Everyone's a critic. There's nothing new about that; it's a cliché. What's changed in the last decade, an age of blogs and Facebook and Twitter, is that almost everyone's a published critic, too, and easily found through Google.
Not every artist has entirely adjusted to this brave new world yet, however, as an astonishing online outburst from an Edmonton theatre veteran demonstrated this week.
Last Saturday, Jeff Haslam, artistic director of Teatro La Quindicina and an actor with four Sterling Awards to his credit, left a comment on a blog called Only Here for the Food, written by one of his theatre's young subscribers, Sharon Yeo.
Under Yeo's fairly glowing post about Teatro La Quindicina's recent production of resident playwright Stewart Lemoine's The Ambassador's Wife ("a good night - lots of laughter, fresh licorice, and the chance to see some young performers shine"), Haslam told Yeo she came across as "snotty and arrogant" and told her to "take [her]entertainment dollar elsewhere."
"I absolutely despise your pretension that you are 'a reviewer' in any professional way," Haslam wrote on Yeo's personal blog where the 27-year-old mostly writes about local farmer's markets and her passion for slow food. "In fact every time I read one of your posts I think 'I am not smitten with this weird women like her icky friends seem to be. I wish she'd stop subscribing to my theatre company, because she seems like such a pretentious doof.'"
By the end of the week, Haslam's vitriolic and over-the-top comment and his refusal to backtrack has caused a sizable brouhaha online. His name became a trending topic on Twitter and, he claimed in a self-pitying tweet, several death threats were sent his way.
While Only Here for the Food has a very niche reach, Yeo's boyfriend happens to be popular local blogger Mack D Male, also a subscriber to Teatro La Quindicina. After he received an additional request by private e-mail to "never darken our door again" from Haslam, Male wrote in a polite but angry blog post that was widely re-tweeted: "Given that this is how [Haslam] treats his customers (fans even) I would encourage you to also think twice before you part with your money."
Teatro La Quindicina is, so far, standing behind its artistic director, who was unavailable to speak to The Globe and Mail this week.
Lemoine, an award-winning playwright who is on the theatre's board of directors, said Haslam wasn't reacting to a specific review, but a "cumulative needling" on Yeo's blog that had irritated multiple members of the company.
As an example, Lemoine pointed to a review of his screwball caper play On the Banks of the Nut, where Yeo had written that actor Kristen Padayas's "comic timing and deadpan delivery put fellow cast member Eric Wigston… to shame."
Another post that had irked Lemoine dated back to 2007, where Yeo wrote that she believed Belinda Cornish was miscast in East of My Usual Brain and her inclusion in the play "appeared mainly to be because of her English accent."
"If you write dismissively, you risk a backlash," Lemoine said - though he noted he wouldn't have responded quite the way Haslam did. "I would like everyone who writes [about theatre]to write… with clarity and civility even when they disagree."
And yet the only person in this online imbroglio who has not been clear or civil is Haslam. Perusing a half-dozen of Yeo's reviews, it is clear her only crime is being honest in her reactions and posting them online; she notes what she likes and does not like about each production, and the overall impression is that she has been a fan of the theatre - and especially Haslam.
Haslam's comment, on the other hand, was inexcusably rude and downright obnoxious. He comes across as entitled and contemptuous of audiences in general, writing: "I wonder if [Yeo]knows that her crappy 19 bucks goes to less than 40% of what it costs to pay all the artists she isn't always smitten by?"
Hopefully, he will come to his senses soon and apologize to a subscriber most theatres would do anything they could to attract - young, engaged and evangelical about live theatre. In the meantime, Haslam's delivered a lesson to all thin-skinned artists out there: Don't Google yourself.