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October 21, 2009

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Aaron Grunfeld

For me, there's no question: a critic must be actively engaged with the culture you're covering. Arts journalism is more than just sitting in a dark auditorium: it's interviews, photo spreads, boosterism & even rumor-mongering. To do these things requires engagement. Novelists may be solitary animals, but journalists can't & shouldn't be. We're part of the foment.

Your last, intelligent paragraph conflates arts coverage with reviewing. Artists can also pen manifestos & thought pieces (as you do here), conduct interviews (like Adam Szymkowicz's wonderful blog series), hash out arguments & respond to audiences (like Mike Daisey's periodic riposts to critics), publish histories (like Brit Simon Callow on Orson Welles).

Anonymous

"My play In Public?"

isaac

It was easier/faster to say than "The play In Public which I directed". I certainly meant to sense of ownership over the script as a property, but the production was mine, as it was the actors and the designers and George's. I would have no problem with Abe Goldfarb, who was in it, saying that it was his.

Also, five words later in the same sentence I identified the playwright of the play by full name. I think it's pretty clear.

Anonymous

Easier and faster; revealing and presumptive too. Looking forward to revivals of Isaac Butler's Waiting for Godot, Isaac Butler's Oklahoma!, Isaac Butler's The Odd Couple and of course Isaac Butler's MilkMilkLemonade.

James

Oh, lighten up, George (or is it Marilyn?). It's perfectly acceptable for directors to refer to shows they've directed as "their play."

Anonymous

Neither. But thanks for making an additional presumption.

isaac

You know, I could probably settle this dispute between James and Anonymous. Commenters do leave IP addresses, even when anonymous. I could check the IP address if that would give ANON satisfaction.

Seriously tho, I'm done talking about this. This is bullshit. When an actor gives someone a postcard for a show they're working on (or sends out an e-mail) they say "PLEASE COME SEE MY SHOW". It's extremely clear in the post that that's the spirit in which the sentence-- which also identifies the playwright by name-- is meant.

And if it's not clear in the post, this absurd comment thread has made it doubly clear. If Anonymous wants to intentionally misunderstand what I wrote to get his or her knickers in a twist, that's up to him. Or her.

Moving on... What level of involvement between critic and artist is appropriate?

Duncan

This is something I've been struggling with for some time, as a theatre reviewer who is also an emerging playwright. I try to avoid plays that have friends of mine involved either as performers or writers (and if I get accepted into a festival such as MITF or Planet Connections, I won't review anything else in the fest), but then when I see a very talented performer, I would most likely want to work with that person in future... but if I do, I then can't review them anymore, since I have a personal connection. I've been considering leaving my post as a critic, because these days I just know too damn many people.

I think it's valid to have a playwright review plays- I certainly have more experience than most regarding what makes a play "work". And there are a number of playwrights who've also reviewed.

SashaNaomi

Actually, writers are a wee bit more social than you think- workshops, etc., but it doesn't have to get in the way of reviewing. Actors really can't do reviews because, well, pretty much the nature of their craft is lying. If they take on the role of critic, it seems like pretty much that- just another role. Playwrights, however, should and I think do review each other.

Jack Worthing

The punk parallel seems flawed. Everything was about the culture war: DIY, fuck-the-rules, fuck class, fuck everything. Saying something made it so. Sid Vicious was a bassist who couldn't play bass. It was all necessary reaction to the Old Wave, sure, and it produced some great music, but it was a one-off, and the best musicians (The Clash, for starters) realised it was a pretty dangerous way to keep living. Expertise matters. So do ethics. Ignore them for too long and everything becomes devalued.

Kenneth Tynan was very much 'of' London theatre when he wrote for the Observer. He knew his brief back-to-front. He was passionate advocate for work he believed in. (Cf. his defence of Brecht and his role in the destruction of the Lord Chamberlain.) But when he crossed the line INTO the profession (librettist, Olivier's dramaturg at the National) he stopped reviewing plays. It seems to be the only proper thing to do.

Choose to be a professional critic, or don't. Even though I often disagree with them, I'll take Brantley or Michael Billington over that hack Martin Denton (for example) any day of the week. Denton's mission is admirable, but he's ruined it with the appearance of nepotism and incest.

Duncan, above, has the right idea. Be passionate. But for God's sake avoid bias. There's a difference.

Sean

Isaac, if it's any consolation, as a producer you actually *own* the production, and I still have a hard time talking about the shows as if they're "mine". They really belong to the creative staff and, ultimately, the playwright and the director share ownership of the *production* more than any other single person.

By the way, you've been on fire lately. I got a call from Mac Rogers last night and we spent about five minutes quoting your blog and cracking each other up. Really great stuff here, really smart.

As to the question, we're moving further and further away from the necessity of a blinded, balance-holding judge and closer to advocacy every year, when it comes to theater criticism. It occurred to me during our run of "Viral" that we were getting great pull quotes from bloggers and online sites... but that it didn't *matter* because we didn't need to waste money pulling quotes and advertising them. Everyone was reading the source material anyway, and it was the voice of the advocates who gave the clearest picture of what the play is.

It doesn't matter whether we think the balanced adjudicator is necessary or not, they are slowly becoming useless.

freeman

There was totally no hair-pulling in the thread above, and I'm disappointed.

malachy walsh

One thing to note... the "new journalism" of the 60s resulted in some pretty interesting and insightful writing about the subjects of any given article - think HELLS ANGELS, FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST, DISPATCHES and so forth.

Not all of the philosophical implications of blurring the line between writer and subject are good. "Facts" become truly colored by the trajectory the "reporter" is taking on any particular story. However, Errol Morris' THIN BLUE LINE is pretty good filmic exploration of how that happens even in the supposedly most objective investigations.

Anyway, even if the journalist wasn't literally/physically embedded in the world he/she was covering, they were psychologically embedded in the story. It made for more interesting reading, better coverage and more to talk about. And thumbnail looks at subjects like art in the THE PAINTED WORD were critically-minded explorations.

And much more dynamic for all involved.

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