Should Joseph Scrimshaw be my Facebook friend?


Yesterday I attended Joseph Scrimshaw’s new production of Fat Man Crying and wrote a largely positive review, which was published last night. Researching a couple of facts for the review, I Googled Scrimshaw’s name and noticed that he has a Facebook profile. In a spontaneous expression of fandom, I sent a friend request. This morning I was notified by e-mail that Scrimshaw had accepted my Facebook friendship, and my news feed duly informed me that he is “taking a break from holiday shows to ‘mate’ with Jim and Megan at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.” Is this getting a little too familiar with the people I write about? Can I objectively review the work of someone I’ve just granted access to an archive of 100+ photos of myself covered in straw, lost in a corn maze, playing cribbage in a pink checkered bathrobe, and buzzed on limeade margaritas on a family vacation? (Just to be clear: those are four different photos.) I notice that Dominic Papatola is not among Scrimshaw’s Facebook friends, though some other local journalists are—including at least one theater critic for a major publication.

front row seat is the blog of jay gabler, the daily planet’s arts editor. to keep up on the local arts scene, follow artsorbit on twitter and subscribe to arts orbit weekly.

I suppose it behooves a critic to maintain a certain distance from the community he’s writing about, but the ties among members of the local arts community are so thick that it’s disingenuous to pretend that we don’t all get to know one another pretty quickly—journalists included. Just about anyone who’s staged a play, written a book, directed a film, curated a show, cut an album, or reviewed any of the above in the Twin Cities over the past several years is probably within a few degrees of separation of anyone else who’s done any of those things.

For example—let’s start with Joseph Scrimshaw. He’s married to Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw, who used to dance in a company led by John Munger, who blogs for the Daily Planet and was recently the subject of a video by Matt Peiken, who used to have my job as Daily Planet arts editor before going to work as managing editor of the Walker Art Center’s magazine—a publication now edited by Julie Caniglia, who was formerly one of my editors at The Rake along with Christy DeSmith, who for some years worked at the Theatre de la Jeune Lune under artistic director Dominique Serrand, who just about every smoker in Uptown has at some point had a chat with outside the Bryant-Lake Bowl…and now we’re back to Joseph Scrimshaw. (I’m not trying to show off who and what I know here; this is a small slice of bare-bones public knowledge. I’m sure every one of those people knows much more than I do about who’s worked with, written about, and/or slept with whom.)

So in a sense, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites are just making all these connections a little more transparent. If critics stopped writing about anyone they had any sort of social connection whatsoever with, we’d all be left jostling for seats at the Sleepy Eye Community Theater. I think it’s safe to say, though, that you can trust all of us to refrain from making critical comment on the work of anyone we have a significant relationship with. I don’t believe I’ve ever even talked with Joseph Scrimshaw in person, though we’ve spoken on the phone. If, somehow, over the course of 2009 our Facebook friendship leads to soulful heart-to-heart discussions about life, the universe, and everything, I shall recuse myself from reviewing the next revival of Fat Man Crying. For now, I feel like I can be honest about Scrimshaw’s work without risking too much Facebook awkwardness; Scrimshaw is probably discreet enough not to post status updates like, “Joseph Scrimshaw wants to stab Jay Gabler to death with a blunt spoon after that tepid write-up on An Inconvenient Squirrel 2: Goin’ Nuts.” Would Jon Ferguson exercise similar discretion? We’ll find out…I just added him as a friend.

Above: Photo from my Facebook page. Would you give this man press comps?