American Theatre Critics Association Comments on Hedy Weiss Controversy, Fair Comment, Theaters' Rights & Diversity

American Theatre Critics Association Comments on Hedy Weiss Controversy, Fair Comment, Theaters' Rights & Diversity

As BroadwayWorld reported back in June, the Chicago theater community responded to a controversial review by Chicago Sun-Times theater and dance critic Hedy Weiss by creating a petition urging companies to stop inviting her to their productions.

In the petition, the group specifically charges Weiss with having consistently made inflammatory remarks in her reviews.

Now, the American Theatre Critics Association has released a statement on the situation and all that it implies for critics, theaters and their rights, diversity and more. Read it in full below:

"The American Theatre Critics Association has closely followed the controversy sparked by Hedy Weiss' review of Pass Over and referred members to articles about the controversy on its website.

"As the only nationwide organization of theater critics and journalists, we believe issues have been raised that go beyond this specific situation.

"The larger issues produced as intense an internal debate as many of us can recall, including:

* Critics' free speech and fair comment rights;

* each group's ultimate responsibilities to art, entertainment and the greater society;

* increasing diversity among our ranks in ATCA and the profession at large

* and finally, questions about whether critics of any gender identification, age or ethnicity can fairly evaluate work produced by another group.

"Predictably, opinions from our members cover a broad spectrum. The discussions have fueled our resolve to spend the next 12 months closely examining the last two issues.

"We have, however, reached some consensus.

"First, we unreservedly support all critics' right to offer any evaluation and analysis of a work of art, just as we have advocated publicly for precisely the same freedom of speech for artists. We recognize that almost any opinion is guaranteed to offend someone. At the same time, ATCA does not approve of intentionally incendiary comments for their own sake, disconnected from the job of criticism of theater. In fact, ATCA's membership approved an overhaul of our 20-year-old Code of Conduct at our annual meeting in June, which now includes this statement: 'Members must be sensitive to issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, diversity and underrepresented populations.'

"Second, we unreservedly support every theater's absolute right to distribute complimentary tickets applying any criteria it chooses. However, we do not support banning a critic who pays for a ticket to a production open to the general public, and theaters should be aware that this action may be considered a violation of First Amendment rights.

"Third, we recognize that every critic, like every artist, brings a set of life experiences to his or her work as well as a viewpoint informed by those experiences. We do, however, expect critics -- who are professional, rather than casual, audience members -- to meet their professional responsibilities and inform themselves about the issues presented onstage.

"Finally, this national conversation has made it clear that the time is long past when artists and critics must have open, frank, face-to-face dialogues about these larger issues, not ignoring but reaching beyond specific instances. ATCA plans to ramp up our efforts in this regard and we welcome participation from all quarters to expand and continue the conversation; and find solutions.

"Wm. F. Hirschman
Chairman, Executive Committee
American Theatre Critics Association"

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