Are Theater Critics Too Negative? Is Theater Criticism Dying?

F. Murray Abraham (far left) plays a critic in "It's Only A Play." Photograph Credit: Joan Marcus

F. Murray Abraham (far left) plays a critic in “It’s Only A Play.” Photograph Credit: Joan Marcus

Jonathan Mandell’s recent HowlRound article, Are Theater Critics Critical? An Update, revisits an old and passionate conversation — and it got people talking once again. You may have seen Thomas Cott’s email yesterday spotlighting both Mandell’s article along with one by U.K. critic Mark Shenton.

In his article, Mandell asks — and answers — a few hot-button questions about theater criticism: Should anybody care about theater critics? Are theater critics crucial? Are theater critics too negative? Is theater criticism dying? And more than a few HowlRound readers chimed in, posting a comment at the end.

On his blog, Mark Shenton writes about The past, present and future of theater criticism:

“Not only are the traditional distribution channels of the print media changing, but the online world is also one in which blogs, bulletin boards, chatrooms and Twitter are offering far more outlets for opinion. The result is that far from being the ultimate word on a production, critics are only the start of a conversation around it, not the end of it. That’s something I personally welcome: it means that the conversations that critics are part of are now richer, as critics have also had to become more engaged with both those they write for and those they write about than ever before.”

Should Anybody Care About Theatre Critics?

Jim has added to this conversation, too. The first time he advised: Make People Want to Talk About What You’re Doing.

“What’s important though is that there is conversation and attention being paid. Attention is currency, and it used to be that the big local paper was all the currency you needed. That day is (long) gone.

The best strategy is not to worry particularly about formal theater criticism as it’s existed for the last several decades. It won’t vanish, though it probably will continue to retreat some even from its current reduced state. The best strategy is to think about conversation more broadly. In the ’60s, there weren’t many options besides newspaper. Today, that’s just not true.

The great structural advantage of our time is that if you make people want to talk about what you’re doing, they will!”

Then he commented on how to be open to criticism:

“Now those opinions [of others] come to the light for others to see in a number of ways that weren’t there before because of blogs, posts on Facebook or Twitter, photo sharing or a dozen other ways people can share their long and well-thought-out opinions or their short, not so well-thought-out opinions on a range of things. When it comes to live entertainment, user reviews (which has been an important feature on Goldstar for years) are one of those ways, and like critics doing reviews, they are not always positive (although most of them are). This is hard for some people to accept, and very few people actually enjoy hearing bad things about themselves or their work. It doesn’t feel good, but it can be very valuable.

So how do you become more open to this kind of criticism?

Whenever you hear something negative about yourself, your work, your organization or whatever, stop and consider the possibility that the criticism is correct.”

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Are Theatre Critics Critical? An Update
Are Theatre Critics Critical? An Update
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