Thursday, September 2, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Jeff Haslam vs. The Social Media World*

Not to beat a dead horse back to life, but the recent Jeff Haslam versus The Social Media World is still running through my mind. For those who stayed out of the fray, here's a brief summary: Sharon Yeo has a blog, Only Here For The Food. Writing down her thoughts about various events in Edmonton, from festivals and social mixers to attending live theatre, Yeo updates her blog steadily with descriptions and opinions about things she liked and didn't like about what she ate, and what she experienced. The entries are immediate and unprocessed, but they are regular and consistent in tone and voice. They don't say all that much, and yet, her writing has raised the ire of local theatre actor Jeff Haslam.

Apparently, Yeo's writing has been a throbbing thorn in Haslam's side for some time, resulting in an outburst where he publicly called her "snotty," "arrogant," "weird" and "a pretentious doof." By publicly, I mean he left a comment on her blog, directly below her last review of a Teatro la Quindicina production, where Haslam serves as artistic director, besides acting and sitting on the board.

During the Fringe of all times, the story of Haslam's outburst exploded into a series of tangents ranging from the impact of social media to last weekend's story in The Globe and Mail that skinned Haslam alive for coming across as ungrateful and arrogant, and framed the incident as the perfect example of what not to do with bad press.

Only, what Yeo wrote can barely be considered as press, let alone bad press. Yeo is keeping an online journal of her experiences and memories, which includes going to the theatre, for all who care to read along. It's a public journal, but it's still in the format of a journal, which means she's writing mostly for herself.

The fallout of Haslam's poorly timed outburst is that there's now a lot of negative press—although he's apparently now sent a hand-written apology to Yeo—but the irritating thing is that it's now directed at Haslam. If anything should be closely examined here, it should be the shows themselves.

Calling Haslam arrogant and rude is true enough, but will it make the theatre shows any better? Certainly his attitude in asking Yeo to take her business elsewhere is not going to improve the quality of the shows either, but this is the part in the whole story that worries me the most.

There's an unspoken rule in the print world that you never run a bad review on a first-impressions basis. If there is something inherently negative that needs to be said, it needs to be reinforced by more than one experience, which gives the story and writer some ethical credibility. In an age of online and self-publishing, instantaneity has been given more privilege than accuracy. That is an easy dismissal, and Yeo's writing does not offer much in terms of depth or insight. However, she has been a regular theatregoer for close to 10 years, and Teatro is one of her regular haunts. If a devoted regular is saying something that's hitting a nerve, there's probably something to it.

*First published in Vue Weekly

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