Once again, the last Saturday in March has rolled around, and once again the Critical Eye is having a birthday.
Back in 1980, when I wrote the first Critical Eye, I promised that once a year we would dedicate a column to helping people in the community who would like to enlist the column for artistic purposes of their own, and at the same time, we would look at our coverage and see how it has progressed in the year past.
Every year, some readers tell me it's their favorite column of the year, and every year some people hold their heads in their hands and complain that they've heard all the practices and deadlines, over and over, and they don't see why I want to go over it all, yet again.
Robert W. Plyler
To the second group, let me say this: Every week, virtually without exception, I throw away news releases that people have sent me, in the hope of seeing them appear in the column. This is because they have arrived too late, so I have no way to get them into print, in time for people to attend the event being announced.
We exist to help people appreciate and celebrate the arts, and I don't think one column per year is too many, to help people get the publicity they need. If you already know our practices and deadlines, or if you don't care to know them, turn the page and next week, we'll be back discussing the arts, with a special focus on the local scene, but an occasional glimpse at how they're done elsewhere, for the purpose of evaluating what we're doing right in our community, and what we might be doing better.
Let's look at some of the things which might prevent individuals and organizations from getting the coverage they want:
Sometimes readers get what they asked for, but are dismayed that what they asked for was not what they wanted. Let me explain a few terms which are most often misused.
Nearly everything I write is either a review or a column. A review is what it's called when I attend a performance or an exhibition and write a short piece in which I describe who has done what, and my opinion of how well they did it. If an individual or an organization wants something reviewed, it is necessary to write to me, phone me or e-mail me and request that we review.
If you just write to me and tell me something is going to happen, I am likely to announce it, in print. You have to specifically ask for a review to get one. If your event will happen in Chautauqua County or nearby, we would probably announce it in the Events Calendar, which is printed on the back of the same sheet of paper on which this column is printed. The short announcements or ''Winks'' at the end of this column usually are about events outside this immediate area.
A review may appear anywhere in the paper. As soon as the event is over, I go immediately to the newsroom and write the review, and turn it in to the people who are working on building the next newspaper. Where it will appear in the newspaper, how soon it will appear in print, whether it has a photo with it, whether the photo is in black-and-white or color, and what the headline says are all issues beyond my control.
I am deeply impressed by how our staff takes the huge amount of information which flows into our offices and turns it into a newspaper, seven days per week, every week of the year. I don't always agree with their choices, but that's inevitable.
One evening I watched one of our young copy editors sitting in front of his computer screen, appearing perplexed. He told me there was enough information in his machine to publish five complete, different newspapers, and he had to put out just one. And, every single reader probably had a different opinion about what he had decided was important, what he had left out, etc.
The column is the large piece which appears every Saturday. You're reading a column right now. Unlike a review, it only appears in one place and on one day of the week. Because of the scheduling of the newspaper's presses, it must be written and submitted a full week in advance of its appearance in print.
If you contact me, wanting something to appear in the column, the soonest I can put it into print would be a week from the first Saturday, after we talk. Since there are only 52 columns per year, we get far more requests for columns than we are able to give. If I promise a column, I have to tell others who request that I can't help them. Summer columns are especially in demand, and requests come in months in advance. The same is true between Thanksgiving and approximately the second weekend of December. After that, however requests tend to fall off and I often have to scramble to fill those columns.
If you request a column about a coming performance or exhibit and you find that you have to cancel the event, or the performer refuses to do publicity interviews, or the like, please notify me immediately. I might be telling another group that they can't have the column, when they could.
If you don't want a review or a Saturday column, you can probably get more help from a reporter for the newspaper, instead of from me. I'm a columnist, not a reporter.
You can request a review anytime before the actual performance. I will attend your presentation and write it up, if I am not already promised somewhere else. If there are two or more events on the same evening, we review whichever event requests the review first.
Since there is no such thing as an utterly inflexible rule, there are a few exceptions. Some events, such as productions of plays, have multiple presentations. If we can review a single event on one day and the second day of a multi-presentation event on the following day, we will do that, even if the larger event requests earlier.
Also, we do give preference to Jamestown area events over events in Warren or Olean, for example.
Occasionally a review of mine is also printed in the OBSERVER. That is not my choice. If you wish that, especially if you are a Dunkirk-area presenter, you need to ask the OBSERVER to request the review from the Post-Journal. That is done completely independently of me.
If you want a column written about an individual or an organization, the sooner you request it, the more likely it is that you will get your wish. At any rate, I must have all the information which will go into the column, a full week before it will appear in print. That includes photographs, all interviews, all factual information, etc.
If at all possible, it is very helpful to have the information 10 days in advance. That gives me three days to do additional research, to find out the names of the people in the photographs, to seek an additional interview, etc. If something needs to come in a day or so later than the 10-day deadline, I can cope with that, but if I haven't received anything from you by 10 days before the publication date, I will almost certainly replace your column with something on a different subject.
I know that sometimes I give the impression that I don't consider books, films and recordings as important as columns about plays, concerts, etc. That truly isn't the case. It's just that books and recordings aren't as time sensitive. If you don't read a book this week, you could start reading it next week.
If you miss a play or a concert's dates, they're gone and can't be seen in the future.
SOME PERSONAL THOUGHTS
It is necessary that there be a certain space between the man who writes the column and the voice of the column itself. If I personally don't care for the sound of a clarinet, for example, I shouldn't automatically describe a performance on that instrument as a poor performance. I may dislike a performance and yet I should appreciate if it was well done.
Of course, if I don't like something or I disagree with it, it is more likely that I won't think it is well done, but that is inevitable.
I try to like what I see and hear, and I usually do. I can nearly always enjoy the attempt to do something good, even if it turns out not to be well done. All the same, if I had a bad headache, or if I had a flat tire on the way to a performance, or if someone backed into my car in the parking lot and now I have a lot of trouble and expense to deal with, that might influence my reaction to a work of art.
Readers have a responsibility as great as my own, to consider that someone's opinion isn't holy writ. If I didn't find something funny, you might do so, if you saw it. That doesn't make me wrong, it makes our opinions different.
There are always people who think the newspaper should say positive things about performances and exhibits, no matter how inspired or how successful they were. I strongly disagree.
One of the purposes of art - and of education, by the way - is to show us things from a different perspective than we might normally have. This makes us examine the standards by which we evaluate life, and either confirm or improve those standards. If we confirm our beliefs when they are wrong and need improving, we make the situation far worse.
The fact that an artist shows us an idea or that a critic writes about something, does not necessarily mean that the artist or the critic agrees personally with that thing. In ''Macbeth'' and ''Richard III,'' Shakespeare writes plays about soldiers who killed their kings and took the throne in their places. That doesn't make Shakespeare a revolutionary, and if someone reviews one of those plays, even if the review is very positive, it doesn't mean he thinks soldiers should murder and seize power.
We are presently in what will probably turn out to be the worst economic situation of my lifetime. Ironically, there is no more wealth than there was a few years ago, and no less. It's simply a matter that fewer people have any of that wealth.
It is necessary in a democratically-based society such as ours, that people will attempt to communicate their thoughts and beliefs on the situation through the arts. Other people will see those plays, books, TV shows, etc., and will react to them, either positively or negatively.
The result should be that we arrive at an understanding of how things are and whether or not they should be that way. People who hurl around ugly language at one another make that synthesis less likely.
One of the most frequent comments I get from readers is that my opinions are too frequently blunted or attempt to be too diplomatic. Those who feel I'm too negative will find that hard to believe, but it is true, all the same.
Some organizations get one negative review and never request another review. I always regret when that happens, not because I don't believe the thoughts in the negative review, but because a person or an organization which must be praised or it will hide, is already in deep trouble, when it comes to making art.
The arts are one of the most important things in the universe. They are people, trying to compare their own beliefs and thoughts and feelings, with other people's beliefs and thoughts and feelings. People in non-slave states, for example, had little understanding of how horrible it is to be a slave. A book such as ''Uncle Tom's Cabin'' opened thousands of eyes, leading Abraham Lincoln to call the author of that book ''The little lady who started this big war.''
Those people who don't appreciate the arts don't understand how crucial they are to our way or life, or even why they should exist. Those of us who know their value need to speak out, loudly, clearly, and often or in hard times, they could be crippled or even killed entirely.
That would be disastrous.
Among her contributions to the field has been a life-long career of teaching violin and stringed instruments in the Jamestown Public Schools, her founding and passionate support of the Chautauqua Youth Orchestra, her introduction of the Suzuki method of music instruction in our area, her leadership in a variety of community arts organizations, and much more.
Three cheers for a cultural hero.
Arlen's extensive body or work includes the score for the film ''The Wizard of Oz,'' including the classic song ''Somewhere, Over the Rainbow.''
Soloists with the orchestra will be pianist Kevin Cole and singer Sylvia McNair.
Tickets begin at $25 and may be purchased in person at the Kleinhans Music Hall box office or by phone at 885-5000, or by computer at www.bpo.org.
The BPO is one of 215 orchestras, throughout our nation, to participate in the Orchestras Feeding America program. Audience members for tonight's concert are strongly encouraged to bring non-perishable food items, to be donated to the Food Bank of Western New York.
The talk is free of charge. Light refreshments will be served.
The artist is a participant in the current exhibit which is now being shown in the gallery: ''Figure and Form.'' Gallery hours are 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays. Gallery hours on Fridays and Saturdays are 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibit will be shown through Apr. 3.
There is no admission charge to see the exhibit, which will continue through Apr. 15. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays, and 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays. There are no hours on weekends.
Works in the show include paintings, drawings, mixed media, graphic designs, linoleum prints, pottery, ceramic sculptures, bamboo baskets, Japanese calligraphy, sumi-e paintings, and a large mural, which was painted last summer.
Performances will take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m., beginning Apr. 2 and continuing through Apr. 19. There will be no performance on Easter Sunday, Apr. 12.
The company performs in the Manny Fried Theatre, on the third floor of the Great Arrow Building. That is located at 255 Great Arrow Ave., which is off Elmwood Ave., in the vicinity of the History Museum.
Performances will take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., except Apr. 19, when there will be no performance. Tickets are $25 for the general public, $20 for senior citizens, and $10 for students.
May 1, actor James Rebhorn will be present at the performance, and will participate in a discussion and a spring gala reception with the audience, following the play. Rebhorn has appeared in a number of Broadway shows, including ''The Man Who Had All the Luck.'' He has also appeared in films, including ''Independence Day,'' ''The Talented Mr. Ripley,'' ''Scent of a Woman,'' and ''Meet the Parents.''
Gala tickets which include the performance and the reception, cost $100. The company performs in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center, directly across Main St. from Shea's Performing Arts Center, in the Downtown Buffalo Theater District.
Tickets may be purchased by phone at (800) 745-3500, or through any Ticketmaster outlet.