There's been plenty of discussion over our posting of an anonymous email by someone named B.I.T.T.E.R. (Begging: Investigate Toronto Theatre, Encourage Reform), who had a few intriguing things to say about Toronto's independent theatre scene.
Here's my two cents on some of the more controversial B.I.T.T.E.R. bits:
• The writer's anonymity: Some people have shouted "coward!"
Fair enough. But I understood B.I.T.T.E.R.'s concern about a name possibly affecting a career. Would people just Google, see what they'd done and then judge ("Oh yeah, that was a lousy show")? Would they and their work get unbiased consideration next time? Would future collaborators hold this against them? I felt the email contained enough interesting points to open up a debate. And judging from the response, pro and con, that's what's happened. As someone else suggested, without a name, you concentrate on the issue, not the person.
• The idea that the summer festivals (SummerWorks, Fringe) are "well-guarded theatre opportunities": B.I.T.T.E.R.'s claims that SummerWorks and the Fringe are essentially the domain of the buddies of the artistic directors or "a small group of insiders" is simply ludicrous.
What's upsetting is how, at least online, some people have agreed with them.
In a response to the post, SummerWorks's artistic director, Michael Rubenfeld, has already clearly, and eloquently, stated how the festival chooses its works. And as someone who's covered that festival for at least 15 years, I must say that the quality of work there is higher than it's ever been, mostly because of the juried, curatorial aspect.
The statements about the Fringe are equally ridiculous. First of all, the festival is chosen by lottery - hence, unknown artists emerge from there all the time. That's one of the joys of this job: discovering and following new talent.
Whether the festival is beneficial only to "the already successful and the gimmicky" is up for debate. Gimmicks fall flat if they're not good. And "success" is relative. Take a look at last year's Fringe breakout hit, Kim's Convenience. Its author, Ins Choi, had had some success as an actor, but this was his first script.
Granted, critics and audiences often make some of their Fringe choices based on artists whose work they know and like - you can't see everything, after all. But the great thing about the festival is discovering new work. Word spreads quickly if something's good - and it's even more exciting when you haven't heard of an artist or company before.
And finally, what kind of "insiders" are we talking about? Invitation to the Best Of Fringe is based on how well shows do and what productions are available to travel up to the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
And winter's Next Stage Festival is chosen by an impartial, unpaid jury of theatre professionals. The jury of last year's festival is a matter of public record, and no one's spouse or producing partner got a slot (or has ever been given a slot).
The suggestion that "Beer Tent friends" would be selected to be in one of these festivals is wrong, insulting and demeans the achievements of the shows that make the cut.
B.I.T.T.E.R.'s parenthetical statement that I "know many of the same examples of this phenomenon" is simply incorrect. I don't.
As to B.I.T.T.E.R.'s statement that there is no avenue to talk with these organizations, I simply can't see that happening. The people who run SummerWorks and the Fringe, by nature, are open to accepting new work, provided it's good. After all, they're always looking for new voices, new works.
• The claim that "writers and editors choose their friends and collaborators for coverage and put undo pressure on managing editors and editors-in-chief to feature these pieces": Really? This is new to me. But if there's a perception of this out there, I'm glad you brought it up.
• The request to, "in your future reporting, and at your next editorial meeting, please consider the value these column inches might have to a truly exceptional artist yet to be discovered": Of course. We do it all the time.