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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A year without critics?

George Hunka today ponders what theater would look like with a moratorium on print criticism for a year.

"Given the place of the reviewing and critical community in the post-capitalist ideology that maintains journalists, the business community and artists as closely-

aligned participants in the discipline, maybe we should place a moratorium on criticism and reviewing as well. So long as we might think about "giving Shakespeare a rest," as Lyn puts it, perhaps our critics and reviewers could also use some time away from the theatre. Let's give the reviewers and theatre editors for the New York Times, Time Out New York, Backstage, the Guardian and nytheatre.com a paid one-year vacation and see what transpires."

Not terribly likely, of course.

But, in the interest of discussion...what do you think this would accomplish? Even as pure fantasy, what would your community look like without the major critics? Would it have little-to-no effect? Would is free you up? Would it effectively take theatre off the public radar?

What do you think?

2 comments:

Matthew said...

Having worked on many-oh-so-many OOB showcases and the like, a good review in The Times doubles, even triples the audience. It gets the attention of industry, which sometimes propels careers. Can Broadway survive without critics? Indisputably. For many Broadway shows, the juggernaut of publicity they can afford makes them critic-proof. Brantley excoriated "The Little Mermaid"--she is still doing just fine. Theatre of lesser means, though, can be boosted by a positive review in ways that only help the artists involved. Even reviews from websites, small publications, etc., make for catchier-looking promotions than just the company or artist alone blowing their own horn.

Reviews provide free, theoretically unbiased, widely-dispersed recognition for many companies and artists that need and deserve it.

A hypothetical year without them would rob us of a lot of talent we should be celebrating.

George Hunka said...

The problem is in the presuppositions of the status and role of critics (are they truly or just theoretically unbiased?) and criticism itself (is its role to "celebrate" talent? Isn't that the proper role of the publicist and the awards ceremony?). As the comments of Jana and Andrew at my original post indicate, these views assume something which is next to impossible -- that the critic is a tabula rasa who isn't informed by preconceived and often unexamined notions about what constitutes "good" and "bad" theatre.

Neither good nor bad reviews are unbiased. Jana and Andrew quite properly point out these biases. The assumption that they're unbiased -- that they don't reflect current ideological or aesthetic or cultural consensus as to what constitutes good or bad theatre, what should or should not be celebrated -- is an extremely dangerous and potentially crippling perspective.