When critics want to attend local theater houses, it's common for them to score a free ticket to the show. But when critic Mary Damiano contacted Rising Action Theatre for a ticket to an upcoming production of The Boys in the Band, she learned that she had been blackballed for what she has written in her reviews.
Rising Action's artistic director, David Goldyn, emailed Damiano to inform her that the theater's board had decided she would have to buy tickets. "We no longer want to offer you free tickets to get out your anger and frustation [sic] at our expense," Goldyn wrote. "You are welcome to purchase a ticket."
It's true: Damiano has occasionally berated Rising Action with uncommon zest. The gay-oriented theater, located at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, frequently earns scathing notices from South Florida's arts press, thanks to its famously uneven shows. But refusing tickets to a writer
sets a precedent that theaters can punish critics for negative reviews.
Goldyn declined to comment for this story. Damiano, who writes for the South Florida Theater Review website, says she has gone out of her way to do favors for the small theater, even writing two long stories in the past six months to promote upcoming productions. "If I wanted to kill the theater, I wouldn't have written two features in the last six months promoting their shows," she said.
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Damiano's harshest words in her review of Fit to Be Tied were far from the worst things ever written about Rising Action: "Unfortunately, David Goldyn, who directed this production, lacks the vision to guide his cast and mine the serious notes of Fit to Be Tied, neutering the emotional impact of Silver's play."
Damiano has reviewed theater with the Sun-Sentinel, Miami ArtZine, and South Florida Gay News. Bill Hirschman, cofounder of the 3-month-old South Florida Theater Review, said: "I don't think it's a good idea in any way, shape, or form. What this does is set a precedent -- if they can do this, then it means that theaters can effectively pick their critics."
Rather than send another critic in Damiano's place, Hirschman said it's possible the South Florida Theater Review will cease covering Rising Action at all. In an economic climate that has been especially cruel to arts organizations, no press may be the worst press of all.
UPDATE: Editor of the South Florida Theatre Review, Lawrence A. Johnson, has announced that the Review will continue covering Rising Action's productions, and that the critic sent to do so may very well be Mary Damiano. "South Florida Theatre Review will continue to review shows at Rising Action when they merit coverage," he wrote, "and, as editor, I will send any critic I choose, including Mary, whether we receive press passes or buy our own tickets."