I hope you don't have to delay reading today's column, because if you do, you won't get to it until next year.
It's the last column of the year, on the last day of this calendar year, and that is always time to look both back and forward: Back on the 96 pieces which we have sent to print in The Post-Journal - not as many in the OBSERVER, I fear - and forward on what the future might hold for the arts in our area of the world.
Quite a few of those pieces represent multiple reviews - as many as seven in some cases, meaning that we have attended and written about close to 200 performances, presentations, and exhibits in 2011.
Unlike much in the news areas of our publications, the arts are more open to interpretation and to re-interpretation. If you go back to the birth records in 19th century England, there is a good chance you'll never find a birth registry welcoming one Ebenezer Scrooge, for example. But Mr. Scrooge has probably won more hearts to a kinder and more humane view of the world, even if he can't be quantified and qualified, than have many other humans whose birth records are beyond reproach. The arts matter.
One of the best things about writing this column is the large number of readers who are kind enough to share their views with me, on things about which we have written. Well over 90 percent of those communications are intelligent and kind and at least educational, if not overwhelmingly positive. I don't know all there is to know about the arts, although after more than 30 years of attending roughly 200 performances per year, I feel reasonably well educated on the subject.
Obviously the contacts from readers which attract my attention the most strongly are those which are so completely incorrect as to make me wonder why someone would write to a columnist whose writing one hasn't read carefully. One person wrote twice, the first time wondering why, since more than half of my reviews are written about Canadian performances, I don't write for a Canadian publication.
The second time, she wondered why, since I write more often about Buffalo than about Chautauqua County events, I don't publish my writings in Buffalo.
One of the great things about these self-examination pieces - which tend to be written around New Year's; on the column's anniversary, which is in the last week of March; and at the end of the summer, when we try to focus on summer coverage - is that it's possible to examine the truth of these occasional accusations, and explain it out in numbers.
I'm sitting here with all the writings from 2011 spread around me. I see that four of the 96 pieces deal substantially with events in Canada. There's one review of the 2011 season at the Shaw Festival, one of the 2011 season at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one about last February's productions by the Canadian Opera Company, and one which deals with how to get performances schedules, how to reserve tickets, and similar information about Canadian summer festivals, including the two I just named, plus the ones at Luminato, in Toronto, at Guelph, which performs newly written Canadian plays, and the like.
It is true that there are 14 performances reviewed in those four pieces, and I do occasionally write a ''Wink'' about what will be available to be seen and done in Canada, but it makes up only a tiny fraction of our writing.
I used to try to write about the arts in New York City an average of three times per year, with approximately the same reasoning with which our sports department writes about the World Series and the Super Bowl, even though they take place outside our area. Local people ought to be interested in things outside our area, as well as inside. In 2011, with the cost of Manhattan hotels soaring and the transportation industry making travel less and less comfortable, I got there only once, and wrote a single piece about it.
As for Buffalo, I count six pieces which are mostly about Buffalo. Again, that hardly is half of our publication. The pieces are about ''The Turn of the Screw'' at the Irish Classical Theatre Company, ''Young Frankenstein'' at Shea's, ''Shrek: the Musical'' and ''Wicked'' at Shea's, ''Lillian'' at the Jewish Repertory Theatre, and ''Much Ado About Nothing,'' at Shakespeare in Delaware Park.
Everything else is about things taking place in Chautauqua County, or books and films which can be enjoyed without leaving home. Let's examine the rest of 2011's writing:
BOOKS AND FILMS
I tend to write about books and films in one of three circumstances: either I haven't found anything local to write about in the past week, someone has asked me to save a particular date's column to cover a particular subject, and then for some reason doesn't come forward with the information to write about before the column's deadline, or I've had some element of my personal life which has made it impossible to do interviews and research on a local column.
Illnesses, funerals, accidents and other emergencies take place in everyone's life, and when they do, we have always managed to write a column. Only one week has passed without a ''Critical Eye'' since late March 1980, and that was because the newspaper was doing a feature about life in this area in the 19th Century, and the editor in charge of that issue decided that there weren't any arts back then, so the column must be omitted.
Usually, when I need to be out of town and a deadline is approaching, I can always write about books that I've read or films that I've seen. And, before anyone becomes angry that I disrespect authors or filmmakers, I hasten to say that our editors have available a wide selection of writings about films and books from the wire services, so I try to focus on elements of the arts which are more underserved. It is NOT true that I consider writing or filmmaking less important than acting or singing, or whatever.
Sometimes, as with James Goertel's collection of short stories, or Helen Ebersole's book about Robert H. Jackson, or Paul Leone's novel about early Busti, a book or film or television column is also a local feature. And, of course, you can buy the books or see the films on DVD, if not in a theater, right here in the area, making them all, to some degree, local features.
Columns such as this one must seem perplexing to readers of the Observer. The Dunkirk newspaper has not printed 96 pieces of my writing in the past year. That publication uses my writing on a schedule of their own devising, and I'm never sure whether something I've written has appeared there or not.
Approximately speaking, they print the columns on Saturdays, but they usually don't print the reviews. North County readers have told me that the Winks at the end of the column aren't always used - I have to take their word for that.
This year, we published four pieces about the northern part of the county. The 1891 Fredonia Opera House requested our presence at the performance in March about the life of Margaret Fuller. They requested reviews of the three ''Bach and Beyond'' concerts, but sadly, I was out of town for the first time in the history of that festival, and wrote only one feature in advance of the concerts.
Finally, they requested that I cover the beginning of their showings of the high-definition broadcasts from the State of New York City's Metropolitan Opera Company - certainly big news, worthy of major coverage.
The fourth column from ''up north'' was recent: the review of the concert by the Fredonia State Symphony Orchestra with Kennedy Honors Winner Yo-Yo Ma.
I will also confess to a failing of mine which happened during the fairly lengthy series of deaths which took place in my family, this past autumn. A young artist who was displaying her art work at the new Cathy and Jesse Marion Art Gallery on the State University College Campus requested a review. Sadly, her request fell among the more than 500 emails which arrived during my stepmother's funeral, and while I tried my best to deal with as many of them as I could, when I returned home, I did not get to Fredonia before her exhibition ended.
I am not a participant in the North County versus South County quarrels, and I actively dislike being accused of it. If a performance or an exhibition in the North County conflicts with something which happens in the Jamestown area, I feel that I write for Jamestown's newspaper, and therefore that Jamestown events deserve first consideration.
But, that doesn't mean that I avoid North County events. If we are invited to them, we bend every effort to go. The events we covered this year were the only ones which we were invited to cover, other than that one visual art exhibit.
And, going a bit farther to the south, we have not been invited to cover a single event in Warren in the past year, so, of course, we haven't done so. We got our first request to review performances in Olean, in several years, and were happy to do so. We reviewed the Russian Ballet at Pitt-Bradford, which was an excellent experience.
I am the first to admit that I am not a visual artist. I have taken two, very good art-appreciation courses, and I have had reasonable success in describing art exhibitions, but I do not have the confidence with which I approach plays or concerts.
We reviewed three visual exhibits this past year: There were two on display at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, and one in the Octagon Gallery at Westfield's Patterson Library.
Showings of paintings by Gloria Plevin, and a joint show by Len Rusin and Dan Meyer were my two reviews at the beautiful RTPI. I like nature art very much, although I find symbolist art easier to describe in words. These three artists and their uses of materials and other artistic elements were a pleasure to view, and I always love to go to the beautiful, beautiful building which houses the RTPI.
Jonathan Craig Chisholm had a sculpture exhibit in Westfield, and I found it both technically and intellectually challenging. The artist will be doing a completely different exhibit in the art gallery of the James Prendergast Library in Jamestown during the coming year, and I'm looking forward to attending it very much.
EVENTS IN JAMESTOWN
The Jamestown art scene is a mixture of the traditional and the new, which is a healthy circumstance.
In 2011, the Chautauqua Region Youth Ballet was able to present adult professional dancers with all their children and youth who dance. It was fun to talk with Robert Fairchild from New York City Ballet and to learn more about the life of an international celebrity.
I was scheduled to talk with the Sugar Plum Fairy, Amanda Weingarten, and with the mystical Herr Drosselmeyer, Jordan Spencer, but a combination of missed connections and unexpected absences made those impossible. We wrote a preparatory column about their annual ''Nutcracker,'' and a review of the adult dancers after we saw the performance.
The Youth Ballet is a not-for-profit organization, and we write about them whenever they present adult performers. When I was in high school, the organizations in which I performed were reviewed regularly by newspapers, and while sometimes we got our feelings hurt, it was an excellent learning situation for us, and I do not regret having learned to deal with those opinions.
We have drawn the line at the division between high schoolers and college-age performers. We do not review performers who are still in school, although occasionally one of them appears older than he actually is, and a review slips through.
My personal feeling is that college-age artists ought to be being told the truth, and that it is healthy for them to encounter public criticism while they are still working with their professors and coaches. I hope this isn't news to anyone, but if you get up and sing, or dance, or tell jokes, or write a column, you're going to inspire all kinds of opinions in all kinds of people, and again and again, the finest professional performers which I have encountered have been respectful and interested in the opinions of seasoned observers.
That doesn't mean that they agree with or accept all the advice which they get, but it serves as a mirror in which they may either straighten their ties, or twist them further askew.
We don't review performances in for-profit situations, such as singers in bars or dance schools which earn a profit for their owners, because that would become an advertisement, and that is something we earn our living by selling, not by giving away.
The rest of the community includes reviews of the traditional arts organizations: the recently especially brilliant concerts by the Jamestown Concert Assn., the fine singing and remarkable public interaction of conductors from the Community Music Project, the bravery of the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown to dip a toe in the quality dramas which used to be their hallmark with the production of ''A Few Good Men,'' and the remarkably fine ''Midsummer Night's Dream'' and ''Putnam County Spelling Bee'' at Jamestown Community College.
The music salons of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation has enriched Sunday nights scattered throughout the calendar year. We drew a few pieces of hate mail for reviewing the spring concert by the Jamestown Area Community Orchestra, but not the autumn concert, yet we were specifically invited not to review the fall program, for whatever reason.
Other events such as the single production of ''I Do, I Do'' at the Robert H. Jackson Center, the signing of a professional dance contract by Jamestown-born dancer Jordan Leeper, author Paul Leone's tackling of Walt Whitman's poetry at the Jackson Center, and the staging of ''The Spoon River Project'' in beautiful Lake View Cemetery, are just some of the noteworthy events.
That leaves 14 pieces dealing with the professional performances at the Chautauqua Institution during the year past.
It astounds me, the quality of the performances, exhibits and lectures which are offered there, and yet it feels to me, recently, as though every year it is more difficult to share what they do with our readers.
The Institution has never been more beautiful. In the decades in which I have worked there, there have been wide varieties of experiences at the institution, from their wanting urgently to be part of the rest of our county, to wanting to be separate and remote from us. I'm looking forward to the next swing toward warmer relations.
I hope you've enjoyed our look at ourselves in 2011. I'm looking forward to the adventures of 2012.
Sincere best wishes for the coming year. May the arts enrich your life and may life enrich your arts.
From time to time we print our policies for your information. Any organization wanting a performance or exhibition reviewed should request, preferably in writing, that The Post-Journal review. In the case of conflicting performances, the sponsor requesting first will be reviewed.
No organization will be reviewed which doesn't request to be reviewed. Telling us that a performance will happen will get you an announcement. You have to ask for a review to get one.
Performances whose intent is religious rather than artistic cannot be appropriately reviewed.
Children and youth through high school will not be reviewed, and if they appear in a performance with adults will be named, but not evaluated.
Material intended for publication in The Critical Eye and its ''Winks,'' must be received at least 10 days before the Saturday on which you wish the information to appear. Exceptions are impossible.
Drop announcements in our night mailbox, or mail them to The Post-Journal, P.O. Box 190, Jamestown, NY 14702-0190. Make certain that my name or the name of the column is marked clearly on the outside of the envelope.
You may e-mail them to this address: email@example.com. Please note, I cannot be reached through The Post-Journal virtual newsroom.
Suggestions for the subjects of full columns are welcome, but please be aware, they are usually booked very far in advance.
Looking for something special to do this evening to celebrate the New Year?
The Bayfront Convention Center, in Erie, invites you to ''Boogie by the Bay,'' and to support the restoration of the beautiful Warner Theater, while you're at it.
For $45 per person, you receive admission to the convention center, featuring live music by a group called Redline, from high energy dance to the Golden Age of Swing. You also receive free parking at the center, three drink tickets per person, a glass of champagne to toast the new year's arrival and hors d'oeuvres. The party lasts from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
For $199, you get two tickets to all of the above, plus a hotel room, based upon double occupancy at the Sheraton Erie Bayfront. For information, phone 814-452-4857.