Brooke Kushwaha ’20: So, we recently have come under fire for how we handle our theater reviews, which is interesting because, as someone who’s been under fire for theater reviews in the past, it’s almost never because we’re too measured with our opinions.
Henry Spiro ’19: Yeah, it’s strange…. It’s always been a challenge for me to review Wesleyan shows because it’s like, ‘Oh, I might know some of those people, but I also have a lot of opinions on them,’ and I’m not sure if I only wanna say nice things or if I wanna say entirely how I feel.
BK: I’ve never let that stop me…. I think for me, I did a lot of journalism in high school, and it was a very different environment where you had to write something nice no matter what, like, no matter what you thought of it, you had to basically be propaganda for the school that I went to because they very much saw themselves as a reputation-oriented institution. It was freeing to come to Wesleyan and be aware that you could insult something, or just speak honestly about it, without dealing with the repercussions of the administration…. It just felt like a huge freedom to me to just pan something or speak negatively about anything.
HS: I mean, in high school I didn’t do journalism, but I did do a lot of theater, so I can understand if you’re a performer and you’re not a professional but you’re putting a lot of work into this, that it can be kind of hard to read someone say, ‘Your performance wasn’t good, your production wasn’t good.’ But at the same time, yeah, it is kind of unreasonable to say we have to be nice to you. I think the purpose of criticism isn’t just to be critical of people but to have open and honest discussions about art, whatever that art may be.
BK: One thing I’ve noticed is that no one ever cares when I write a good review, ’cause I have done that…. Sometimes I even had a review where everyone who worked on it was upset, very vocally upset, and I stood by my firm opinion that they wasted my time.
HS: I think that’s the right thing to do.
BK: But then I’ve had other situations where I have not had members of the crew approach me at all, but it’s had repercussions of people kind of…just piling on and becoming mean spirited. And I realized it’s one thing to be kind of self-serving and indulgent and another thing to be constructive.
HS: There’s always an impulse when you see something you don’t like to just really go off and come up with your most creative and intense insults and just go with those. I usually do that when I review movies.
BK: I mean those people are making millions of dollars anyways.
HS: Yeah. I don’t really feel too bad if I hurt their feelings. If it’s someone you know, or someone you know’s friends, maybe then you wanna be more cautious but you don’t wanna be dishonest.
BK: That was something I realized shortly after I was writing theater reviews…. I never felt unqualified to write about those things, but I did feel like I was missing a perspective, how much work goes into those productions. And so I did put up my own production, and I now know it, and I feel like that gives me immunity now. I’ve been there, and also my show was reviewed by The Argus, and I put myself in that position, and it’s a very vulnerable position, and I now respect that position a lot more.
HS: At the end of the day it comes down to when you see a show, how do you feel about it. It’s not right to lie about that just to console someone.
BK: So, Henry, you actually recently wrote a very in-depth, thoughtful review of “Endgame” without mentioning any spoilers (because I asked you not to spoil it for me). It was actually so insightful, and it was kind of amazing. We’ve been criticized in the past of being very summary-heavy in our reviews, and you had zero summary. Honestly, it was a very nice review, and I was very impressed by that feat. I think you rose to the challenge.
HS: Thank you very much! Yeah, it was a weird to write, ’cause even the first twenty minutes of the film has stuff that wasn’t in the trailers at all. So I kind of just had to write my broadest, most general feelings on the movie. It was a challenge to approach that.
BK: Well, this will be your 100th article, and a lot of those articles have been reviews. How do you feel coming out of it?
HS: I’m actually gonna miss having a space to write reviews. I didn’t think I was gonna say this a while back, but now that I am actually confronted with graduation, I think I’m gonna need to have a movie review blog.
BK: Do you have a Letterboxd?
HS: I did, but I deleted it because of disinterest. I think I’m gonna have to bring it back.
BK: You heard it here first folks! Follow Henry’s Letterboxd!
Brooke Kushwaha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.