BWW Feature: The Anatomy of a Critic

BWW Feature: The Anatomy of a Critic
Statler and Waldorf - Muppet Hecklers

Theatre is the reflection of the human experience back to ourselves. How incredible is THAT? It's a wonderful and complicated thing to write about theatre, because since it is that reflection of human life, most humans feel that they're experts at maybe not creating the artwork, but at assessing it.

As a columnist and critic, I get a lot of feedback, some of it not altogether pleasant, some of it rather negative, and some downright hateful. We learn, early on, that there will be people who vehemently disagree with our opinions - there's simply no accounting for taste. We also learn - and it's hard to accept - that we will get hate mail from people who are furious that our WRONG criticism has been published for all the world to see.

I've been verbally battered for an array of things: My reviews aren't "fair." I favor some companies over others. I cover too many people from too few companies. I don't feature a diverse enough cross-section of artists, I talk about myself too much, I don't ask the right questions, I ask rude questions that are none of my (or anyone's) business cetera.

In the spirit of transparency, open communication and full disclosure, I hereby speak to the above concerns, in no particular order.

On the subject of reviews:

In terms of "fairness," let's get real. Big, non-profit theatres that receive subsidies and have large subscription bases and capital campaigns and fabulous venues are not "equal" to mom and pops and store front, indie non-profits. Big professional theatres that employ union actors, stage managers, directors, designers and have gobs of staff are not "equal" to community theatres that employ artistic and administrative directors and have lots of staff and pay stipends of varying sizes or none at all. Actors who work day jobs and rehearse a few hours at night, for any amount of pay (including none) are NOT EQUAL to actors who work 40 hours per week under union contracts with benefits and if they work more than 40 hours are paid overtime and who have professional support including stage managers, union stewards and reps on the other end of email/phone lines.

I view each show in its context. I appreciate the work in context. I have been, as you know if you read my stuff, entirely blown away by community theatre, and I have been completely disgusted by professional theatre. I have praised professional actors and I have been altogether humbled by amateurs who clearly donate their considerable talents for the love - and the need - of the work.

I never, ever, EVER write anything that isn't true - either truly my opinion, by virtue of my own artistic sensibility, expertise in the field and, yes, personal taste OR the facts as I know and/or understand them.

Sometimes I see a show and can't review it, so I do a feature. Why "can't" I review it? Usually because I think it's bad, but the company doesn't have the resources to do better in the context of the project.

I honestly don't favor theatres over others. This is an enormous region and I cover what I'm assigned - mostly the professional houses and indies that aren't TOO far from home. I do travel as far as an hour each way, but that's where I'm drawing the line, thus far.

I've been known to give community theatre bad reviews. When non-profit, subsidized, well-funded amateur theatre with professional, paid leadership does poor work, I feel compelled to be honest. When they hire and pay union actors, at the expense of other production elements, I feel I have no choice but to be brutally honest.

I have little to no tolerance for successful, commercial theatre that pays to actors tiny stipends, while paying scale to musicians, directors, designers and administrative staff. That is slave labor, and I'll have none of it.

On the subject of interviews:

I feel grateful to all the artists who have taken the time to respond to my interview questions. People seem to be more busy than ever, these days, and I always feel intensely thankful when they take the time to let me into their artistic worlds.

A lot of theatre people are more humble than you'd think. Many don't like to talk about themselves, and some are shy about talking process. Some people respond so briefly, in spite my pleas for verbosity, that there is simply not enough there to submit to the editor/s. Some interviews feel too brief and lack detail, but I submit them anyway, and some are published.

I ask more artists than you see published. Some people I ask don't respond to my invitation, and some who respond drop out after my first round of questions.

The questions I ask are the questions to which I'm interested in learning the answers. I certainly don't mean to pry, but these are artist profiles, and the world wants to know details about people - childhoods, education/training, experience and perspectives. We want to know what other people think about things. I go as deep as I can go with each artist - some won't go beyond the surface, but some reveal intimate truths, and when that happens, it's a great gift to us all.

In terms of the diversity of artists I profile - I agree that it's a woefully Caucasian slate. I can only assure you that I reach out to performers and directors of color and the response rate is even lower than that of the anglo crowd. I don't know why that is, I only know it's true and that I won't stop reaching out.

Yep, I talk about myself. I'm a working artist with a past, present and future in the industry and I'm writing from my very personal perspective. I'm not a journalist. I'm not objective. I have a point of view, and I share it and where it's coming from.

If there are artists you'd like to see profiled, or shows you want to see reviewed, or if you think I've made a gross error, please contact me and say so. I'm a grown up, and I can take it - I may even look at the show again and write a follow-up, or maybe revise the initial review, if I'm convinced I made a mistake and/or if the show improved to the point that my review is moot. If you call me names, I will delete your note, and if such missives are anonymous, I will report them. Too much ugly stuff swirling around out there, as it is. And, hey. Feel free to pass along praise - I'm an actual human being over here, and I appreciate the occasional compliment as much as the next gal.

Life is short, friends. Take care of yourselves and each other, and DO THEATRE - make it, see it, celebrate it, perpetuate it! Keep it alive!

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