Reviews, reviewers, and different markets.
It was remarked by a very polite Anonymous (a rare thing) on the subject of negative reviews in Richmond versus New York that "Reviews in the big markets are written by experienced theater critics who have the guts to tell the truth, and not sugar-coat everything."
So is the argument here that experienced critics have a better eye for crap? Or that they have earned the right to call plays "awful," "garbage," or "tripe," or to say that an actor "has no business working as a professional actor" or some such? I'm sorry, but I believe you can be critical of a play, even savage a production, while avoiding language that functions primarily as character attack. You can even do that on a blog. Even anonymously. To my mind, exceptional writers use descriptive language, not simplistic value judgments.
I've read reviews by both knowledgeable and ignorant critics that used nasty, deliberately insulting language. I read it far far far more when I lived in New York and DC than in Richmond or Albany. There are, I'm sure, many reasons for that, but I suspect the fact that artists in Richmond routinely run into critics in Ukrop's has something to do with it. Much like posting anonymously gives some people the freedom to be insulting, writing in a huge city does the same.
This isn't New York. It never will be. There's much less of the "artists waiting for a big break" here; enough persistence and finding the right niche can get you some fairly regular work here. Bad reviews won't force you out of town. Many of the artists in town are lifers. And there are only a half-dozen reviewers in the Circle. How foolish and impolitic would it be for them to use insulting language in reviews? Good luck getting an interview with one of the insulted actor's friends, which is pretty much 90% of the rest of the theatrical community. Honestly, we don't need the reviewers the way they need us.
I'm not going to find fault with a community of reviewers who chose to approach their craft with an eye partly toward building up the arts community in a town that needs building. Especially since there are plenty of voices, many (not all) anonymous, WITHIN the theatre community who have no problem tearing it down in the name of "honesty," an "honesty" that is sometimes embittered by not getting a part they wanted.
And if you think the local critics "sugar-coat everything," you must have only been in a lot of really exceptional shows. I've gotten plenty of tepid reviews in this town. I've read between the lines and knew what they meant. They were mostly right; examples of shows where my idea didn't work the way I'd envisioned or where my work just wasn't at as high a level as the role and company demanded. None of it changed the way I viewed my craft. Never have I gotten a bad review of work that I thought was flawless. I don't do theatre for reviewers. I don't take notes from them and I don't let them influence my artistic choices. I use them as a barometer for some things and I rely on them for promotional materials. And they provide a starting point for discussing the craft of theatre, which I love to do. Also, I've met many of them and they are nice people.
How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb? 100: 1 to do it and 99 to blog anonymously about how they could have done it better.