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When thin ice breaks: In which the Daily Planet is disinvited from dinner (theater)
When I wrote to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres inquiring about a press night for their new production of Hairspray, I received from public relations director Kris Howland a prompt response that was courteous but clear: in the wake of my review of Jesus Christ Superstar and related blog post "Chanhassen seeks local Jesuses (Jesae? Jesii?)," Howland "received direction to strongly rethink the relationship" between the Chanhassen and the Daily Planet "and was asked to remove you from our media invite list."
As the basis for the Chanhassen's decision, Howland cites "several snide comments" in my review and the "disrespectful manner" in which I discussed (in the blog post) the Chanhassen's Community Superstars program. "While we appreciate media's helping to publicize our shows and special events," writes Howland—noting that "we can certainly take the bad commentary along with the good"—"we honestly felt your approach crossed the line of good taste."
I certainly can't plead innocent to the company's accusations. Was my style "unnecessarily snarky"? Absolutely. Is it the theater's right to stop handing out free tickets to someone who makes "comments regarding souvenir water bottles and the wall calendar we included in your press kit" that "really have nothing to do with the play itself"? Totally. I like to think that I'd make a different decision if I were in the owners' shoes, but I have to acknowledge that I might be inclined to bend my principles a bit if I had, like they do, a very large pile of money invested in a theater company.
This isn't the first time I've been accused of being snide and snarky in my reviews—and the previous instances haven't involved the Chanhassen. I don't intend to be hurtful or bullying: I just aim to write honestly and entertainingly. I appreciate the quality of the Chanhassen's work, and on multiple occasions—including in the Insiders' Guide to the Twin Cities travel guide and in magazine articles—I've described the Chanhassen as a gem of the local theater scene, one of the best dinner theaters in the country.
But the Chanhassen is, nonetheless, a suburban dinner theater, and bound to seem in many respects silly to an urban writer who normally gravitates to fare like the existentialist Fringe show I just saw. My style accurately—perhaps all too accurately—captures my response to the atmosphere and programming at the Chanhassen. It's not my favorite type of theater, but it is exceptionally good for what it is, and I was pleased to see Superstar. I'd like to return to the Chanhassen, and it's only fair that if I'm going to be snarky about it, I can darn well buy my own ticket.
The argument for keeping me on the press list would be that there's a audience—a relatively young, relatively urban audience—who might read my coverage of the Chanhassen's programming but would be unlikely to read other, more straighforward, media coverage. They might even buy tickets—if only to get those swag Jesus Christ water bottles.