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February 12, 2009


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I dunno. On one hand I view the demise of print criticism as a very bad thing for our theatre.

On the other hand, theatre made it for a handful of millenia without newsprint criticism.

So, like for the predictions of the NY Times's death, it would be a huge blow to broadway and the big off-broadway houses.

But would theatre cease to exist in NYC without the Times?


Well, for movies we already have trailers, which ostensibly show the interesting bits of whichever movie is being promoted. In addition to critical response, of course. But then trailers always lie...


I'm not crazy about the excerpt idea. Even that seems a bit gratuitous to me. Why not just stick to listings with the little blurbs pulled straight from the press release, and let people go online to get their opinions. Honestly, I don't think it would matter to readers in the slightest. It would really only affect the marketers/producers/artists who are looking for somebody to quote. But even that, I think, is basically unnecessary. Seriously, just let people come to your website and comment on the show in a public forum.


Here's the problem with trailers alone (or excerpts)--and even interviews. If the artist is agreeing to do this, substantively so, then it is because they want you to come and see their work. They are invested in it, and therefore biased to it. The idea of *GOOD* critical response, at the lowest level, is that this is an experienced theatergoer with no attachment to the show. If a stranger with a good vocabulary has been impressed (or horrified) by a show, I'd like to hear about that--I don't need what's essentially a dolled-up press release or vastly expanded jacket-flap.

Two other things: printing excerpts is bound to take up more space than a concise review. As a result, it would actually be cheaper to have a critic--or to hire someone to pare down submitted material into a condensed, quoted section. In which case, if you're paying someone for that, why not just have them unbiasedly review the production?

Criticism isn't dead; it's just changing. Sadly, as Mark Slouka pointed out in February's Harper's, we are at a point in which Belief is prized above Intelligence, meaning that a preconceived opinion of theater or the undigested thought of one's gut is driving out the thoughtful writers.

Guy Yedwab

I believe excerpts would wind up hurting some forms of art. Sometimes its hard to understand the whole from the part (like a movie trailer that ruins a movie--I've heard good things about Revolutionary Road but I HATE the trailer so much that I'm never, ever going to see it).

Take a play, for instance. Sometimes its very hard to imagine a play on its feet. I wrote a mostly silent, movement based play recently. Clips from a film of the production might work(although expensive to do well and unilluminating if done cheap), but the script would have left out the contributions of the choreographer (which were extensive and crucial to the success of the play).

Some texts are very dead on the page, but when acted by the right actor can leap alive. Things that sound undynamic, things that might be awkward. Literary departments/agents or directors/actors might be good at reading a script and imagining it in its fully realized form, but the public may not have that.

Photography? That might work. After all, each image usually stands alone and speaks for itself, and it can do that in the newspaper (maybe not in Black and White if it's a color photo).

If you have an online publication, movie trailers are quite acceptable! But a critic still gives a lot of context outside of the trailer, about (for instance) whether it's too long or short (there's no such thing as a trailer that's too long or too short, since the length is standardized).

In short: you can get a good look at a bit of the work, but sometimes the critic is there to tell you how the whole works together. There might be an argument for this in fields like sculpture, photography, etc. I don't work in those fields so I hesitate to pass judgment.

This is all, of course, separate from the role that criticism plays within an industry--for investors, for other creators, for the future of the art as a form. But that's often more high-brow publications or theoretical journals, which are sometimes less threatened than the art correspondent on a big city paper.

Scott Walters

What if all critical intelligence disappeared entirely? That's already happened. It's called the theatrosphere.

Alison Croggon

Scott, you're amazing. Why the gratuitous trollish?

Scott Walters

It wasn't that long ago when there was a vibrant defense of snark as an internet art form. I guess it depends on who is snarking whom.



I honestly sometimes don't get you. Your explanation is that you at some point read somewhere someone write a defense of snark and therefore your total troll-baiting and demolition of the comment thread was appropriate? And somehow Alison asking you a question about it once again makes you some kind of victim?

I don't get it. Please explain.

BTW: You'll get no defense of snark as an internet art form out of me; there are times when I think it's useful, but most of the time I'm not a big fan. I'm actually a pretty sincere guy at the end of the day. In fact, if you're interested here is a post I wrote awhile ago on snark and how it is killing criticism!

Alison Croggon

Thanks for that pointer, Isaac. EXACTLY. And Scott, who was defending snark? I'm all for intelligent, informed - and honest - criticism. And often (not always, but often) I find it on blogs. Blogs being blogs, there's other stuff too, but so what?

Btw, weren't you complaining a while back that the problem with theatre blogs is that nobody will say anything nasty?


I guess Scott's comment here meets the minimum criteria for snark -- "combination of 'snide' and 'remark'" -- but I don't think it clears the higher bar of "biting, cruel humor or wit." What we're dealing with here is a rather artless, off-topic putdown.

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