Friday, December 4, 2009

A Dichotomy

Okay. Enough people have asked about this drama critic post that …

(Asked? Asked?! Does sniggering count as “asked?” Does … never mind.)

Ever wonder how these things get started? I mean, I write plays. That’s all. I write plays, and after I write a play I look around for a theatre to produce it. I watch the audience during the performances. Where and how do they react? Where do I need to re-write?

This has been my routine for a long time. Write, critique my musings during a below-the-radar run, re-write, email the finished product to a contest, a commission, or to my alleged agent six or seven states away.

Simple.

Well, almost.

The middle part takes a little work. You know, the part about looking around for a theatre to produce an unknown work for the first time – that few people will come to see – and will not make a dime in profit for the theatre.

The Sound of Music pays for our entire season.”

“Yeah yeah.”

So I do what I do. I sit on committees in any of four small theatres within driving distance. I help build sets. I take tickets. It’s fun. And I direct plays. It pays. And in the back of my mind I keep thinking, “here are actors for a reading, here is a theatre …”

Ya still with me? I’m building my case here.

I’ve found that if I aggressively promote a theatre, ultimately it works in my favor. For example, many times the plays I direct become critically and financially successful. As a result, my next audition attracts more gifted and experienced performers. Then, because I have a cast that is gifted and experienced, my next show stands a better chance of becoming successful. That’s how that goes, and I've always been open about acknowledging the formula.

And so it was with the last show I directed, Inherit The Wind. It was an outstanding show, thanks in large part to casting some of the best (and most well know) actors available. I found that promotion of the play did not include any reviews. Simply, the theatre felt that the reviewers and critics in this city are so unqualified (for one reason or another.) that no reviews would be accepted from anyone.

I was shocked. It occurred to me (naively) that even a bad review is better than none at all. What do I know? Since my agent is on the West Coast, (and I’m not), it’s been years since one of my plays has been locally judged by anyone but me.

If the problem was a lack of trust in the critic, it occurred to me that here was something I might be able to fix. Years ago I was the drama critic for a smallish newspaper chain and a television station. I specialized in covering the theatres nobody else wanted, and was held in high regard by the very theatres I now frequent. At the time, I stopped reviewing because, as a playwright, I felt like I was reviewing what I should be doing.

I stopped for another reason, as well.

For the most part, I consider drama critics to be lower than pond scum. They have little in the way of integrity – everything is subjective. Newspaper drama critics are journalists. This does not automatically qualify them to critique theatre, and they are hired – and evaluated – by people who know even less. Many critics are arrogant and condescending. There’s no way to challenge their opinions – once it’s in print, the game is over. Further, five out of six critics know they must build a following in order to keep a job. There are only so many ways you can say something positive about a performance or a show. However there are an almost infinite number of ways you can destroy a show or a theatre, and at the same time make yourself appear clever and witty and powerful. They ignore the fact that the primary responsibility is to critique, not criticize – that the true goal is to improve the quality of the craft. Unfortunately, I believe that local critics are literary vampires – their primary urges are to suck the life out of any group that incurs disfavor.

I hope I haven’t been too subtle in expressing my opinion of those who work in this, the next to oldest profession.

One final thing here has kept me moving forward. In contacting various publishing groups, I stumbled across several theatre websites – I never knew these even existed. One in particular caught my attention - publishing not only reviews, but auditions, feature articles, and whatever strikes the fancy of the various contributors. I was impressed, and courted them openly. Although I hold drama critics – myself included – in low regard , it pleases me to promote, wherever and however, the art and craft of which I am a part.
jb

1 comment:

Julie M said...

It's a shame you're not able to offer the address of the site you reviewed for in this article.
It's the cherry that would top this off nicely.