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An Email Exchange Between an Artistic Director and an Irate Trump-Voter


Jeffrey Horowitz, Artistic Director of Theatre for a New Audience, forwarded me the following email exchange between him and a subscriber who was offended by one of the theater's productions. I thought it was remarkable enough to be worth posting, so here it is with his permission. No changes were made to the texts except to anonymize the subscriber's name and remove private contact information.

From: Subscriber

Date: December 5, 2016 at 9:46:48 PM EST

To: info@tfana.org

Cc: Jeffrey Horowitz (Artistic Director)

Subject: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

I attended a performance of The Servant of Two Masters last week, and I am still angry about

my experience.

I have been attending TFANA productions since 2007, many years as a subscriber when finances allowed. Usually I have been floored with how good the shows are (with the occasional clunker, but you can't win them all). However, what I saw on Tuesday made it quite clear that I am no longer welcome at your theater.

For starters, for what was billed as a comedy, the production was simply not funny. If this was meant to be a reproduction of commedia dell'arte, I can see why that genre died out. But then the script moved on to anti-Trump jokes. While I voted for him, I can see that the Orange One certainly opens himself up for some mockery. However, these were not clever quips at his expense; they were just mean. I would have thought that the backlash after the cast of Hamilton lectured the Vice President-elect would have been a lesson; plenty of artists and theater professionals thought the behavior was inappropriate, and that it made the cast and producers look bad. I guess that message didn't reach TFANA.

After the fourth nasty barb at the expense of Trump (and Trump voters such as myself), I left the theater. In four decades of theater-going, this was the first time I left a performance before the first act was over. Nevertheless, after twenty minutes (four Trump jokes in twenty minutes? Really?), I had no confidence that the mean-spirited attempts at humor were going to let up, so I decided to cut my losses.

Speaking of cutting my losses, I was dismayed that this was only the first production of the

current season. Since you made it quite clear that people like me are not welcome at your theater, please do me the favor of refunding the rest of my subscription. You are, of course, free to put on stage whatever you want, but if you are going to insult members of your audience, you should not expect them to come back.

Sadly,

Subscriber

From: Subscriber

Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2016 2:04 PM

To: info

Cc: Jeffrey Horowitz

Subject: Re: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

I have not had the courtesy of a reply to this e-mail.

Please let me know when I can expect a refund.

Subscriber

From: Assistant to the Artistic Director

Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2016 4:31 PM

To: Subscriber

Subject: Re: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

Dear Subscriber:

Jeffrey Horowitz, Artistic Director, received your e‐mail. He apologizes for the delay in getting back to you. He will be writing to you personally as soon as he is able. Thank you.

From: Subscriber

Sent: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 7:50 PM

To: Assistant to the Artistic Director

Subject: Re: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

At this point, I really am more interested in getting a refund rather than engaging in a dialog, especially as no one at TFANA appears to want to talk about this.

I'm not sure if the credit card I used for the subscription is still valid (my bank keeps switching things up with the new chip cards), so someone from the box office may need to call me to get the updated card number to process the refund - prorated, of course, since I'm not a monster.

Subscriber

From: Jeffrey Horowitz

Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2016 12:06 PM

To: Subscriber

Subject: Re: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

Dear Subscriber:

Thank you for writing. I sincerely appreciate that you have been attending Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) productions since 2007 as a subscriber and single ticket buyer and that you purchased a four play subscription for our 2016‐17 season. You raise important issues. I’ve been delayed in responding due to several deadlines and not because, as you wrote, “no one at TFANA wants to talk about this.” As you will read, TFANA is making you two offers.

To begin, you wrote “the production was simply not funny.” While some critics found this production of SERVANT funny – for an example, please see the link to the TIME OUT review – the New York Times critic in this link has the opposite point of view. This only proves, of course, that art is personal – for the artists, audiences and drama critics. There are differing opinions, and when you buy a ticket, there can be no guarantee by the management of a refund if a patron doesn’t like or agree with the taste or point of view of the production.

You note that in the nine years you’ve attended TFANA shows, there has been the “occasional clunker.” But, SERVANT was not, you explain, just a clunker. You feel the improvised anti‐Trump jokes in SERVANT were not funny at all, but so inappropriate, offensive and mean, that it made you feel – as a supporter of Mr. Trump – personally unwelcome at TFANA, angry and driven away. You demand a refund of the tickets you purchased for the remaining three plays of our season.

TFANA won’t agree. In the first place, the form of commedia dell'arte is satiric and requires improvisation about and response to current events. There were jokes about subjects besides the Trump victory ‐‐‐ including artists’ wages, sex, marriage and TFANA’s repertory. Commedia (and art) challenges and provokes, and while that may be upsetting, it doesn’t mean you or anyone else is unwelcome. If I were to accept your argument, refunds would be due patrons, for example, who felt a portrayal of Shylock was anti‐Semitic; or Kate (in TAMING OF THE SHREW) was insulting to women; or the burning of the Koran in TAMBURLAINE was anti‐Islamic.

If I wanted to avoid potential refunds, I would have no choice other than censoring artists and removing from productions what I thought might be offensive to some. But this is against one of the purposes of theatre, which is to provoke dialogue and a conversation. You are not unwelcome. I don’t think you are a monster. It is the opposite. We don’t want a homogenous audience. We want a lively one. Therefore, TFANA would like to organize a public discussion free for our audience during our current season at the theatre and invite you to be on a panel with a moderator. You will be paid a $200 honorarium and the panel will discuss issues you have raised. We will work with you to find a mutually convenient time. I believe it would be a great conversation and hope you will agree. However, TFANA will not issue refunds for the misperception that any patron is unwelcome because of artistic expression.

Next, you have three remaining subscription tickets, one each to THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, HAPPY DAYS and MEASURE FOR MEASURE. As a courtesy, we will convert the three tickets into Flex tickets as you wish and at no charge. Instead of having one ticket to each of the plays, you can allot your three tickets as you like. For example, if you don’t want to attend MEASURE, you can have two tickets for HAPPY DAYS and ONE FOR SKIN OF OUR TEETH, etc.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Horowitz

Founding Artistic Director

Theatre for a New Audience

From: Subscriber

Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2016 12:35 PM

To: Jeffrey Horowitz

Subject: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding here of what it means to be welcome, in particular at your theater. I explained that I felt that I was unwelcome, and that you and your artists made it quite clear that people like me don't belong in your audience. You are trying to claim that's not true. However, simply stating that "you are not unwelcome" doesn't make that statement true. You don't slap someone in the face, tell them "you're welcome here!" and expect them to believe you. I'm not sure if you're being insincere, if you think I'm gullible, or that you are so blind to your artists' bad behavior that you can't see why I should be offended. If I had to guess, I would suspect it's the last of these. I think you are also missing the distinction between being controversial (Merchant, Shrew, etc., though really, these are only controversial if directors choose to make them so) and just being plain old rude, which is what was going on at Servant.

So, no, I don't want to go back to TFANA. I'm breaking up with you, because I get that you're clearly not that into people like me. I can handle it - but please don't drag this out. Just issue a refund, and we'll go our separate ways.

And honestly - a panel discussion? Do you honestly think I want to go up on stage so that the rest of your audience can sneer at me, as well as your artists? Nope. Horrible idea.

From: Jeffrey Horowitz

Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2016 12:55 PM

To: Subscriber

Subject: Re: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

Dear Subscriber:

You could say all this publically on a panel and have a response in real time with others. I’m sorry you decline an offer which is meant in good faith. Having produced MERCHANT, SHREW, TAMBURLAINE and other plays, I can tell you that those who are insulted by those works of art feel just like you. They don’t see the art as simply controversial. They see it as a slap in the face and against people like them. But, no one is slapping in the face. You are not unwelcome. We all have to hear one another. The panel discussion would be fair and there would be others who would be sympathetic to your point of view. You might, as well, persuade those who don’t agree with you – like good theatre.

Happy holidays and as explained there are no refunds. If you change your mind, let us know.

Jeffrey Horowitz

Founding Artistic Director

From: Subscriber

Sent: Thursday, December 22, 2016 9:00 PM

To: Jeffrey Horowitz

Subject: Re: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

You keep pushing this panel idea, and I think that, once again, you are missing the big picture. I'm not an artist. I'm not an advocate. I am, or rather was, an audience member. I am (or, again, was) also a customer. It's not my job to persuade your audience. It's also not my job to persuade your artists. I don't think trying to change their minds would be in the least bit productive, and your assertion that I would be treated fairly or that there would be others that share my point of view is, at best, naive. I mean, have you met these people? (Quick refresher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKOb-kmOgpI)

I'll repeat myself: my role here is a customer. I'm not saying what you should or shouldn't put up on stage. After all, it's your company and your right to express yourself artistically as you choose. However, I'm choosing not to buy what you're selling. There are plenty of comparisons I could make, none of them perfect, but here's one: say you were promoting a series of elegant dinners prepared by the city's finest chefs. I sign up for all four dinners, but at the first one I learn that all the dishes feature bacon... and I keep kosher. And then I learn that the second dinner is probably going to explore the theme of shrimp, and after that ham, and the series will be crowned by luxurious lobster. All delicious, and probably superbly prepared, but not for me. Unlike what you did with Servant, those chefs probably weren't hoping to insult anyone, but they're certainly not catering to everyone. As a customer, I would want to get my money back, at least for the dinners I wasn't going to attend in

the future.

Does that help? You keep repeating that I'm "welcome" at TFANA, but I simply don't believe you. We've gone past the question of whether I should want to give you a second chance. At this point this is really just a customer service question, not one of artistic ideals.

Please process my refund. Is it really worth this much of your time to hold on to $150?

Subscriber

From: Jeffrey Horowitz

Sent: Friday, December 23, 2016 2:44 PM

To: Subscriber

Subject: Re: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

Dear Subscriber:

You purchased a four play subscription package in August, 2016. The price you paid for the four‐play package is significantly reduced over the price of single tickets and described the plays. It stated clearly “All productions, artists and dates are subject to change. All packages are non‐refundable.” As a customer, it is your responsibility to decide if our package with its qualifications is to your liking and if you agree to its terms. You did and purchased the four play package.

You argue now that you should receive a refund for the remaining three of the plays because it is as if you purchased four dinners only to then find out after purchasing that the foods that will be served at the dinners are not to your liking or diet. If, in your example, of a four dinner package, you were advised before purchase that it is a final sale and there are no refunds, it would be your obligation to ask what would be served at the dinners.

You only asked for a refund for three of the plays on the basis of your anger over the artistic content of SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS and your stated belief that you are not welcome at TFANA. I cannot assure you or any other customer if you might be upset by the plays and productions you subscribed to, but it is TFANA’s policy and principle not to issue refunds for subscription packages. Our policy stands to all who purchase subscriptions. I assure you that you are welcome at TFANA and hope you will reconsider and attend.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Horowitz

Founding Artistic Director

Theatre for a New Audience

From: Subscriber

Sent: Friday, December 23, 2016 3:54 PM

To: Jeffrey Horowitz

Subject: Re: Please refund me the rest of my subscription

I have arranged to have the balance of my subscription converted to a "donation" so that at least I can get some tax benefits out of it.

You have handled this situation poorly. Your attitude betrays a great deal of arrogance (a panel discussion will make it all better? For crying out loud!). It also shows poor business sense - most businesses, even those that operate close to the bone as I'll assume yours does, know that the best way to handle an unhappy customer is to refund his money and make him go away, as someday he may choose to come back. You've guaranteed that I will never darken your doors again. You have also greatly reduced my enthusiasm for going to the theater in general. You've endorsed the idea that artists should be able to insult their customers with impunity and without consequences, and I still don't think you see how reckless and divisive this behavior is.

Goodbye.

#JeffreyHorowitz #TheatreforaNewAudience #ServantofTwoMasters