A couple weeks ago in class we had a conversation about the difference between someone who reviews theater and someone who critiques it. The consensus was that a reviewer is someone who writes about a play towards the beginning of its run in order to give a yay or nay on whether someone should see the production. A critic writes about a play either during or in many cases after a run of a show and discusses themes, points of interest, and thought provoking choices. Basically, one requires an informed opinion and the other requires analytical thinking skills. A reviewer is a consumer’s guide and a critic is an artistic guide. Neither is necessary, but both are valuable.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it recently. There’s someone named Tate McDaniel who decided about a year ago that he wanted to serve as critic for the student run theater groups on campus, Boston University Stage Troupe, and BU on Broadway. You can check out his mission statement and his work here. The thing is, McDaniel claims to be a critic, but I’m not sure he is a critic or a reviewer. He posts his commentary after the show has closed, yet he rarely uses any kind of critical thinking skills. He spends a deal of time criticizing the actors and technicians, saying what worked or didn’t work (what he liked or did not like). The problem here is that he puts everything on a scale of good and bad. Instead of digging into the thematic content and its relationship with choices made, he stays totally on the surface. He might as well make one list of things he liked and another list of things he didn’t like. Furthermore, McDaniel often tries to pass observation off as critique, leaving the reader thinking something along the lines of “well… yes…that was the point…” Every post lacks the substance we as readers and theater makers and theatergoers are craving. essentially, McDaniel writes mediocre reviews after the show has already happened, proving them worthless. That is not to say, however, that he himself is a worthless writer. He just needs to decide what he wants to write and aim for improvement. If he wants to be a critic, he should try to be a critic, exploring into the text and the performance past “good” and “bad” and into the realm of themes, context, and voice. If he wants to be a reviewer, he needs to clarify his opinions and post his thoughts earlier so that they actually have an impact. Right now, his work doesn’t know what it wants to be, so the biggest impact it has is that it ends up causing commotion and hurting feelings instead of enlightening pieces of theater.
I am frustrated with McDaniel not because he is harsh, but because he lacks form and a willingness to learn. Stage Troupe’s motto is “Learning By Doing.” That means that every time we put on another play, it is a learning experience and we’re committed to making it a learning experience. McDaniel seems to ignore that motto both in terms of our work and his own. I don’t do theater to be superior. I do it because of the personal and communal growth. McDaniel seems to Review theater to be superior. That might be okay if we was superior. But he’s not. His writing is more amateur than (at least the same level of amateur) our theatrical attempts. Yes, we thrive for professionalism, but we know that we’re not professionals. McDaniel says that he does not consider himself professional, but his air of superiority seems to say otherwise. This superiority becomes unbearable when you realize that he does not do his research. There are many instances where he criticizes a choice that was actually written into the script. A lot of times he does not like the actual script and content of a piece and takes it out on the artists. Perhaps they could have done it a little differently, but a lot of times that’s not possible. (To read one of these instances and a string of rebuttals, read his Equus Review) Honestly, there’s no excuse for any critic, amateur or otherwise, not to do basic research into production history and context.
So Tate, if you’re reading this right now, I want you to understand something. You have such potential to be a valuable part of the extracurricular BU theater community. Don’t waste it by refusing to grow. Don’t waste it by living in a a vague world that is between critic and reviewer. Let’s continue learning by doing together, shall we?