A Critic’s Love Letter to the Audience
Photo Credit: Andrea Klohn
Everyone has their thing. I get it. Mine is heavy drama that leaves me with a lot to think about. For my husband, it’s often comedy that leaves audiences rolling in the aisles or an underdog story.
For you it might be experimental puppetry with a hint of satire or a 57 ½ minute soliloquy in Pig Latin.
So not every critic will fit your bill as an audience member, but that’s okay! If you’re intrigued by criticism seek out a critic whose tastes best reflect your own.
Critics are, at the very least, established and—hopefully—knowledgeable members of the audience. And we’re all in the same red upholstered boat (read: chair.)
So, what’s the point of critics for the audiences of today who have an internet full of opinions? It feels much like asking “what’s the point of books when they’re just going to make a movie of it eventually?”
It’s all about context.
A good critic, one whose love of the craft oozes from their every word, provides the kind of context that an everyday audience member might not observe.
Perhaps a not-so-obvious metaphor or a deeper knowledge of the playwright’s history gives the critic an insight into a part of the story others wouldn’t see.
Critics are important parts of the theatrical ecosystem. A preview feature is a place where the artists get the opportunity to speak for their own work whereas the performance is a place for the work to speak for itself.
A preview and a review should, in a perfect world, reflect one another.
If a show has done its job the intentions of the artist can be read by the audience—and the critics—and be demonstrated in the eventual critique of the performance.
If a show is unsuccessful in portraying the messages of the artist, this might not happen.
It also might not happen if the critic misses the point – which is possible. We’re human. We can’t always be right 100% of the time nor should it be expected. This isn’t a perfect world and live performance is far from perfect.
Just look at this list of some of Broadway’s best at their worst for confirmation of that.
One of the things that is brilliant about live theater—and by extension those who love it—is that at its best it touches our very core as human beings. At its worst it’s simply a few hours spent in a room with artists giving it their all.
But theater is never a waste of time. Good critics are proof of that.
Whether a show is a smash hit or a failure makes no matter for the critic. They are still expected to give their honest opinion and put words to paper—digital or otherwise.
You might not agree with their take on a show and don’t be afraid to feel that way.
A critic is also just another member of the audience. A single point of view. One opinion.
But like in the art we all love, an audience is still required. The writer still needs someone to read what they’ve written, and in engaging with one another we further the craft of theater.
With so many opportunities online for anyone to review anything it can be tricky to find critics (and unlabeled theater journalists – let’s be honest) that see mostly eye-to-eye with you.
The best thing we can do for theater and the community it creates is to engage with it. Engagement keeps it thriving.
I suppose theater is like a plant. It needs water to continue to grow.
But instead of water let’s give it love. Let’s continue the conversations about what it does, what it’s doing and what it can do better.
And critics are a great way to keep that conversation going.