About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Value of Criticism

As predicted, most major news outlets released their reviews of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark on Tuesday. I'm not going to re-cap them, you can find them anywhere on the internet.

Of course, the producers decried their actions as "not cool!" As a theatre artist, you would probably expect me to side with the show over the critics; but I'm also a theatre consumer, so I align with the critics based on the value of the service they provide.

The point of theatre criticism is not to record for the annals of history the official word on the quality of a show. Reviews certainly don't decide whether a show will live or die--panned shows will still prove popular with audiences, or fare well in regional and community theatre.

Theatre criticism exists to help the consumer make an informed decision on how to spend their valuable time and money. So I think it's totally valid to release reviews of a show like Spider-Man which, for months, has been charging full price for audiences to come see performances. It's been running since November, for crying out loud, and many people suspect that they'll keep pushing back "opening night" until everyone's forgotten they haven't had one yet.

At my current professional level, I find myself yearning for the validation of criticism. Most Los Angeles critics overlook the technical elements of a show, and focus on the acting and writing (and summarizing, of course). Criticism is difficult to take well, because most people take it to extremes; it's either "eff those guys, I'm awesome, they don't know what they're talking about" or "oh my god, they're right, I suck, I might as well end it all right now." And of course, as Anton Ego so keenly observed, most critics get off one finding the most eloquent ways possible to verbally ream their victims.

The most difficult thing to take away from a well-balanced, at least slightly thought-out review is "does this guy have a point, and if so, what can I learn from it?" I know too many people who react to the slightest bit of criticism with "this guy's a hack, we're awesome, this show is perfect", and I often find myself thinking "well, no, it's not perfect".

If a review's purpose for the audience member is to help them choose what to see, its purpose for the artist is to help them grow and improve. If you don't take an honest look at your flaws, how will you ever improve them?

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