ATCA speaks on fair comment, theaters’ rights, diversity and cultural competency

ATCA speaks on fair comment, theaters’ rights, diversity and cultural competency


ATCA has closely followed the controversy sparked by a review of Pass Overby Chicago critic Hedy Weiss and referred members to articles about the controversy on our website. As the only nationwide organization of theater critics and journalists, we believe issues have been raised that go beyond this specific situation. The larger issues produced as intense an internal debate as many of us can recall, including:

1. Critics’ free speech and fair comment rights;
2. each group’s ultimate responsibilities to art, entertainment and the greater society;
3. increasing diversity among our ranks in ATCA and the profession at large;
4. and finally, questions about whether critics of any gender identification, age or ethnicity can fairly evaluate work produced by another group.

Predictably, opinions from our members cover a broad spectrum. The discussions have fueled our resolve to spend the next twelve months closely examining the last two points.

We have, however, reached some consensus.

First, we unreservedly support all critics’ right to offer any evaluation and analysis of a work of art, just as we have advocated publicly for precisely the same freedom of speech for artists. We recognize that almost any opinion is guaranteed to offend someone. At the same time, ATCA does not approve of intentionally incendiary comments for their own sake, disconnected from the job of criticism of theater. In fact, at our annual meeting in June, ATCA’s membership approved an overhaul of our 20-year-old Code of Conduct which now includes the statement: “Members must be sensitive to issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, diversity, and underrepresented populations.”

Second, we unreservedly support every theater’s absolute right to decide to offer complimentary tickets and apply any criteria it chooses. We do not, however, support banning a critic who pays for a ticket to a production open to the general public, and theaters should be aware that this action may be considered a violation of First Amendment rights.

Third, we recognize that every critic, like every artist, brings a set of life experiences to his or her work as well as a viewpoint informed by those experiences. We do, however, expect critics - who are professional, rather than casual, audience members - to meet their professional responsibilities and inform themselves about the issues presented onstage.

Finally, this national conversation has made it clear that the time is long past when artists and critics must have open, frank, face-to-face dialogues about these larger issues, not ignoring but reaching beyond specific instances. ATCA plans to ramp up our efforts in this regard, and we welcome participation from all quarters to expand and continue the conversation, and find solutions.

For more information, contact Wm. F. Hirschman, chairman of the executive committee, at 954.478.1123 or

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