The Playgoer: Welcome, "Critic-O-Meter"

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Welcome, "Critic-O-Meter"

Well as if a couple of bloggers like Isaac Butler and Rob Kendt did have enough to do!

Thankfully these selfless souls have taken on the unenviable task of scanning all the reviews of every NYC show (or most) and summing them up--replete with "grade" equivalents, just to cut to the chase. At first I was taken aback at learning I had apparently given The Fourposter a 'C', for instance. But after a moment's reflection, that seemed about right.

Apparently they've been doing this for over a month now, but I just stumbled onto it. So let's include Critic-O-Meter on our daily bookmarking, shall we? I know I will.


isaac butler said...

Thanks for the shout out, Garrett! We're still in "prototype" phase, but we hope to have our official coming out party in a couple of weeks. WE still have to get all of the long-running Broadway shows aggregated and commented upon! Oy vey!


Critic-O-Meter? This is awesome, especially for a lil' ol' aspiring theatre critic such as myself :)

Theater of Ideas said...

Good for them. Two quick suggestions - I noticed wasn't in your line up. I would definitely put it in there. And more indie theater! But that may just be coming...

Ideally, I'd like to see more blogger/internet crits in general included, though I'm sure each one adds time spent.

Nick said...

The Critic-O-Meter is evidence that the final stage in the devolution of the theatre review has arrived. I doubt any reviewer who seriously still attempts criticism appreciates his words being reduced to the equivalent of a grade school report card.

At least the capsule reviews most of print now offers as their product consists of full sentences. And even pull quotes used in PR consist of complete words, if not full phrases. But Critic-O-Meter encourages the playgoer herd to only read a letter grade to evaluate the relative worth of any theatre experience.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with silent nic. This isn't about whether a reviewer appreciates being summarized by a grade or not--this is about providing a real service to theatergoers in exposing them to a diversity of critical opinions instead of, say, one particular newspaper. Since each grade seems to be accompanied by both a 75-150 word quoted precis of the review and a link to the full text, people who are curious can easily read any full-length piece they want.

To the extent that this site can expose people to more critical writing and fight the notion, held among too many theatergoers, that the Times' review unfailingly represents the consensus, we should be applauding it. Assuming that people simply won't read any text if they can look at a grade or a star rating is snobbery, no?

Playgoer said...

While I share Nic's concern over the shrinkage in criticism in general, let's not forget that is a print phenomenon more than online.

I couldn't agree more with Anon's last point that such a site as Critic-O-Meter hardly prevents you from reading the full text of the original review. Nic's point, I'm afraid, falls into the trap of so many attacks on Internet writing--which is ignoring the HUGE significance of LINKS. Online articles can document and point readers to sources so much more fully and effectively (and instantly!) than print ever could. An online piece of writing is more than just a quick personal statement--it contains within itself a whole "web", if you will, of references leading you to other articles, more articles, and so on, and so on....(as the old commercial used to say.)

I also agree that a main attraction to me of the Critic-O-Meter idea is indeed to de-emphasize the Times review as just one among many. Something that already is happening, I sense, in the culture at large.

Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick said...

Garrett, I am not attacking Internet writing, unless you consider assigning a letter grade to a theatre review some new genre of writing. But I am attacking the devolution of the theatre review.

Most theatre reviewers have exited the domain of art journalism or criticism. As writers they now partially decide thumbs up/thumbs down or number of stars or the letter grade of their opinion before they even write their 200 or 300 word capsule. This opinion of their opinion has become the true objective of their writing. More akin to a consumer product review for a pair of sneakers than a documentation of what happened within the theatre experience or critical dramaturgy. With no space or time restrictions, Internet writers on theatre could apply whatever length and rigor to their writing as they wish. But mostly they choose to be as abbreviated and facile as they are in print.

Critic-O-Meter is modeled after the film resource site Rotten Tomatoes. But the term “rotten tomatoes ” is a misnomer for theatre reviews in New York. "Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you." All Broadway and Off-Broadway producers will tell you that nothing other than a Times review really affects box office. Isn’t it pretty to think that Critic-O-Meters and such will change that condition?

The fact that the Critic-O-Meter diminishes the New York Times review to a simplistic letter grade, same as it does other reviews, should not be celebrated but ridiculed by writers/readers who appreciate publications and writers still attempting to bring a semblance theatre criticism into their reviews.

If only our audience were still as tangible as the rotten tomatoes they once carried in their pockets. Of course they are, but “theatre as product” has mostly forgotten how to address them as such. Reviews represent audience opinion only if producing artists have abdicated their authority and responsibility to the process of creating theatre. It’s an odd and unnatural condition that “word of mouth” has been reduced to a secondary or counter to theatre reviews in the process of finding an audience.

isaac butler said...

This might surprise some, but I actually understand and sympathize with Nic's concerns about Critic-O-Meter. I was similarly dismayed when TONY introduced its 6 star rating systems to their reviews. I noticed that the end result of that system was that (with the exception of the theatre section) I tended to spent less time rather than more time reading the reviews. And I actually agree with much that he's saying in his second paragraph about theatre reviewing, I've said similar things on my blog. I think, in fact, most theatre bloggers have talked about that at one time or another.

So yes, I understand it although obviously i don't agree or I wouldn't be doing Critic-o-Meter... I don't think, for one thing, that Critic-O-Meter is contributing the phenomenon of there being a lot of iffy and reductive consumer-reports-style theatre reviewing out there. If anything, it tries to build off of that existing (and at this point, unavoidable) reality to create a more interesting conversation about the given show.

As I try to explain here in the welcome post for Critic-O-Meter, we want to provide a picture of the critical opinion on a play that can exist on both a surface and in depth level simultaneously.

On a more surface level, you have Rob and my summation of what the reviews were like. In my experience reading these reviews, by about review 5 or 6 (out of as many as 32 thus far) you begin to realize that there are core issues being debated across the reviews. This is what's most interesting to me, and it's this cross-review discussion that is lacking if you don't read all of the reviews. For example, with A Man For All Seasons the reviews were discussing the following issues:
(1) Frank Langella... brilliant or hammy?
(2) Is the play worth reviving?
(3) Doug Hughes' decision to cut "The Common Man" from the play

Every review commented on those three things. So in the summary, I tried to talk about them in a way that let you know "this is what's going on". Similarly every review of All My Sons was almost entirely dominated by a discussion of Simon McBurney's direction. So most of the summary on that show was also devoted to it and talking about the different sides of that discussion.

The more "surface level" summation also includes a quick grade. So if you really wanted to get a very brief snap shot of a show's reception, you can do so in about thirty seconds. Which is what a lot of people want out of a website: information delivered quickly and with little fuss.

If you want something more in depth, however, we also include links to every single review that we've read, so you could spend a lot of time delving into them. That to me is actually enhancing our conversation about these shows, not simplifying it. There are very few sites where you can quickly and without trying too hard call up the amount of information about the shows that we provide. And it's our hope that some of the people who want a thirty second snapshot will stay for the whole film, if my mixed metaphor makes any sense. In fact, we write the summaries to try to whet people's appetite for reading the whole thing.

What we're actually trying to do is kind of combine Rotten Tomatoes (or Metacritic), 538 and's "Summary Judgement", find some way to provide a discussion of the reviews, provide an easy way to get to them and provide a quantitative look at what's going on.

Oh, and Scott- I totally agree with your criticisms. We're working on including from here on out, and if we end up having the time (or making enough money to hire someone to do it) we'll be covering more indie theatre as well. One of the issues with indie theatre is making sure a show has gotten enough reviews that you can actually have a cross-review conversation about it.

Theater of Ideas said...

Thanks for your response Isaac. By the way, it's Edward. not Scott

isaac butler said...

D'oh! I got confused and thought "Theater of Ideas" what "Theater Ideas" i.e. Scott Walters! Whoops. Apologies.

Nick said...

I long ago began to sound too much the curmudgeon on this topic. I need to shelve it for a time I think. I am also somewhat hypocritical here. I, like the rest of the Internet and digital culture, read much differently than I did 15 years ago. I am sure that I browse and hyperlink on the surface of thought as much as others do.

Best of luck to Isaac and Rob on the consumer service they are trying to build, but I don’t envy them. Reading and pondering over and over the dramaturgy and metaphysics of “Frank Langella... brilliant or hammy?” and such, sounds like a horrible day job to me.

Edward Einhorn said...

Yes, I know, it's my fault because my blog came second and I didn't realize Scott's blog was already out there. So it's a little confusing. But in my defense I was using the term "theater of ideas" before he started his blog!