After HowlRound’s week-long focus on the art of being a theater critic, I found it really interesting to see HowlRound retweet that Backstage will no longer be posting theater reviews. In the article, Backstage to Halt All Theater Reviews, its author Colin Mitchell (actor/writer/director/producer) explained how the reviews were stopping because no one reads them anymore.
Mitchell writes, “Is this a good sign, a bad sign? Is it simply a transition point? Are we destined to be ruled by the Yelpers and the Users? Is there any future place for the professional critic? What the hell is happening?” Personally, and mostly inspired by HowlRound’s week on theater criticism, I feel that rather than discontinuing theater reviews all together (which seems a bit dramatic), they instead should take this as a message from readers that they’re looking for new, fresh voices in the theater community. Mitchell feels that the discontinuation of theater reviews is in part linked to the recent death of long-time film critic Roger Ebert. In an article written to honor the critic, the author wrote that he was “one of us. He just had a neater job.” I think, like some of the posts in HowlRound talk about, that this is probably the reason theater reviews aren’t so popular anymore…we can read reviews of “people like us” all we want now that blogs have become so popular. What’s being lost is the art of theater criticism.
I was taken aback to hear in class the recent Charles Isherwood review which compared a contemporary play dealing with race to the 1970s show Good Times, simplifying the show into a “black play” (whatever that means) rather than truly looking at it artistically. It also made me think how I look at reviews. I will occasionally read theater reviews, but I typically don’t like to because whenever I read a review and see the show, my opinions rarely match up with the critic. Also, as an actor, I feel like I have this weird thing against reviews because of how harsh they can be on actors’ performances. But I think if I were reading more reviews written from a dramaturgical mind-set, or written by respected playwrights and directors, I’d be more interested. I recently came across an article on HowlRound which was written two years ago, but still resonates with our theater world today. The article, The Theater of the Future, was written by Meiyin Wang, associate producer of Under the Radar Festival and Symposium in New York. She wrote how, “There will be no titles of playwrights, directors, actors, designers, managers, producers. There will be theater makers. That will be all that is allowed on a name card. “Theater maker.” People you meet will include a writer/designer. A director/electrician. A sculptor/actor. A film editor/musician. A cook/dramaturg. A plumber/poet.” Why shouldn’t this be true of theater critics as well? After all, if our theaters are being run by theater artists, the work should be reviewed by theater artists as well.
Hi there, I really dig this article and appreciate what you’re saying here. I am a director and sometime critic, and I waved my flag for the importance of integrating the artist into the regular ranks of critics in Howlround a little ways back, maybe you might like this/might add to the conversation- http://www.howlround.com/where-is-our-tiki-barber-theater-makers-as-theater-critics