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“A timely investigation….I wish I could tell my younger self to read this!”

This winter, STC has affectionately poked fun at the figure that all theatre makers at once fear and admire, laud and condemn, pretend to disregard but actually want to take out for drinks—the theatre critic. In both Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Critic and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, we are able to live out our most ludicrous fantasies about critics—be it that critics gather every morning to compare opinions of last night’s show, or that, well, every once in a while a cheeky critic might have cause to watch his back as he sits in a dark theatre…. However, as we have learned again and again, theatre critics are on the whole good-natured and willing to laugh at themselves and at the fallacies that surround their profession—so long as the person telling the jokes is aware that theatre critics are practiced writers, who are quite capable of using their pens to exact revenge (in an unbiased manner that is within the assigned word count, of course).

In the spirit of these productions, we reached out to our critics to learn a little about them and about theatre criticism. Here is what they said

STC QUESTION: What advice would you give to future and/or aspiring theatre critics?
Take the time to learn about the thing you’re critiquing; be as informed, yet accessible, as possible. And never be mean for the sake of being mean.

–Andrew Lapin, Freelance Journalist and Arts Critic

To gird your loins for a largely thankless profession (except you get to see great theatre) where you are viewed as a necessary evil.

–Jayne Blanchard, DC Theatre Scene

Require payment, for your own dignity, but understand that you will not support yourself through your criticism. So if you find yourself writing for any reason other than to convey the truth of your experience, stop and do something else.

–Tim Treanor, DC Theatre Scene

Do your homework, especially when seeing a classic play. Read up on the playwright and the context for the play, if not the script itself. Going in cold is not a good idea.

–Susan Berlin, TalkinBroadway

Don’t spend a great deal of time telling plots, especially if it’s a classic or well-known show. Be honest but fair. Try not to let prejudices come through, but it’s very hard.

–Anonymous

Keep your day job.

–Susan Davidson, CurtainUp

Have you considered going into computer-game reviewing? I think that might really be a growth sector.

–Celia Wren

Keep your day job.

–Kate Wingfield, Metro Weekly

Of course, participating in the theatre in any way is hugely helpful. I appeared in The Family Reunion by T.S. Eliot in college. The actress who played my sister (this was before the age of cell phones) failed to show up for the matinee. Because I knew the script, I ended up playing both parts. I like to think I created a plausible character, although she was rather strange. Needless to say, in a realistic drama you couldn’t get away with this!

—Sophia Howes

If you can do anything else, my dear, do it. (This same advice was given to me by Dame Margot Fonteyn about dancing and several actors about acting, but alas to no avail.)

–Susan Galbraith, DC Theatre Scene

Honesty and know the full context of the play and its production that you are reviewing. Don’t pretend to know. If this is your first Ibsen, admit it; if you base your fountain of knowledge on hearsay or Cliffs Notes, it will be obvious to actors and audience alike. If you see a Romeo and Juliet in which Juliet wakes up before Romeo dies, be aware before you laud the director’s stunning ingenuity that this device has already been done six times in other productions. This year. And it’s only January 5.

–Eric Minton, Shakespeareances.com

Watch “Slings & Arrows”
Embrace old-school integrity
See all the theater you can
Get a great day job.

– Rebecca J. Ritzel, Freelance Theatre Critic

STC QUESTION: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self about the world of theatre criticism? Would you warn yourself about anything?

Young Me, you will enter theatre writing as an outsider. You must earn the respect and trust of the theatre community by showing you care about even the littlest play. You must maintain a thick skin when overly sensitive directors throw a fit over your reviews. And you must take no assignment for granted.

–Andrew Lapin, Freelance Journalist and Arts Critic

I would tell my younger self that theatre is a harsh mistress. I’d warn my younger self to never fall for an actor.

–Jayne Blanchard, DC Theatre Scene

I would tell myself to learn the difference between bad theatre and interpretations of the text with which I disagree. Criticize both, but for the right reasons.

–Tim Treanor, DC Theatre Scene

Especially regarding new musicals with hopes of a Broadway transfer: be skeptical. I learned this lesson sitting through Annie 2.

–Susan Berlin, TalkinBroadway

That it’s difficult on many levels, and doesn’t get easier as time goes on. I didn’t “train” specifically as a theatre critic. I was a writer for many years, and a feature and arts writer specifically before someone asked me to fill in occasionally as a critic for a daily newspaper. I was hooked. I had always been a theatre lover, exposed to the art by my parents at an early age, and also began writing plays.

–Anonymous

Not all productions are worth seeing, writing about, reviewing etc.

–Susan Davidson, CurtainUp

You’ll be seated in the bosom of humanity: there will be water-bottle guzzlers battling the well-documented dangers of darkness-induced dehydration; persistent whiffs of breath toxic enough to re-arrange one’s DNA; and—possibly worst of all—gum chewers of indomitable spirit and industry.

–Kate Wingfield, Metro Weekly

I wrote theatre reviews for my college newspaper, and I thought I was terribly sophisticated (I wasn’t). I did, however, have the good sense to worship art and artists, and I still do. I think I would tell my younger self: Every person who participated in the production you are reviewing spent time and effort on it. Respect that commitment. You don’t have to be dishonest, but generosity of spirit is infinitely preferable to an arrogant, dismissive attitude.

—Sophia Howes

Well, of course, the sad passing of news in print. But I always liked the British critics who seem to be more open to friendships in theatre, including with each other. I was upset to return to U.S. and see how the NYT critic rules the roost, and still to some extent the Post in D.C.

–Susan Galbraith, DC Theatre Scene

Non-applicable: I see my younger self in the mirror every day giving me bad advice. Getting in touch with my older self has been my lifelong Sisyphusian curse.

–Eric Minton, Shakespeareances.com

 

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