Letter to Chicago Tribune Editorial Board re: Hedy Weiss and Pass Over Controversy

From Amy Munice, Picture this Post Founder and Editor: Following, you will find an expanded response to the recent Chicago Tribune Editorial Hey, Steppenwolf: Critics gonna critiquefrom my pen. The editorial board of the Trib did not publish this—perhaps because it is not their mission to promote the blogosphere.

As an editor leading an effort to define a "picture this" descriptive cultural journalism genre, the controversy over Hedy Weiss' review of Pass Over seems inevitable. Without editorial standards that insist upon what we might call the "IMHO" edit -- differentiating between a personal response and a broader judgment -- you are likely to excite readers' "sez who?" reflex. 

My "sez who?" reflex quickly asks: Why should Pass Over or any play be required to create a '"fair and balanced" view of a topic? Are we going to tell William Shakespeare to tone down the misogyny in some of his plays?  Do we tell Tennessee Williams to cool it with working class stereotypes? When the Lookingglass Theatre presented Beyond Caring earlier this year did they fail to meet the requirement of describing the workplace from the factory owner’s perspective? Or, to burlesque further, should we admonish American Blues Theater to NEVER mount their perennial It’s a Wonderful Life in deference to all those not having such a great life these days? It’s not because so many of these plays are “classics” that they deserve a green light on the playwright clearly speaking for a point of view, rather than trying to deliver a comprehensive exposition on a topic.

Weiss’ critique seems like a selective critique of Pass Over – an altogether provocative and poignant point-of-view exploration of the timely topic of Black Lives Matter -- to achieve some imagined standard to which the arts are not, nor should be, held.

 

Steppenwolf Theatre PASS OVER
Promotional photo for Steppenwolf's production of Steppenwolf by playwright Antoinette Nwandu Photo: Saverio Truglia

Here is a video of the playwright explaining her inspiration for Pass Over--

 But run Hedy Weiss out of town?

Here is an alternative view—Weiss has some Grand Canyon-sized deficits, as this writer does and we all do, in her world view. The particular shortcomings she evidences, by my lights, are indeed race-bound and telegraph a tragic lack of self-reflection on where her racial biases originate. If she were writing for a publication and in a journalistic genre that nudged her to identify for her readers how her reactions come from her life experiences it might go down a bit easier on readers who are coming from a very, very different place. But that’s not old school journalism.

How interesting to this editor that the Chicago Tribune editorial posits, “Her job is to help readers understand theater and decide which plays to see.” This is telling. In old style journalism, where pale beige tones- as some early practitioners of new journalism called it—presume to define objectivity, it makes any gap between author and reader somewhat oppressive for the reader whose life experience is far, far afield from the author.

This isn’t a matter of alternative facts—it’s a matter of alternative opinions.

In our zine, Picture This… has multiple meanings. Yes, we are chock full of photos. But also, our goal is to write descriptively and vividly so that the reader can make up their own mind on whether they would like a play or any X production. Although most of our theater reviewers are theater people—playwrights, directors, actors or wannabes in all these categories—we don’t aim to teach you what to like. We figure you are pretty darn busy and just want to find some good tips on where to spend you time.

As we say on our front page—

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Come to these picture-rich pages for a quick gander. When a picture snags you, please linger for a while to give these pages a slow chew and a long drink of water.

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