Critiquing Criticism in a Full House

30 Mar

I’m at the Humana Festival this weekend, and was invited to be on the industry panel that ran this morning. We were impaneled on the subject of the future of theatre criticism, led by the dynamic Polly Carl of  It was a fun event, though I’m not sure we made much progress on criticism’s future. It’s all a blur, but I seem to recall that I went on at length about how the best criticism seems to be on the interwebs and the tweetyspaces. I think I may have admitted that a recent good review made me cry with relief.

At some point, the video will be available on the NewPlayTV web channel, but until then, I’ll go ahead and share the conversation prompts that Polly asked us to think about in advance….


1.     Before diving right into the future, let’s spend a brief amount of time talking about the current state of theater criticism.

Chloe Veltman on HowlRound: “The thing is that criticism, when practiced diligently, is a much higher calling than commentary. Anyone can comment on something. But to construct an engaging, deeply felt, educational and entertaining response to a work of art is an art form in itself. And unless I spend the necessary time digesting the work, reading around it and thinking about it before putting my thoughts into the public domain, then it’s not criticism. It’s merely commentary.”

Why does theater criticism still matter? And in this new world order where commentary is everywhere do we still need criticism?

2.     In that terrific conversation a few years back between Eric Bently, Stanley Kauffman, and Robert Brustein–Bently suggests Broadway needs a consumer guide and the Broadway critic’s job is to let audiences know if it’s worth their $100 or $200 or $300 to see that show. He saw this as a very specific need in New York. Is it the job of all critics now– to create a consumer guide for audiences? Is this how criticism makes a case for itself?

Part II

3.     Recently at Woolly Mammoth theater they tried a Twitter experiment:

The plan: a call for applicants to join a “Tweet Up,” out of which we would pick three participants. The experimental nature of this undertaking led us to limit the number of participants. Our three participants were invited to attend our first rehearsal of Civilization (all you can eat), a technical rehearsal, and then the final dress rehearsal. Participants were invited to tweet their thoughts and reactions to these events using the show’s hashtag #WoollyCIV.

If social networking is replacing professional criticism and audience commentary/blogging is replacing the review AND in this Woolly situation artists and institutions are able to create their own buzz about the work– Is there still space for the professional critic?

4.     How are artists creating the buzz about their own work? The line between the critic and the maker of the art used to be sacred, is the artists take on what they do as legitimate as that of the professional critic?

Part III

5.     What is the future of criticism? What might a new forum for criticism look like and what is the role of the professional critic in this future? Should artists and theaters takes more responsibility for this future given that printing presses are no longer necessary for creating and disseminating criticism?

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