Criticism and Critics: The problem (or not)

The problem is the reviewer. He can’t write. She’s got no credentials. He’s a failed artist. She didn’t even want the job in the first place, just slumming.

These aren’t abstract statements. Related to Chicago’s Christopher Piatt: “Time Out is filled with snarkiness and factual inaccuracies.” Regarding Prague’s Steffen Silvis: “Throughout this pessimistic, spiteful, know-it-all, opinionated, and exceedingly dull review, Steffen Silvis makes one thing clear- he's worse at his craft as a critic then any actor, director, or technician involved in Katatonica.” And from the same comment, “Apparently he has neither the creative talent to write theater, nor the practical skills to produce it, so he turns to criticism.” In Milwaukee, conventional wisdom has it that the Journal Sentinel’s Damien Jaques never wanted to review theater, and has somehow managed to suffer through his job like a career IRS agent who had failed the CPA exam.

Swap reviewers and you get the same issues. Silvis has had three plays produced in London and is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in theater journalism. Neither a failed artist nor lacking credentials. I don’t know enough about Piatt or Jaques to speak to their history, but having worked in four markets and five cities, I’m comfortable generalizing. It’s not just the reviewer – many theater artists will speak poorly of most reviewers.

What is the reviewer’s job? What is it that they’re so uniformly bad at?

1. To comment on the show (or to the art generally speaking).
2. To speak and/or recommend to a potential audience
3. To speak to the artists.

These are the obvious ones, but there are others that occasionally arise.

4. To advance the art form.
5. To advance the community.
6. To educate the audience regarding the play and the art alike.

To this end, there are three obvious roles that the reviewer can hold (there might be others, of course).
1. The “professional” audience member
2. The filter
3. The artistic peer.

The problem, then, isn’t just the reviewer. It’s identifying what the reviewer’s job is.

Next week: who are Reviewers talking to?




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