might have otherwise taken personally by this fool. He has wasted an opportunity to earn your lifetime support by his reaction to all of this.

    I applaud your honesty and zeal to try and make things right, but it’s time to move on. Teatro-0, Mack-1.

  26. Ah, a tempest in a bit bucket… I don’t have many new observations, but let’s add my voice to the din anyway.

    As a half-hearted peruser of Edmonton blogs, I have to admit that Mack and Sharon can be frustrating – but not because they are overly critical of Edmonton and the people who fill it. Quite the opposite. I find that Mack’s blog in particular can descend into superficial Edmonton boosterism and naive pronouncements about our city’s impending transformation into a solar-powered, high-density twittertopia with open data for all.

    Having said that, whenever I am tempted to complain about a blog, I am struck by the simple and undeniable fact that blogs are labours of love. Neither Mack nor Sharon is getting rich doing this. They are both people whose primary motive is to share their interests with other people who might be interested. They aren’t professional critics or city planners. They’re regular folks who have attracted an audience because they fill a niche.

    When I’m not posting anonymously on blogs, I have a job that puts me in the public eye. I have felt the sting of what I believed to be unjustified criticism, and believe me, “sting” is the right word. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to do your best – not for the money, or the attention, but because you want to help people, or contribute to your profession – only to have your motives or competency questioned. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of such poorly informed criticism has felt the impulse to simply give up and respond with the civic equivalent of “fuck them, do it yourself if you’re such an expert.”

    I read Sharon’s review of “Dial M”, which seems to have particularly hurt the actor in question. Here’s the most critical passage:

    “As for the other half of the evening, I was a bit disappointed with the show, which follows a jealous husband as he blackmails an old college classmate into killing his wife. While I’ve never seen the Hitchcock version, I expected a lot more from this production and from the actors. I thought the use of ominous music was unnecessary and overdone, and cheapened the on-stage tension tangible in some scenes. Also, while Jeff Haslam (playing the scheming husband Tony Wendice) was somewhat successful at walking the fine line between drama and comedy, John Wright (in the role of Inspector Hubbard) was less so, and to me, upended the serious tone of the play. More than anything, I found myself unable (or unwilling) to sympathize with any of the characters, so in the end, the show was a lost cause for me.”

    If this were written in a newspaper, it would be safe to call this a very harsh review. But written on a personal blog, this is hardly the most scathing of criticism. The tone expected of a professional reviewer in a newspaper is completely different from the tone of a personal blog. What apparently frustrates Mr. Haslam is that the personal blog now gets read nearly as much as the theatre reviews in the Edmonton Journal. To Mr. Haslam, this review probably seemed unjustifiably critical given Sharon’s lack of theatre expertise – and the review stings that much more every time it comes up third in a Google search. To Sharon, this was just her take on a night out at the theatre, communicated on her blog much the same way you would tell your friends how you enjoyed the show. (Much as she suggests in her response post.)

    Sharon probably isn’t the world’s greatest theatre reviewer. And even amateur reviewers should remember that Edmonton theatre, much like blogging, is also a poorly remunerative labour of love. But in my view, the response these reviews provoked was out of proportion to what she wrote, and his tone was far more vitriolic than anything Sharon has written about the performances. As Kevin says, if he didn’t like his Google profile before, I wonder how he’ll like it when this is hit #1.

    Karen Unland wonders if Mack and Sharon should care what an actor thinks. Probably they shouldn’t. But that first round of angry criticism (angry meta-criticism?) is always the hardest to stomach. Either the scar tissue will grow with time, or they’ll just stop reviewing.

    Everyone’s a critic.

  27. Wow – this was a complete overreaction by Jeff Haslam. I’ve taken the time to read the posts you’ve back-linked Mack, and his comments to Sharon were childish and completely unfounded. An actor / producer on an ego trip, who can’t identify good criticism from bad.

    As an artist, I am a professional musician, I never look at a review and stir over the negative, I’m only happy that a review has been written at all – especially if it is well written, which Sharon’s are. “Any publicity is good publicity”. If I’ve ever taken exception to a reviewer (blog or newspaper), I’ll take the time to respond to them privately, first, and foremost, to thank them for writing anything at all, and then to discuss the points that I feel were unjustified, in a polite and adult manner. To ban someone from seeing my shows or to wish they wouldn’t give me their money is so self-deprecating and useless to the advancement of the art, and purpose of the concerts.

    None of Sharon’s reviews are harsh in anyway. They are a personal opinion, as are most reviews, whether they be professional or not. Jeff’s comments on Sharon’s blog may turn around and bite him in the behind. I’m certainly not going to rush out to see his play.

    I would be pleased if you and Sharon would like to be guests at a concert of mine – please let me know and I’ll happily supply you with tickets.

    twitter @jbrough

  28. Thx for posting Mack. This is what social media is all about. I take my cues from my peers before I take them from “pros”. I do this with my music, my food, my art, etc. I follow recommendations and try things for myself, but the recommendations help filter out everything.

    There is a lot of “who was right, who was wrong” in these comment threads. All that matters to me is seeing the bitter and shallow response of this person. I won’t ever be supporting his work either.

    As a pro in the local music industry, I have come to understand that the “unpaid” review carries more weight these days. I also understand that anyone’s $19 put toward my show is a great measure of sincerity – sincerely hoping to receive worthy entertainment. I would never sneer at that. The “pros” never pay a cent to review art or music or theatre, it cost them nothing, so how can there be true personal investment in the review?


  29. Yes, I read Sharon’s thoughtful post.

    Bottom line, she posted her opinion of Haslam’s playys on her blog, in a very public way, and if Jeff Haslam responded in a very public way, that’s fair game.

    Now, Haslam’s comments were ill-advised and over-the-top, it strikes me, and I’m betting that if he doesn’t regret making them, he will regret it after thinking through the issue.

    But the fact he made these comments in a public manner, well, that’s to be expected. That’s the nature of this Internet beastie.

    People say stuff. Others respond, often with a massive over-reaction. And both parties feel bad about it and hurt and foolish the next day.

  30. so what you’re saying is that Haslam was being petty and selfish so you figured you’d get the last petty and selfish word in? good job Mack.. way to rise above.. or not

  31. I’ve seen a number of Teatro la Quindicina shows in the past and I can’t say that this actor left me with any lasting impressions. I am a fan of Lemoine, but I will certainly avoid this theatre company in the future if this pre-madonna is in the cast.

    It’s very disappointing that he would react so irrationally.

    Welcome to the 21st century, Mr. Haslam, where reviews and opinions are not reserved for print columns and cultural elites.


  32. Knowing how trolls are abound on the internet, I find it interesting that a small production like that would lash out online at a homegrown voice like yourself or Sharon.

    However that said, I hope you and Sharon are both able to sheild yourselves from the inevitable trolling that you’ll receive in response. Regardless of how Sharon’s words are interpreted, don’t chage who you are or how you write, just because someone thinks you sound ‘pretentious’ or ‘stuckup’. If you take interent criticism too harshly, you’re no better than Haslam.

  33. Social Media is just that… and feelings cannot help but be a part of the entire process. That is what interacting with people is all about. Blogging, for me, is real. I have developed real relationships through this work and learned a great deal through the interactions with others on my site. I have a responsibility to be true to myself and my personal voice at all times. I would be devastated if someone wrote to me in this manner. It would feel real because it is.
    All that said, Mr. H. may be going through something personal. Is this out of character for him? There is no doubt his comments to both of you are completely shocking and unacceptable. It is an embarrassment for only him. Though so hurtful. But, what really motivated me to respond here, Mack, was TDR;s comment:
    Sharon probably isn’t the world’s greatest theatre reviewer. And even amateur reviewers…
    I have read many reviews, and I believe that Sharon is an exceptional reviewer. She is a great writer and possesses the ability to express her opinions with captivating clarity. I know that wasn’t the intent of TDR… but, bloggers may not get paid – however, they clearly do have an impact on their community. Sharon has a huge following and this is because so many find her credible.

  34. Performers are in the public eye and they need to remember it. Reviewers for traditional media are treated differently and much better than the regular public, and this has long been the case- causing a well known NYC food reviewer to eat under disguise in order to receive the ‘authentic’ treatment experienced by customers.

    Liz Nicholls perhaps cannot speak as honestly as she may like to about certain companies and performers in town. It is the job of those companies to get good reviews out of her, and she is ‘worked’ on at all times.

    A blogger provides a perfectly honest response as a single audience member. If a reader relates to the writing style and viewpoint of the blogger, it can be as useful as any newspaper review. If the reviews are written poorly or meanly, they will attract a smaller, but no less enthusiastic readership.

    As someone working in the arts, this means that I must treat ALL of my audience members well at all times- not just the reviewers.

    Treating all audience members more equally seems like a positive step to me.

    People who Twitter throughout an entire production can be a pain, but the whole society is navigating social media and figuring out new rules of engagement. Blogging is not going away, so let’s deal with it.

    While this whole discussion is informative, I think the parties involved should chalk it up as one for experience and move on.

  35. I guess from their perspective, if the blog is popular, it could potentially have negative impact (and perhaps someone even has mentioned it to them – as in, I didn’t go to your last show because I read…)


    If the blog is well-read, and heeded, then it speaks volumes for what’s written. Perhaps lots of people feel the same way, and that’s why they read.

    Hell, at least the fact that it’s not a one-of, people can determine bias over all of the reviews and decide how their opinions trend differently, and use it as a gauge. I’d say someone who blogs regularly is better in general than, say, someone who just posts a random scathing review. At least there’s reference and context.

  36. That the “mildly pretentious” Jeff Haslam attackedy you publicly should be taken as a compliment. Evidently you’ve made it in the world of theatre review, for what it’s worth.

    Haslam, I believe, comes from the “any publicity is good publicity” school of public relations and everyone loves a controversy, as we can tell by the sheer number of comments on this post.

    Perhaps Haslam was worried that his profile was diminishing in Edmonton? Well, maybe not now. I would think many here might just go see his plays just to see what the fuss is about.

    Did he cook this up in an effort to create a tempest in a teapot? If he did, it worked. Brilliant.

  37. It’s unfortunate that Jeff Haslam lashed out so needlessly. That said, Shermie makes the point, and I agree with her, that since Sharon’s (not-so-scathing) criticisms are public, his reply can be public as well.

    I could be reading Haslam’s comments wrong, but I think his issue is that while Sharon does not claim to be a professional reviewer, her comments can come across as nit-picky, which seems strange for someone who is not benefitting in any way from reviewing the plays. 

    I can’t speak for the actors and their feelings, but I can honestly say that I’ve never wanted to see a Teatro production, based solely on the sometimes-negative, often-average reviews the productions get from Sharon.

    I know that her intent is not to belittle or deride the theatre companies, or their performances, but after being on the receiving end of criticism from someone who isn’t a “real” reviewer for months on end, I can understand why Haslam felt frustrated (this of course goes back to the issue of blogger vs. journalist, which is not a discussion I want to get into today).

    I guess if we take your analogy of the citizen doctor/plumber/dentist, this is the same thing. Haslam is a professional actor (regardless of his behaviour in this situation), and Sharon is a hobby-reviewer. Even though I (and others) think she has every right to speak her mind (and she does so eloquently and honestly every time), the idea that she can say whatever she wants about a ‘professional’ theatre company while being an ‘amateur’ reviewer does not sit well with some. 

    It’s a balancing act, but one that we all need to figure out, especially as we move farther away from print journalism as “the authority” in news and reviews.       

  38. The blogger v. journalist thing here isn’t the issue. There is no authority on news, just the interpretation of views that we trust.

    Sharon has absolutley nothing to lose by posting her thoughts about the show to her blog. It’s akin to relaying those thoughts in casual conversation, and Mr Haslam interjecting with his rude comments.

    Meanwhile Mr Haslam has his career to consider. Perhaps his comment should have come more to the effect of “Hey, thanks for being a loyal subscriber. Sorry the show didn’t perfectly match your sensibilities, but as a subscriber perhaps the next one will be more to your liking!”

    Imagine the conversation that such a post would have started.

  39. So an actor share his opinion on a blogger’s opinion and this is what they do to him? After years of providing enjoyment, they smear Teatro Q and Jeff because he wrote one nasty letter? I could understand the smear campaign if Teatro Q had provided a really bad show or a terrible theatre going experience. But bloggers need to realize that the fourth wall disappears when the curtain goes down. After that, an actor can and will respond to you. A blogger is free to write what they want. But an artist does not have to sit down, shut up, read crap about himself on a blog and quietly take it — most do, some do not. Actors may not be as eloquent when they don’t have a script in front of them (Jeff was a bit heavy with his letter) but he’s entitled to an opinion of a blogger’s opinion. Everyone tells an artist to develop a thick skin to cope with bad reviews. Well, bloggers, that advice applies to you too.

  40. I think Karen Unland hit the nail on the head (comment #29).

    No secret it’s a changing landscape when it comes to how information and opinions are shared. In so many ways as Sharon is entitled to review whatever production she chooses, Jeff Haslem is entitled to his response. From a pure business perspective, it’s probably fair to call his comments an overreaction and a bit of a shot in the foot (not to mention the antithesis of how any performer should digest criticism).

    As a broadcaster, I don’t believe for a second that every person tuning into Breakfast Television will be a fan of our product. In fact, we receive emails telling us as much! Never, though, would I ask even the most perturbed viewer to change the channel. In fact, I’d invite them to keep coming back for more (weekdays from 6-9am on Citytv)! “Give us a a shot to win you over.” That’s because I believe in our product as we work, like Haslem, to “bring a little entertainment to this distant Northern city” (like Edmonton needed a favour done!).

    No chef receives a glowing review 100% of the time. Check the Journal and the Sun (paging Mike Ross) for proof not every band gets two thumbs up for every show. Why should any theatre actor expect to be treated any differently?

    If anything, social media is a barometer of what the general public really thinks. In its different manifestations, it has the potential to provide valuable customer feedback. In this case, it appears Haslem has used it to paint a pretty clear picture of the expectations he has of his customers, which is unfortunate.

    The good news is, there are plenty of talented actors (and theatre companies) here in Edmonton that will gladly accept Mack and Sharon’s freed-up entertainment dollars!


  41. What’s this “qualified” rhetoric? She saw the show, she had an opinion on it. BOOM. Qualified. She’s relating her experience of seeing the show. She’s qualified to write about that. She’s the only one who had that experience. She’s the expert on that subject.

  42. lol … i find this article entertaining, but that’s about it. I will make one disclaimer, I’m completely unfamiliar with Sharon’s work, however I’m very familiar with yours. Because this is merely an opinion, I’m 100% comfortable with the assumption that “birds of a feather….”

    I think you need to accept the fact that this is indeed a pot/kettle situation Mack. Although Jeff obviously didn’t soften any blows, the fact that you think his comments were completely unfounded is … well .. hilarious.

    Mack. I hate to break it to you, but you are indeed a cyber-bully. Sometimes we align on the issues you cover, and sometimes we couldn’t be further apart. I still read your stuff cause, as said earlier, i find it entertaining and occasionally informative. But honestly, your claim that Jeff should have approached you in private …. you side swipe people all the time with your “social media” guerrilla warfare. Exhibit A, this post lol.

       /prɪˈtɛnʃəs/ Show Spelled[pri-ten-shuhs]
    2. characterized by assumption of dignity or importance.

    The fact that you run down your resume of appreciating and supporting the arts, and then are so offended by Jeff’s allegations is the very definition of pretentious lol.

    Either way, I still find your work entertaining, I just don’t want you operating under the guise that you are something you are not. My advice (lol for whatever it’s worth), if you two want to be taken seriously as a critic you need to leave personal grudges at the door and grow a thicker skin. As my favorite Aussie Uncle Chopper likes to say “harden the f**k up.”

  43. Tony – Two nasty letters, not one. With an opportunity in between them for sober second thought. And Haslam is not just an actor responding to criticism, he’s the artistic director of the theatre! As well, it is the wide gap between the gentle critiques Sharon wrote and the vitriolic response from Haslam that puzzles.

  44. Noted on the point about the public response. It just felt so out of left field. I would have expected something more akin to what Gordon commented above.

    For me this post isn’t so much about Jeff and this specific scenario, it’s about the new reality: there are no longer any gatekeepers. Everyone can write a review, whether they do it from the perspective of “I’m just recording my experience” or “I really want to be a serious critic”. You’ve got to deal with, and maybe even embrace, that reality.

  45. I’ve been to maybe half a dozen TLQ shows since moving to Edmonton four years ago — variable quality, usually entertaining. Unless things change significantly, now, I’ll not be going back. I’m clearly unqualified to darken the door of the Varscona, given my lack of uncritical adoration for their productions.

    It’s unfortunate that Haslam saw fit to embarrass himself and, by extension, his company in public this way. Apparently the Author’s Big Mistake (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2009/06/authors-big-mistake.html for background) isn’t constrained to publishing.

  46. I don’t agree with Haslam’s comments, and wrote about it on i880’s blog, but I also don’t understand your outrage that Haslam replied to Sharon’s reviews on her blog and not by private email. Isn’t that exactly what you two do on a regular basis: presenting opinions in a public forum? I feel that if you publically publish personal opinions then you need to be prepared for a public response, even a negative one.

  47. I’m not outraged that he posted a public comment.

    I’m confused though as to why he wouldn’t have said something sooner, either on another post, or at another opportunity. And I’m confused as to why he would not consider how it would make him look.

    It’s fine that he posted a public comment. We left it up, even though many comment policies would have warranted taking it down (personal attack).

    I’ve re-read the relevant paragraph above and if I could write it again I’d have worded it differently.

    If you think I’m complaining because I got a negative public response, you’ve obviously not read anything I’ve written related to the City Centre Airport. This isn’t new to me.

  48. Well, if Jeff Haslam was doing this to increase his online presence, it’s certainly working on Twitter at least. Last night there were just a handful of Tweets about this topic and now pages and pages full!

    His evil master plan perhaps?

  49. The customer is not always right. Especially in small business. That mind set is a bad way of thinking. Customers are more often than not. Outrageously wrong. Although, this has nothing to do with the comment exchange between you both.

    It stings to be bashed after forking over money and enjoying something so much for a couple of years only to have the joy taken away by some comments. Social Media or not. This should have been solved privately with dignity. I disagree with his approach, just as much as I disagree with your reply to his approach. No one wins here.

  50. i find Mr Haslam and the Teatro company to be exceptional actors and the home of some of my favorite theatre moments. Frankly i don’t ever need to read your blog again.

  51. I completely agree with Kasey here… yes, Jeff’s comment was over the top, and I understand the hurt feelings. I’ll continue to read Mack and Sharon’s blogs because I enjoy their writing. But I think there is a lack of self-awareness among all the parties involved here.

  52. What strikes me most about Haslam’s comment on Sharon’s blog isn’t the completely over-the-top outrage at her review, but his statement that the theatregoers’ “crappy” 19 bucks is basically worthless.

    If that’s the case, then why do we pay to go and see his shows if our money is clearly not needed? Maybe some kind of arrangement could be made, in which no one pays to see Haslam’s work, and in return no one ever talks about it.

  53. Ok, I am tardy to the party but I was left with a very uneasy feeling when reading this post.

    THe post and the following opinions/comments reminded me of why I left the theatre world altogether.

    I commented once about a play TLQ had done and when I showed up (as an invited guest) to the opening nite party I was asked to leave. All because of a conversation that I had with someone and remarked how I felt the show was running slow.

    Suddenly, people who I thought were friends no longer wished to be near me. I think the term is Persona Non Grata, and this all happened before there were Blogs.. or Internet or any social media.

    I did my last sound and light design and packed it all up. I think my last season was 1998.. since then I have never darkened a theatre.

    In my own opinion, you just got bit in the butt with what has been going on in the Edmonton Theatre Community for years.

    Disagree with them and they want to bury you.

    I read the back links you provided. I tend to lean on the side of the posts as being opinion and not review. But heck, I’m old school and still miss Collin McClean ( I hope I spelt his name right ). Anyways, I digress.. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

    Jeff’s silence and lack of response could be out of embarrassment. I would like to think so, but i have been wrong before.

    Vote with your wallet!

    Twitter: crankycanuck

  54. I think the focus here should be less on explaining to Mack and Sharon how blogging and reviewing works, and more on Haslam’s actions. Studying the megaphone is less important than looking at look at the guy who yelled into

  55. “crappy 19 bucks… this distant northern city”

    What strikes me is how little regard he shows for this city and the people who have subsidized his vocational choice for so long.

    Does he really feel this way, or, as many are beginning to suspect is he simply going through a breakdown?

  56. Jeff Haslam is a jerk. Talk to people in private about their dealings with him and this fact will come out.

    Granted he’s a great actor but this behavior is rude and clearly childish.

    Hey Jeff, ever heard of freedom of speech? There’s not need to lose your shit over someone’s opinion. Quite being a childish dick and grow up. We’re all sick of it.

  57. Perfect timing to follow up Andy’s comment…

    This, to me, is more about how business (and, arts grants aside, theatre is a business) reacts and deals with today’s conversational reality. It’s not so much about traditional media reviews vs. personal blogs, or who’s got more tact.

    People have always talked about your business. They can now tell their extended circle of friends, and the whole world, in everything from tweets to blog posts. That doesn’t make it mean or nasty or new. It just means you’re going to have to adapt.

    If businesses are going to ban anyone who doesn’t give them rave reviews, constantly, they’re likely going to have to ask a lot of people to never return. I’ve defended some of my favourite restaurants when someone says they’ve had a bad meal there. I’ve seen restaurants on Twitter responding to customers and asking what they didn’t like, how they can get them back in there.

    It’s clearly a little different for a play, but look to Ryan’s comments about CityTV’s Breakfast Television (Monday-Friday, 6-9am on cable 7) as to how one in an arts or media role may try to work with their audience.

    What Mr. Haslam’s comment tell me is that he thinks the only opinions that matter are from the Journal’s review (since others have seemingly been banned or asked to stay away). If the conversation is shifting online, that review carries less weight. Smart business owners would recognize that.

    Why not embrace this new form of interaction with your customer, as other Edmonton arts institutions, like the ESO and AGA, have?

  58. I spent years in the theatre. It’s a family. Any bad review hurts and you tend to leap to the defensive. But I’m going to guess that Jeff (being of that ‘border’ generation) isn’t really all that confident of the place of the internet in the new world. Hell, reading the comments here reinforces for me that most of the professional journalists are still struggling.

    A few of my favorite online personalities have been engaging in flamefests and hurt feelings of late (I almost got sucked into a few) and it occurs to me that there is no satisfactory paradigm for conflict reslution in this new type of conversation.

    I think the thing to take from this is there is a communication gap. Mack doesn’t get why Jeff would lash out using a particular forum rather than in person and Jeff fails to realize that the internet shouldn’t replace human contact in conflict situations.

    We need a new rule book, but I for one am starting to believe rule #1 will have to be “Just walk away, because there are no winners when everyone has a voice.”

  59. A point that I don’t think has been clearly articulated here. It is true that Sharon is not a professional reveiwer. In fact, Sharon (and Mack) PAID for their tickets, unlike professional reviewers. To me that makes their opinion more valid than those of a professional reveiwer who might be nicer in order to keep friends and contacts.

    And, as an aside, apparently theatre people are the most sensitive people alive. I thought Sharon’s review was positive, and I was thinking about seeing the show, until I read the comment. If that is a negative review I guess it is a good thing I am not a reviewer, because I am not usually that nice when I like something!

  60. Every current audience is a possible future audience, so any performing arts organization that no longer cares to receive feedback (of all kinds!) is in jeopardy. The smart ones solicit it. While they may not always agree with the feedback received or act on it, at least they are measuring the mood and seeing if they are still relevant.

  61. As long as we’re talking about professionalism here, I think it may be time Jeff Haslam visited a mental health professional. A man who responds that way to a positive review (and to past mixed reviews, which were mild) can’t be happy. Every day, we all experience small snubs or misinterpret neutral–even positive–comments from others. Imagine what his life is like if this is how he reacts to such things. He must constantly feel under attack. Sharon, it’s a shame you were in his line of fire. I doubt it had much to do with you, really, and I doubt you’re the only person he’s gone off on. I think he is not well.

  62. Jeff Haslam has now become a complete caricature of himself. No wonder he can play those pretentious roles so well.
    and Liz Nicholls …… well we ALL know and have said for years that Jeff can do no wrong. A sad case for a reviewer… time to move on… both of you.

  63. This is the 21st century and everything can be critiqued, from everywhere. If it’s a wall mural on the side of a building to Michelangelo’s David, to a theater production. The truth is Regular people have more sway then professional reviewers, which is why Rotten Tomatoes also shows what people think of a movie and compare that with what critics have put for a review. I know I am more incline to see a movie that my friends liked compared to that of a critic who may not have similar tastes. This makes the experience more personalized. It’s unfortunate that the actor has responded this way but what’s done is done. Please keep reviewing local theater. The more information people have the better it is for everyone.

  64. I hope we hear from Jeff again soon. Some sort of apology or explanation would be much appreciated.

    I have greatly enjoyed their plays and this really makes me wonder about how I will feel about attending their next shows.

  65. As someone who is in the entertainment business (I develop video games) I can understand how a developer in this line of work can feel torn up that all the blood, sweat and tears that you poured into a production isn’t recieved 100% by someone reviewing your product. After all it is a little bit of you that went into this production, but with all that said Mr Haslam needs to grow up and stop acting like a child who is new to this business.

    People will like or hate your work, that is a fact of life and something a vetern of any entertainment market will be well accustomed to and shrug off (though we might vent about it to friend and family to get it off our chest, but always in private). In my line of work, the good developers, the guys that last and become leaders in this business let this slide off of them and instead take the time to look deeper into what the comments (both good and bad) were about to learn how to hone their craft and better present a product to an audiance.

    Lastly as a proud Edmontonian I take great exception to some of the comments Mr Haslam made about the city. It seems to me that this guy simply isn’t happy living & working in this city and feels that his vast talents are underutilized. If this is indeed the case then Mr Haslam I recommend that you find something that will rekindle your passion in your work, as you are not doing yourself, our business or anyone else in your industry any favors by lashing out at your community, be it bloggers, someone off the street or paying users of your product. The fact of the matter is that you are in a businesses that is not 100% recession proof and people are being more careful with their dollars and how to spend them. As a vetern of your entertainment sub-sector and someone with an important role in your production company, I think you need to be more acutely aware of this in the future.

  66. I find myself most puzzled by the comments that lean towards suggesting Sharon was unkind to Haslem or TLQ. Am I illiterate, or am I biased in my reading of her works? I honestly would have characterized her response to their portfolio as “hero worship”, and often minimized her praise as being a bit of a fan girl of them (hey, I’m a fan boy of a few things myself, its normal, esp on a blog).

    This is what was to me most shocking – by and large I would characterize Sharon as a BIG TLQ/Haslem booster. It makes the reaction all the more incomprehensible to me…

    …but then others seem to not be reading it that way. I’m finding that quite confusing.

  67. …and in regards to the request for a private conversation with Haslem, the magnitude of the response – so angry, so much rage – does to me suggest that a private word would have been respectful in advance of the public salvo. Social media does not mean every conversation needs to be public at all times. Nobody at all has suggested this was required, but it certainly could have been a polite nicety given the emotional … er … enthusiasm(?) of Jeffs response.

  68. does to me suggest that a private word would have been respectful in advance of the public salvo.

    Mack did try and have a private word with Haslam. He contacted him through messaging on FB, getting the second salvo (I don’t mean to insult you and Sharon, but insult, insult, insult…) before getting blocked. Then Mack emailed him asking him to go for coffee and discuss. Haslam said no to that, and called him more names. I really don’t know what else Mack and Sharon could have done other than keeping silent, but why should they? Unlike certain reviewers at the Journal, their survival isn’t tied to making nice with Jeff Haslam. They are paying customers who also happen to share their opinion about what they consume. Frankly, I’m happy they responded to Haslam.

  69. @Andy (#80) I meant that in response to the people criticizing Mack for saying “Our first question was why he chose to share his thoughts publicly?” – that is an appropriate thought, even in the world of social media, for such a vitriolic response. (see Shermie (#1))

  70. And, here I am, in California. I’ve never heard of any of you before I followed this link in the tweet of a playwright friend. I’ve never been to Edmonton and it is likely I never will go, but I will retweet that link to my hundreds of followers, a few of whom will likely retweet to their hundreds (or thousands) of followers and so on.

    You were exactly right. Running a theater company is just like running any other business. You promote what you do in order to attract new customers. When the customers you do have are unhappy, you do what you can to serve them better.

    Mr. Haslam may have achieved his goal in the end — he stopped Sharon from reviewing his plays — but along with that, he called attention to his spiteful, petty, dismissive manner and I am sure he did himself more harm than good.

  71. A final few thoughts. Why drag Liz Nichols into this?

    If I’m reading you correctly, you’re blaming her for Haslam’s snit fit.

    She’s not the boss of him. She did not tell him to react this way. If he can’t take the heat, that is his fault, not her fault.

    You should have left Liz out of this. That was a cheap shot.

    Finally, you blame Liz for being generous in her praise for this actor. Did it ever occur that maybe Liz just likes the actor’s work? And would that be such a horrible thing?

  72. I think you’ve already spent too much time writing about this. Get over it. If you put your opinions into the universe, accept that they will come back at you – positive or negative. Another suggestion, resolve your hurt and frustration IN PERSON. I think it’s in poor taste to discredit someone in this way just because they hurt your girlfriends’ feelings.

  73. Comment #82 pretty much sums it all up. I think there was a chance for redemption on behalf of Mr. Haslam when the offer to meet for coffee was thrown on the table. An admiral offer considering the negativity of the email and Facebook message.

  74. Just wanted to provide a bit of background first: I am a former Edmontonian who used to visit TLQ while I was there. A friend kindly sent me this post. I’ve never read this or Sharon’s blog before.

    All that being said, this is absolutely fascinating! Am I just confused or is this not 2010? If someone had read this post or Mr. Haslam’s reaction without the date you’d have thought this happened at least 5 or more years ago. Blogging, amateur reviews, and immediate reviews via social media have been around a long time now. And as a so-called professional Mr. Haslam’s reaction is unbelievable. He’s in an industry where he puts himself out there publicly. People will have opinions about the work he produces. If he truly felt that Sharon is just some nobody whose reviews don’t matter than he should have just as easily ignored it.

    As I’ve gathered from all these comments these type of thin-skinned things seems to be industry wide in the Edmonton performing arts scene at the moment. Is this due to the smaller and more insular nature of Edmonton as a city, and thus it’s theatre scene? As a major proponent of the arts I know it’s been very much us vs. the rest of the world for the Edmonton arts scene for a long time. It’s been a struggle to grow. But as someone who has been living in a larger city with a prominent cultural sector this whole thing is frankly unbelievable.

    Thanks for the post. It’s well written, and I thought the steps you took, including this, were well-measured and thoughtful. Mr. Haslam has done TLQ a grave disservice.

  75. “From my close observation … they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
    · Isaac Asimov

    I landed here through Peeved Michelle above. I’m in Los Angeles as well, and run a very small theater company and a nascent video production company. I’m also an actor and occasional blogger, I’ve been to Edmonton, and my theater background started in a very small town with a small but dedicated (and often very twitchy) pair of regional theaters. I think I understand how everyone here feels.

    Bad reviews always hurt, no matter where they come from. As an artist whose work is on public display, you either learn to let the hurt go (and benefit from it, if possible) or you internalize until you explode. But criticism – actual criticism, not fawning sycophantic drivel – is tremendously important in increasing quality within any art group. If the local paper isn’t doing it (and it sounds like they’re not), then the task falls to others. Real, honest feedback from an articulate theater lover, even when it’s less-than-flattering, should be treasured. Honest feedback is hard to come by, and without that feedback it’s terribly difficult to grow as artists.

    As to the small theater/northern town/working hard bit: while resources should definitely be taken into account for the production level of any endeavor, regardless of medium (you’re not gonna chide your local theater for having less than Broadway-level costumes, etc.), hard work is not ultimately a substitute for being good.

    We’ve this sense of entitlement, we modern artists – an idea that people should like/praise our work just because we work hard at it. That’s just simply not true. People should like/praise your work *if they actually like it.* That’s the only criteria for praise.

    Maybe your hypothetical play isn’t to the critic’s taste. Maybe the director’s style was broader here, or stiffer or dryer there, for the reviewer’s taste. Or maybe, and this is the hard one, maybe the playwright or the actors or the director are just not that talented, despite their back-breaking work ethic. No one has to praise your art just because you worked hard on it, and anyone who doesn’t like your art has the right to say so. Simple as that.

    That said, every artist has the right to defend him or herself as well, and, especially on the internet, we all have the right to be a-holes. Mr. Haslam seems to be exercising that last right a little more vigorously than others 😉

    I’m glad to know Edmonton has a theater scene, and that the people of Edmonton have strong enough emotions about the arts to fight over it. Here’s hoping the conversation continues, maybe without so much of the a-hole bit 😉

  76. David Staples:

    If Jeff’s core issue is that he doesn’t like it when people write even mildly negative things about him, don’t you think that makes Liz’s overwhelmingly positive archive relevant?

    Of course I considered that maybe Liz really has liked everything Jeff has ever done. But how likely is that? How likely is that compared to Jeff’s history of issues with less-than-stellar reviews?

    It’s admirable that you’re sticking up for a colleague David, but I don’t feel that what I wrote was off-topic or even unwarranted.

  77. Can there be any excuse for this “Brain-Fart”?? None that I can see. Someone in his position does not have the luxury of being able to respond in such a manner and ultimately bring TLQ into disrepute.

    I feel for TLQ and the damage this has done to them. I hope this does not significantly effect the box office and ultimately the future of TLC!

  78. This is beginning to resemble a full fledged soap opera, isn’t it?

    Does new media require new rules? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. That quote dates all the way back to Bambi, doesn’t it? We are all entitled to our opinions, and apparently we are all entitled (now) to publish them. Are we all entitled to calling someone “weird, icky, pretentious” and a “doof”? (Btw, nice one). Nope, that’s just rude.

    Now, the line “I’d prefer you’d never darken our door again”: that one’s easy enough to understand. Deal, Jeff Haslam. Deal.

  79. Did it ever occur that maybe Liz just likes the actor’s work? And would that be such a horrible thing?

    Yeah, it actually would. Why would anyone read a review where the outcome is already pre-determined? As a reader of your newspaper, why would I want to read a Liz Nicholls review when I know every single review of a play involving certain actors is going to be glowing? What value does that add to your paper, to know that people don’t take her reviews seriously? What value does it add to the actor, to add another gushing Nicholls quote to the resume? It’s not a cheap shot to suggest that ceaseless praise has led to a sense of entitlement from Mr. Haslam. It’s a valid criticism, especially given Nicholls’ catalogue of work. Since so many MSM commenters here and on Twitter seem to want to make this about the dangers of social media, I think it’s only fair that others might want to point out some of the dangers of mainstream media, in particular the boosterism so in vogue at one local daily.

  80. Clearly Jeff Haslam feels that his work as a theatre artist would be able to soar to greater heights if he didn’t have that messy audience full of thoughts and opinions to deal with. And I think it’s very easy to accommodate him in his wishes. I for one will not be seeing any of Teatro La Quindicina’s productions and in particular nothing that involves Jeff Haslam even on the toilet-cleaning level.

  81. Business first, acting second. Lesson one: 80% of all business ventures fail due to personal conflict.Speaking from a business point of view – it pays the bills at the end of the day – please STOP the bickering, the public is NOT interested in this silly conflict…they pay to be entertained and not stressed out! Sharon and Jeff….grow up!If I had guys like you working for me…can you say “EI”

  82. Jeff cleans the toilets? So what are you paying your Hummer driving cleaning staff to do, Mr. Haslam? Arrange the flowers in the office? What rubbish…

  83. I don’t know you or your girlfriend or Jeff Haslam. But I will say one thing: please tell your girlfriend to stop posting pictures on her blog with people in the background. Quite a number of those people are identifiable. Unless your girlfriend has gotten consent from each person to post their image on the internet universe, she is breaching privacy law.

  84. It’s pretty simple; if you as an artist put your work out there in public, you’re going to run the gamut of reactions, from glowing to gory, to those who have experienced what you’ve created.

    You hope for the glowing reactions of course, but you have to prepare yourself that there will be always people who for whatever reason (justified or not in your mind) don’t like your work.

    You can’t be thin-skinned about it, or a sense of complacency and entitlement develops like what we’ve seen here w/ Mr. Haslam.

    It’s not like Sharon went all Rex Reed or Frank Rich on the plays themselves; I’m as baffled as anybody else by the reaction from Mr. Haslam.

  85. 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.

  86. 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.

  87. 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.

  88. 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.

  89. 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.

  90. 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.

  91. 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.

  92. 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.

  93. 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.

  94. 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.

  95. @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.

  96. 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.

  97. 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…

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

  99. 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 🙂

  100. 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. 

TD Manager”

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

  101. 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.

  102. 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.

  103. 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?

  104. 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.

  105. 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!

  106. 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.

  107. 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.

  108. 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.

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

    How very odd.

  110. “Never give a gun to a Duck”

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

  111. @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.

  112. “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?

  113. 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.

  114. 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.

  115. 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.

  116. 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…

  117. 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).

  118. 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.

  119. @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.

  120. @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?

  121. @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).

  122. @Jason, just gonna jump back in and respectfully disagree. It may not be fair, but she’s a blogger and he’s the head of a company. He, unfortunately, has more of a responsibility to the community that supports his company. He didn’t just attack her, he attacked the community, basically saying he’s doing them a favor by offering them a little culture. If he and Sharon want to duke it out, that’s one thing. But there was no need for him to insult his entire audience. I think other supporters, after reading his post, will be afraid that he could turn on them at any point, as well.

    (Now, having said all that, I really like your writing. Do you have a blog, by any chance? And no, I’m not being facetious!!!!!)

  123. @aly – sadly I can’t argue with you there. He should have kept his comments focused on Sharon. Even if he had though the backlash probably would have been the same.

    – I don’t keep a blog… Too much stress 🙂

  124. @Jason (comment 146)

    I agree with your hypothetical restaurant scenario (i.e. had I been making mean comments for 5 years, the chef would have a right to be angry and a right to bawl me out). I was only bringing up the restaurant metaphor to refute the argument that some have made that “because there are other people who work at Teatro who work very hard for not very much money, one should ignore Haslam’s comments and continue to patronize their theatre to support those artists/workers.” You seem to agree with me that this is a spurious argument, at least as far as my personal patronage would go. I think this could extend to any business: a hotel where the desk clerk is rude, for example, or a beauty salon with a rude stylist.
    I think where we differ here is in how we perceive the degree of insult suffered by Mr. Haslam. Reading Sharon’s past reviews, I detect no “sarcasm” or “snarkiness,” as some others claim is evident. Yes, she mentions small things that she felt were not up to par, but no work of art is perfect, and I’d say a reviewer (more on this later) is obligated to point those things out.
    So, to twist your hypothetical restaurant example a bit, let’s say I do have the meal, I do go home and write about it and say, “the meal was great; I licked my plate clean. I’ll be heading back to this restaurant again, because the food is fantastic. The only thing I wasn’t getting was the vegetables on the side: they didn’t seem to go with the rest of the dish. But still, great food: be sure to go and visit!”
    To me, this seems innocuous enough, and very positive, but maybe others see it in a different light? Certainly, if ANY reviewer gave my theatre that sort of review (i.e. uniformly positive except for one negative comment) for five straight years, I’d be inclined to thank them, not erupt. Not to mention, did Mr. Haslam ever consider the reviewer might be on to something? Maybe the metaphorical vegetables DIDN’T go with the dish and it’s time to think about switching the preparation. The best reviews make one think, “aha!” because they give insight into some truth about the production that even the artists missed. Anyway, I’d be interested to hear what you think on this.
    Getting back to the “reviewer” aspect of things, another point of contention seems to be whether Sharon is, in fact, a “reviewer.” Not sure how one quantifies that (in fact, in my city, the theatre critic for the local paper started as a food critic: she has no theatrical background or training), but for my money: she has a blog on which she posts reviews of local theatre productions; she is therefore a reviewer (I can see how others might see it differently). As a reviewer, I feel she is obligated to review the play as she honestly perceived it (whether this is an “objective” or a “subjective” review is also open to debate…can there ever BE such thing as “objective” reviewing?). And if that means saying that actor A seemed to be having more fun than actor B, or that she didn’t understand the ending, or that actor A seemed miscast, I think that’s her right, but she shouldn’t be subjected to PERSONAL attacks, which is what I take issue with. If Liz (who I assume from these postings is the local “professional” reviewer) had written the exact same words as Sharon, would that be okay, because she is designated a “professional reviewer?” Would Mr. Haslam have felt justified in responding the same way to her (“icky friends” and all)? I know Sharon has said she isn’t “a reviewer,” and that she only writes a “personal blog,” but I disagree with her: she REGULARLY writes reviews in a public forum: she is ipso facto a reviewer.
    Anyway, thanks for your opinion and feel free to comment in return.

  125. Pingback: /diskursiv/
  126. wait a minute. you are free to blog publicly about this man’s art but you expect his comments to you be made in private?

  127. I’ve admired Jeff Haslam and his fellow Teatro actors for many, many years. My opinion of him hasn’t changed at all. I’ve no reasons to boycott his work or that of the company and I intend to keep being a loyal supporter.

  128. For the record, I am glad that Sharon writes about theatre and not just about food. Her reviews of Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre were incredibly useful to me in my academic work, and I quote her several times in my thesis. Please, Sharon, keep writing.

  129. I’ve really happy to hear that you guys got an apology from Jeff Haslam.

    I think it says a lot that he took the time to hand write and send it through the post as it takes more time and effort these days to do that. That’s why they say if you ever write to your member of Parliament about an issue that matters, hand written letters sent via regular post are counted more than emails.

    Glad you guys got a happy ending!

  130. And to think… all it took to prompt the apology was two weeks of unrelenting negative publicity across North America!

Leave a Reply to W Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s