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October 20, 2005


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You raise interesting questions about the role of the critic in regards to theatre. The primary reason the media employs critics is to sell more print and advertising space. They accomplish this by having a critic whose opinion matches the majority of their readership. The critic also needs to be consistent, fair, and reliable. I would imagine that it is much more important in NYC when the ticket prices in question for the patrons are close to $100 a pop. When the critic is able to dissect a performance, highlight the elements that success and fail with understanding and intelligence, then the reader is more likely to trust this critic and return to them each time they are thinking of going to the theatre. This in turn makes the media more money and secures the critic’s job. Sadly, it is all a matter of commerce.

An example of this has happened here in Silicon Valley where the primary paper, the San Jose Mercury News, began to stop focusing on local theatre and only wrote about the larger companies (San Jose Rep, Berkeley Rep, TheatreWorks, CalShakes, ACT, etc), the touring Broadway productions, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. They did this because the SF papers were covering these and there was the perception that the readsership only cared about the big productions. As a result, the smaller companies, like RTE, suffered from the lack of coverage. Now that other papers, like The Metro, have filled the void of covering local theatre, the Merc is increasing it’s coverage. I would love to think this was due to a renaissance of great quality theatre, but, alas, I think it is simply a matter of economics. Readership is dwindling and they are probably trying to recapture market share from The Metro, which has done an excellent job of covering the arts with fail and balanced reviews.

I suppose the greater question is what is the responsibility of a critic to it’s local theatre community? Beyond intelligent analysis of a performance, does a critic have a greater responsibility to covering local theatre to ensure their readership is informed of all the theatre choices out there? I am not saying they need to dish out favorable reviews, but I do think that everyone needs to receive some coverage. I realize that the larger companies merit more as more readers attend their performances, but The Metro has succeeded in becoming the most reliable local paper for theatre by covering the small companies as well. There is a parasitic nature to the critic/theatre relationship and I agree that the critic will not benefit if the smaller companies vanish. A vibrant theatre community must have companies of all size and covering as many different types of theatre as possible.

Anyway, enough blah, blah from me. Thanks for raising an interesting topic.


The Royal Court may pay its directors, but the Royal Court isn't the Fringe. Young directors starting out in London also work for peanuts.

Natch, there are differences between theatre criticism in London & NY. No single newspaper over here has the same clout as the NY Times.

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