Peter Marks, Have You Ever Been to Toby’s?

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During a recent Twitter exchange, Washington Post Theatre Critic Peter Marks (@petermarksdrama) commented: "You cannot credibly make claim to being America's no. 2 theater town if most nommed musical comes from dinner theater."

Both points are erroneous but for now, only the latter requires response.

I don’t understand why a journalist of such note and diverse extensive theatre going history would foster an opinion that basically dictates where art grows? How could anyone blindly say that because any theatre’s work occurs in a type of building or environment, that they are not creative and accomplished artists? That assertion forfeits the notion that art — and theatre in particular — is for everyone. For anyone to say that artists should not be recognized because they choose to do their art in a certain environment is elitist.

By now, haven’t we all discovered that great theatre can flourish in large buildings and small church basements? So, why can it not exist where a meal is provided in the same venue — as opposed to somewhere nearby — before the show? This is not a matter of professionalism. This is a matter of geography.

We would defy anyone to say that location, compensation, or affiliation defines art. Art is created in the human spirit, created by human beings to tell stories of the human condition. People will often create art in spite of the circumstances, not because of it. So, to label a class of artists and accordingly deny them acknowledgement for their fine work ghettoizes the theatre and diminishes us all.

By acknowledging and celebrating artistic diversity, we become a stronger creative community. We should all salute the artists that succeed. We should all salute the artists who fall short. We should all salute everyone who comes to the table with an open heart and a desire to create theatre as a transformative art that matters.

That is the sole purpose of the Helen Hayes Awards: to celebrate collective creativity and individual outstanding achievement. We uplift that community, strengthen it, give it more substance, more bounce — and more audiences.

Two million audience members attend Washington theatre annually — and there are two million opinions about the nominations and awards. We welcome them all (but please, my email is already backed up) because the resulting conversations generate an energy that is a critical element in the alchemy of theatre making and theatre going. So why are those who produce in a dinner theatre not creating art and those who attend a dinner theatre not worthy of being transformed?

By the way, Mr. Marks, before making your diminishing remark, did you actually see The Color Purple and have you ever attended any production at Toby’s Dinner Theatre?

Note: Dinner theatre has a long history, in the Washington area and nationally as a professional environment where new talent is developed, where accomplished actors (Eleasha Gamble, Felicia Curry, Bobby Smith, Channez McQuay, Alan Wiggins, and Jake Odmark are but a few who have graced the stage at Toby’s), directors, and designers thrive, and where new theatre audiences are born and grow.

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Comments

 

02/20/2013 05:35pm
  Noms

I look forward to attending the Helen Hayes, and having my drink topped off by all the Toby's noms, as they head to the stage.

 

02/20/2013 12:44pm
  I have a proposal

If Toby chooses to invite Peter to one of her productions, I'll personally tip his waitress. Judging from his comments, I'd be concerned he'd be unable to find his wallet with his head lodged in his posterior. Where does this attitude come from? Is it a misguided attempt to make something as easy as enjoying what was a fantastic production look as hard as possible?

 

02/15/2013 06:49pm
  Dinner theater receiving Helen's nod

As a former judge for Helen I wanted to add that by the rules and training of the awards where we see a play is irrelevant. Each performance or contribution had to be evaluated on its own for its own worth. Assuming that the judges followed this stipulation (and I know from my experience that it's well drilled into every judge) then if a dinner theater won the most nominations then they must have done an amazing job.

 

02/15/2013 06:40pm
  The artists are most often better than you average Pro

Let's face it performing in dinner theater spaces isn't the best place to work. Half the audience may be drinking or just not even paying attention. The performance space is not a Broadway stage and the overall acoustics are difficult. But as an audience member you have to face facts: If you are seeing a great dance routine on the concrete floor that earlier had a buffet cart on it; Or you see a set that still makes you feel like it's a ship even though its squeezed around terraced tables; or you're moved by the intimate moment that occurs shortly after the performer filled your intermission coffee, you are witnessing art done well by incredibly talented people.

 

02/15/2013 06:40pm
  I personally saw THE COLOR

I personally saw THE COLOR PURPLE on its production tour at the cavernous Wang Theatre in Boston and at the intimate setting at Toby's. Toby's production had just as much spirit (and even talent in some of the roles, amazing considering the difference in experience). Also, we were able to take our senior citizen friends who only have enough energy/disposable cash to venture to one venue for dining and/or entertainment. They loved it, especially considering it was a cultural revelation for them. Bravo to Toby's on not just a fine production, but a brave choice for a dinner theatre that is deserved of the accolades.

 

02/15/2013 06:40pm
  I personally saw THE COLOR

I personally saw THE COLOR PURPLE on its production tour at the cavernous Wang Theatre in Boston and at the intimate setting at Toby's. Toby's production had just as much spirit (and even talent in some of the roles, amazing considering the difference in experience). Also, we were able to take our senior citizen friends who only have enough energy/disposable cash to venture to one venue for dining and/or entertainment. They loved it, especially considering it was a cultural revelation for them. Bravo to Toby's on not just a fine production, but a brave choice for a dinner theatre that is deserved of the accolades.

 

02/15/2013 06:40pm
  A) Thanks B) Peter Marks' first response

A) Thanks.

B)Peter Marks' response on twitter-"No, Ms. Grossman, never been to Toby's Dinner Theatre. I tend not to go to theaters where one tips the actors." (Followed by a link to this page.

He has not yet made a statement as to why he thinks he can comment on the quality of a venue when he hasn't been there.

-Andrew Horn

 

02/15/2013 06:39pm
  Wash Post Should Broaden its Theatrical Coverage

Thanks for this good article. I've long felt the Post should review community theater productions as well, especially if the plays are by local and living playwrights. It's snobbishness that keeps the Post limited to NY-, London-, and cemetery-based works. Support locally-grown plays!

 

02/15/2013 06:39pm
  Toby's

And Tony nominee Megan Lawrence. I've been going to Toby's for 30 years and some of best theater experiences happened there - and that includes Broadway, national tours and major regional theater.

 

02/15/2013 06:39pm
  Thank you

Thank you for this lovely response to Mr. Marks' unfortunate comment. As a performer for many years at Toby's, i'm certainly aware how "dinner theater" is viewed by some in the theater community- so it's nice to see the basic idea that good theater is not about where it's done, or what happens before the performance, but about the work.

Unfortunately, Mr. Marks' only response, so far, is that he doesn't attend theater where you're expected to tip the actors- a glib, if not helpful, response. The fact is that if he doesn't wish to attend dinner theater, and even if he wishes to discourage others from attending it, because he feels it is somehow morally or artistically WRONG, that is his right. However, he has NO right to act like he knows what the quality of performances at ANY theater are like when he has never attended one. And his tweet definitely suggests that he somehow magically knows the THE COLOR PURPLE could not have been really good, without having seen it.

Look, even those of us who work in "chew 'n' view" make fun of it- but we're also damn proud of shows we've done. I've played the Beadle in SWEENEY, Grandfather in RAGTIME, Roscoe in FOLLIES, and Mr. in SUNDAY IN THE PARK- and I am happy to put those productions against any put on by any other theater in the country. Not to mention Titanic (HHA winner for Chris Yousta's musical direction) and Jekyll & Hyde(HHA winner for Toby Orenstein's direction)which I had the privilege of appearing in.

It's unfortunate that Mr. Marks (and some other major names in Washington-area theater) can't get past their prejudices. (And that's all this is- even Mr. Marks referred to it a s a flaw in his character- but one, apparently, he has no plan to try to fix.)

 

02/15/2013 06:39pm
  Toby's and Peter Marks

You can't credibly claim to be a theater critic if you dismiss the quality of acting because of the size or location of the stage. The comment was also a snarky backhand insult to area theatergoers. Peter Marks needs to step down or be dismissed from his position with the Washington Post.

 

02/15/2013 06:38pm
  response from Edward Daniels

Great and thoughtful response, Linda! However, it baffles me why, first and foremost, theatre professionals put so much faith and dependence in the hands of critics. Honestly, I could care less what Peter Marks thinks. It is unfortunate that ONE person, whose thoughts happen to be broadcast on the front page of the arts section of a newspaper, or in a radio segment, or the evening news, shapes the opinions of the numerous patrons that attend our performances. This applies, at least, to those who actually base their ticket purchase on the opinion of a critic.

When I first entered this market as an actor, ten years ago, I couldn't wait to get ahold of reviews as soon as they were made available. Thankfully, most of mine were favorable and I couldn't wait to add them to my personal marketing kits. I sit and smile, ten years later, when I realize that there are critics here who often write favorable reviews because, hm, get this, they have personal interest in the leads they are reviewing; OR they are more concerned with their unique writing style in hopes that it will garner an even larger online following. There are also theatre media sources who write reviews that are 99% positive because, who would have thought, you advertise on their website. Go figure!

You know what I've learned when it comes to selling shows in DC and getting honest feedback from viewers of those shows? Ask the audience! While working on and researching "Mauritius" at 1st Stage, I came across a number of theatre companies in NYC who marketed their shows with live video footage of audience members' responses as they left the theatre. Who knew that a good indicator of popular opinion would come from a cross-section of fifty patrons in the lobby saying either "that was great" or "hm, not so much"?

While I respect, somewhat, the experience of a critic, I can't help but think that there is a reason why they've become a theatre critic. As a performer and producer, after a production, I want to hear from the majority of my audience, especially those who are not trained theatre professionals, are not being published weekly, and are watching the craft with a laymen's eye, to offer feedback on what they've just witnessed.

Unfortunately, as entertainment professionals, the more power and preference in our marketing that we give to critics, the more dumb comments such as Peter's we'll have to endure!

 

02/06/2013 10:05pm
  Tracie Thoms

Tracie Thoms

 

02/06/2013 08:37pm
  Forgot one!

How about Caroline Bowman?

 

02/06/2013 05:18pm
  Who is Jennie Lutz?

Who is Jennie Lutz?

 

02/06/2013 04:25pm
  toby's

Yes, and Jennie Lutz