A Young Writer’s Love Letter to Her Craft
Photo Credit: Amanda Finn
The best place for a young theater journalist to be is in a room full of critics.
You will be hard pressed to find a room with more passion or knowledge of the theater. You’ll also be hard pressed to find a more opinionated group of people. And that’s a powerful thing.
Two weeks ago that room could be found at the annual American Theatre Critics Association conference which I co-hosted along with three other unbelievable women and conference chair Lindsay Christians.
This year that conference was held in Spring Green, Wisconsin largely at American Players Theatre. Suddenly APT, a theater that I cherish, became the center for my life for a solid week.
As part of the conference we held panels on podcasting, problematic female roles in early comedies, racial equity, copyright laws, theater in Wisconsin and even a keynote panel with Emmy and Tony nominated Carrie Coon.
In that whirlwind of a week we managed to find time to gather together as an organization and talk. We talked about where we’ve been, where we are and - most importantly - where we are headed.
That final conversation is always a doozy as ATCA and its membership are in no way immune to the evolving nature of media.
Over the years members have lost jobs or their platforms. In the two short years I have been a part of the organization I’ve seen it happen several times.
The reality is the role of full-time critic is all but gone from our artistic landscape.
But we’re still here.
Gathering together freelance positions, creating our own platforms, straddling multiple media outlets or devoting our free time to the siren song of theater which beckons us to write about it.
We discussed at length what it means to be a critic in today’s theater.
Amongst ourselves we quibbled about the hardships of our work in a landscape unlike any our profession has seen.
And we learned a lot.
We learned a great deal about ourselves while also learning to cordially disagree with one another. We are, after all, in a position of opinion so it’s par for the course.
The beauty of these conferences is the opportunities it provides for a group of critics to meet with theater practitioners. This chance for dialogue bridges the aisle in a way that is seldom an option in our profession.
One theatermaker in the conference -- this is Jennifer Uphoff Gray for any Forward Theater fans out there -- said that theater artists and critics need one another.
She’s absolutely right.
Critics don’t have to be the Anton Ego of the theater world. The shirking mean muggers who waltz into the theater hoping to burn whatever they see.
If Ego is a good representative for any aspect of criticism, I would point to his epiphany near the end of Ratatouille. That moment when he finally takes a bite of the ratatouille which transports him back to his childhood home and the darkness is lifted from his brow—THAT is the reality of the critic.
We walk into the theater hoping to enjoy our evening. To be transported away from the humdrum of daily living much in the same way actors are transported when they take to the stage.
Theater critics aren’t up there baring their souls on stage -- though anyone who writes for money or fun knows that writing in itself is a means of baring one’s soul.
Some among the 50 or so folks at the ATCA conference this year see nearly 200 shows a year. If that isn’t love of the art form I’m not sure what is.
As someone still new to the profession of journalism—and as far as I know the youngest member of ATCA—the hope of seeing theater for a living professionally is a dwindling one.
And yet as a professional newcomer I also see many of the incorrect assertions of the career as well, which brought me to writing this piece.
There is much to learn in this overwhelming world of ours. A big part of that learning, as artists know, can take place in an audience.
Live theater is unlike any other mode of storytelling because the audience feels what the actors are feeling. The tension is real. As is the atmosphere created by the performance, its space and those that occupy it.
All of that is to say even if the critic and artist are not in tandem in their thoughts they have both experienced something together. That is how they are bound.
Because we love the theater. If we didn’t we wouldn’t devote our lives to it.