Portland theater artists have long been doing a disservice to themselves by not having learned to be critical of one another's work. Too rarely, local theater people--especially at the more amateur end of the spectrum--look past their need for affirmation from audiences to the more distant object of creating work with artistic merit. I saw some wretched work recently by actors of whom I'm fond and etiquette seems to demand that I pretend not to have noticed. I'm not saying that it'd be at all productive to rip into them, especially during their run, but, I am saying that they are typical among Portland actors for not evincing a need--unambiguously communicated--always to be improving on their own work; because they don't evince that need, they provide no opening for the kind of nuts-and-bolts critical discourse--i.e., a discourse between artists about how to work, not between disinterested critics and artists, which helps very little--that is CRUCIAL to artistic growth. Because local actors and directors fail to make the artistic work more important than the artist, Portland theater suffers, and fails to build a solid audience.
Another problem of our failure to submit ourselves to open critical discourse: we end up doing a lot of backbiting. We end up talking most honestly about performers' work behind their backs rather than to their faces. This leads us into cynicism and an uncharitable attitude. I know, because I'm guilty of it.
It's damned hard to work in local theater whilst remaining exposed to celebrity culture and the American fixation with financial success. Seeing 22-year olds getting famous and doing great work in movies in which we'll NEVER have a part can kill our souls. But, somehow, we need to let go of the impatience for affirmation and put the art first. Somehow.