You get a lot of questions when you have a theater critic gig. What gives you the right? Do you know anything? Did you get your credentials from a Caribbean diploma mill? And must you sit there taking notes when I'm trying to deliver the most important soliloquy in this fucking play?
Actually, you don't. Not here, at least to your face. Yes, Minnesota has a well-earned reputation for tact, or politeness, or whatever you want to call it. But there's something more crucial at work here—a remarkable sense of community (yes, an overused word, but try to find a stronger synonym), a genuine feeling that we're all in this together, critics and artists and audiences. It's what makes theater in the Twin Cities so distinctive and entirely unique.
I came to this job entirely by accident. I've worked as a writer my entire adult life, and sometime in 2004 I was approached by City Pages to write an article or two about live theater shows. I was doing an editor a favor, keeping a seat warm until someone permanent could be found. I had other griddles on the stovetop, although picking up a couple of paychecks along the way wasn't an entirely unwelcome proposition.
Little did I know. The truth is, the job infected me. At first, this local scene seemed vast and tantalizing, full of a range of companies and artists that appeared infinite. With time, that galaxy turned finite, although more vivid—when the years went by, it became a question of what individuals would do next, familiar faces turned unfamiliar again, a blur of churning, constant creativity that felt like a runaway train with my fingers firmly, tightly, sometimes painfully, holding fast.
There's little way to describe it, unless you've been there, that high-wire rush of driving to opening night, taking your seat, and knowing that you have a venue for your impressions of what you're about to see. It has always felt like a vast responsibility, knowing how much work went into what you're about to see, knowing that your thoughts will be read and considered, hoping you can do justice to all the effort and soul that went into the production—even if it left you cold.
And here's where I reveal a trade secret: If I wrote something negative about your work, it took something out of me. That was a review about which I agonized, searching my impressions and my knowledge for the words to explain where I thought you went wrong. And, always, I hoped you understood that my thumbs-down viewpoint was based on respect and even affection for the results you were hoping to achieve.
Like I said earlier, in this town it feels like we're all in this together. We're trying to figure out the brief drama that constitutes our lives, to put it all into some kind of context, to tell a story that lasts. The struggle never ends, and why should it?
So I'm moving on to another job, and I couldn't be more excited about it. But before I sign off for good in this space, I should mention how profoundly grateful I have always been for City Pages' absolute willingness to let me do my own thing, and this paper's confidence that what I have to say is relevant (what a gift).
City Pages endures because it lends a forum to voices. I've been a beneficiary of this for years now. Don't discount this fact, and keep reading this paper for whoever emerges with their opinions and takes on the theater scene. I'm wildly optimistic that someone will come in here and make you forget about me. And thanks for reading me until now.
Finally, I have to be self-indulgent. Those of you in the theater world: Thank you for your respect, conversations, and interaction. We'll stay in touch. As for the people in the City Pages staff: You have my love and unconditional best wishes. The only thing about moving on that catches in my throat is the realization that I won't see you every week. May the road rise with you.