CW: Body shaming
Pictured above: (left to right) Jeff Kurysz and Sasha Smith star in Zürich at Steep Theatre/Photo: Greg Gilman
Yesterday, Buzz Center Stage published a review of Steep Theatre’s Zurich by Vika Lvova.
In the initial review, Lvova included body shaming language towards actor Jeff Kurysz as an objection to nudity occurring in the scene:
“If shock is the intent, then the opening scene of ‘Zürich’ is right on…. In the first scene it’s a couple of complete strangers who had just spent the night together; the scene feels awkward, not exactly helped by the full-on frontal nudity. “She” is played by Sasha Smith (credits include TV shows Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, etc.) opposite Jeff Kurysz, whose many credits include Support Group for Men , Romeo and Juliet, etc., but who I will likely remember for the shape of his manhood. And no, it wasn’t erotic.”
Theater critics and journalists alike have the right to object to different elements of theatrical productions they experience in their subjective writing. It is thoroughly irresponsible and unacceptable, however, to shame someone on the basis of their appearance and background—a characteristic that is squarely unrelated to the performance the theater critic/journalist is commenting on.
Kurysz posted publicly about the review on October 9 at 12:25 PM on his personal Facebook page, calling out Buzz Center Stage for the body shaming language. 56 Facebook users commented on his post to express support and feedback. In addition, 17 Facebook users commented on Buzz Center Stage’s Facebook post for the review.
Buzz Center Stage responded to the Facebook post that they had “modified the paragraph to better reflect the reviewer’s intent.” A first revision was applied by Buzz Center Stage on October 9 to the review:
“…Jeff Kurysz, whose many credits include Support Group for Men, Romeo and Juliet, etc., but who I will likely remember for baring his manhood. The opening scene would have been just as effective had Kurysz been wearing underwear, the choice for full-frontal nudity questionable as it did not succeed in heightening any point and seemed unnecessary in general.”
Folx from the Chicago theater community reached out on October 10 to the editor of the publication, Ken Payne, to express their concern for this editor oversight.
The review was updated for the second time on October 10 and removed any mention of the actor’s physical body:
“…Jeff Kurysz, whose many credits include Support Group for Men, Romeo and Juliet, etc. The opening scene would have been just as effective had Kurysz been wearing underwear, the choice for full-frontal nudity questionable as it did not succeed in heightening any point and seemed unnecessary in general.”
As of October 10 5:00 PM, no revision or editor’s notes were posted in the review. In addition, the editor’s email was not readily available on the publication website.
Payne responded to folx from the community who reached out on October 10 with a form letter response. Unfortunately, this letter utilized defensive language, like “we are longtime supporters of local theatre and friends among the community,” “it was not the writer’s intention to attack Jeff [Kurysz] personally,” and “this is the first time we have received [a] negative response.”
As a theater editor for Scapi Magazine, another independent news and arts publication in Chicago, I understand how difficult and time-consuming the role of an editor is—especially when you are posting articles daily. Mistakes and mishaps happen; it is a product of the 24-hour news cycle.
However, when mistakes and mishaps happen, it is the responsibility of any publication—and especially one that is committed to serving the voices of local entities—that they take swift and direct action to rectify the situation and apologize for their actions.
Regardless of tenure as a publication or who you claim to support, it is the work and actions that you take that speak on the behalf of your publication.
Editor’s Note: Scapi Magazine, as a core tenet, does not believe in theatrical criticism based on body politics and stands with the views expressed here.
Danielle Levsky (she/her/hers) is the Theater Editor of Scapi Magazine. She is a feminist, Jew, poet, essayist, performance artist, and instructional designer. In addition to her work at Scapi, she has covered community news, arts reviews, lifestyle editorials, and cultural events for several publications. Between February 2018-2019, she completed a fellowship where she wrote a collection of community-engaged essays about her identity and heritage. She also writes typewriter poems on demand with Poems While You Wait. Follow her on her poetry Instagram to read some works in progress.