Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.
By Jason Epperson
As we prepped to re-launch PerformInk earlier this year, one of the most common asked for features to return from the original publication was “Review Round-Up”—a popular column written for years by Kevin Heckman. Heckman would write his review of a production, followed by short summaries of reviews by other critics at other media outlets. When we’re having a conversation about PerformInk with an industry pro, often they will say “so PerformInk is writing reviews? That’s new.” Well, actually, it isn’t. Kevin wrote reviews for PerformInk for years. The team over at theatreinchicago.com has taken on the task of compiling reviews, and do a great job of it, so we didn’t want to duplicate their work.
Some have wondered why an industry publication would write reviews at all, and that perhaps we should solely report on the news and do feature articles on industry players and the like. That’s a fair point, but ultimately I think it’s incredibly important to provide criticism for the work that artists are creating.
It was very clear to us from the beginning that not only did we want to critique work, we wanted to examine work that isn’t getting reviewed often. To serve the underserved. We want to be considering children’s theater, burlesque, sketch comedy, magic—if it’s performed in front of an audience, we’ll try to send a critic to it.
As a producer, I’ve long been concerned about the power of a few voices in the community. Something Managing Editor Abigail Trabue and I have spent a lot of time discussing in the context of PerformInk in the community. As much as we like to say reviews don’t matter, the truth is they do. This is a town with savvy theatergoers, and they pay attention to what is exciting and what is not. It’s also a town where industry professionals see and support each other’s works regularly. I think it’s essential that there are many more voices out there talking about the work we create, so that the opinion of one, which is valid in its own way, can be tempered by the opinions of others.
We also thought that perhaps there were some perspectives missing. We went at this with the specific intent of having more voices from marginalized communities. More female voices. More young voices. We still have work to do, but we’re proud to have 11 critics (9 female) of varying backgrounds, all of whom are professionals in the performing arts. An outside perspective is important, but we feel an inside one is a great addition to the conversation.
We set out to add to the conversation about how work is reviewed in Chicago. Many of the major critics (and most artists) will tell you they lament star ratings. They simplify a 2-hour show into something so basic that the effect of the words in the review are lost. We’re in the position to not have them, and we love it. We offer the “Critic’s Pick” designation for those shows that are just not to be missed, but there is plenty of value in the other work we review. We’ve challenged our critics to try new things and have given them the space to do so. We’re still figuring out the PerformInk voice, and we hope you’ll join in the conversation by reading, commenting, and sharing.