The Playgoer: A Kinder, Gentler Criticism?

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Kinder, Gentler Criticism?

I have just recently added American Theatre magazine to the blog roll, now that I see how good their website has become. Personally I tire of the magazine's orthodox hipness at times, but I suppose it is essential reading for those in the profession. Also, you can't match the regional coverage in any other national magazine or major newspaper.

This month, as always, features an editorial ("The Eye of the Critic") from TCG front-man Ben Cameron, this time on critics! He floats some familiar calls for healing between those who review and those who make theatre, and why not applaud the spirit of that. But, in this context, respecting the critical enterprise always ends up translating as neutering it. Case in point:

Might the role of the critic be as a convener for conversation, rather than an arbiter of public taste—a mediator rather than a judge? Can the critic frame the issues rather than provide the answers?
Uh, no. That might be the role of a critic...in an alternate universe. But, face it, the "role" of criticism--by definition!--is, perish the thought, "judgment." I agree that the media and the press in general can do a lot more in their arts coverage to "convene" such virtual conversations, and give readers something to balance against an individual review. Hell, I'm even for publishing two or three reviews side by side! (Ok, maybe that hasn't happened on this blog, but still...) But the business of criticism is criticism. Not cheerleading, not town-meeting mediator. There are others to do that. For instance...Dramaturgs! (How about a TCG fellowship to hire some, Ben?)

Look, any critic who considers him or herself an "arbiter of public taste" is an egomaniac and a bore. But the theatre only benefits from the circulation of very personal assessments that are informed by thorough theatrical knowledge, experience and enthusiasm. So put the pressure instead on arts editors to hire reviewers who bring something valuable to their decidedly judgmental tracts--as opposed to the glib stylists and upgraded lifestyle columnists who populate many of the nation's (and this city's) drama desks.

I do recommend reading Cameron's entire argument, since my quotation is only a sliver. So follow the link and tell me if I'm wrong.

2 comments:

thewebloge said...

You're not wrong. I take it as a given that every production I see has been sweated over. But it is the reviewer's job to give a critique of the end product of a company's hard and heartfelt work, not to sit in on rehearsals. The critic's primary allegiance lies with the reader rather than the company. And good critics do not simply fall into line with what other reviewers, the company or the audience may think. It is up to theatre makers to decide whether they think anything the critics write about their work might be worth taking on board.

The Playgoer said...

On your last point, I'd just add--...or not! I don't really think any "dialogue" is necessary at all between critic & artist. Interesting when it happens, but does it make either the art or the criticism any better?... I do think critics benefit from having some inside knowledge of the artform, though. In fact, I believe that strongly and try to live it.