Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Apparently the theatre blogosphere is united in its dismissal of this experiment in theatre criticism. Matt Freeman, Matt J, Isaac, and a host of others have dismissed, with few words of explanation and lots of eye-rolling and sniggering, the use of customer recommendations that, at places like and Netflix, have successfully provided a useful and important aspect of the broadening of readership and viewership. So I have to ask what there is to object to in this case. Is it as Erica says in Rob Kendt's comments: "I'm not sure how anyone who isn't intimately familiar with the creation process of a show can be an useful critic." Really? Only insiders have the right to have an opinion about the theatre, and to have that opinion heard? Or is it more the "don't try this at home" objection: real critics are trained experts, and the unwashed masses should simply shut up and listen?

Are these reviews going to reach the heights of Kenneth Tynan, Robert Brustein, and Stanly Kaufman? Of course not. But when I am looking at a book at Amazon, I find the insights of those who have read the book before me, no matter what their background, very helpful in my evaluation.

And good God, given the quality of theatre criticism we are confronted with every day in the media, can these really be that much worse?
Tags:theatre audience


YS said...

There is one thing that is confusing me on this issue.

There seems to be an understanding, amongst those who are completely enraged about this, that regular reviewers are being replaced by these people.

I think I read the article closely, but I didn't get the feeeling that that was what was going on. It seems like it is a feature.

Maybe others have more information, but if they are not looking to replace regular, experienced reviewers, then I am with you, Scott. What's the big deal?

Amazon has Editor's reviews with excerpts from legitimate reviewers.

The Times has Reader's Reviews, some of which seem to be very well thought out.

However, if is dispensing with experienced critics in lieu of this new experiment, then that is a different story.

Tee said...

Scott, I'm with you. Theatre companies themselves have been doing this kind of stuff for years to get an idea of what kind of theatre their audiences are interested in seeing. I can't tell you the number of talkback sessions and panel discussions I've been involved in as an actor.

It seems that this publisher has had an idea to form the same type of thing. To be honest, I'm not scared of this type of discussion at all.

As a theatre professional, I understand that I've got a certain level of training (which I am constantly striving to expand), but I can't expect my audiences to have that same training or understanding. My job (as I see it) in the theatre is to make sure that the story is told so that audiences will understand it. Will everybody get it all the time? Of course not. However, I do think that an open dialogue with "non-theatre" people can be very valuable.

We are going to talk about this on our podcast, The Inexplicable Dumb Show in an upcoming episode. Would you be interested in doing a phone interview on this topic with us?

Trey Graham said...

"Theatre companies themselves have been doing this ... to get an idea of what kind of theatre their audiences are interested in seeing." Oh, indeed they have. And what, it's worth asking, might that have to do with the sheer volume of safe, unthreatening cheese that's being programmed at some of the major regionals these days?

Don't get me wrong: Web journalism is evolving in all kinds of interesting ways--witness the two-way journalism on this blog, my blog, and others like 'em--and I'm all for the idea that there canbe something to this notion of "the wisdom of crowds."

But in the year of the Ibsen centennial, and after two back-to-back reviews of Enemy, I'm also not shy about saying, with Ibsen, that the crowd's not always terribly wise. Amazon user reviews can be terrific, and they can be crap. (I saw one recently that dinged the My Fair Lady cast album for not featuring "the original Eliza, Audrey Hepburn.")

It's less the concept of the panel I was mocking in my post about it, anyway, than the cheerfully empty-headed bios and the bland crap most of the panelists claimed to be passionate about. I mean, come on: Les Miz is one of the classics? I'll cop to being a little bit of an elitist -- I write for an alt-weekly, after all -- but you hardly have to be an elitist to think that lineup is kinda sad.

Scott Walters said...

Tee -- I'd be happy to do your blogcast. Email me at or call 828-251-6686.

Scott Walters said...

Trey -- My concern about the line-up is that it all seems to be drawn from the same class of people -- those who have enough money to go the Broadway theatre regularly. But the whole idea is that they are drawn from the ranks of the audience, and that means they sometimes reveal areas of ignorance when it comes to historical facts (like the Hepburn comment), or taste that may not be what we would prefer. So what? Theatre people need to get over this snootiness. We exist because of our audience, and it is time we start respecting them rather than scorning them. And I would argue that "dangerous and threatening" is no deeper than "safe and unthreatening." I've seen more than my share of "dangerous and threatening" theatre that has been boring, simple-minded, and self-satisfied -- popular theatre doesn't have a monopoly on that.

YS said...

Mattj on theatre conversation has the evidence: is officially discontinuing their regular reviewers in lieu of the new feature.

This not an ideal situation for the audience or the theatre community.

I love the kind of reader reviews that have been developed through the New Media, but I believe that the only way that this can work is through the balance of consitent and regular critical voices as well.

Scott, you may want to check out soemthing Don Hall wrote in response to a post of mine.

He talks about the difference between the theater community and the theater audience.

Tee said...

"And what, it's worth asking, might that have to do with the sheer volume of safe, unthreatening cheese that's being programmed at some of the major regionals these days?"

Playing Devil's Advocate, I would ask, what's the good of doing "threatening" theatre if there's not going to be an audience out there to watch it?

I'm not saying there's no place for it, but theatre is a business and that is not ever going to change. I do believe that there is a balance that comes into play. Not every play that is produced can be "threatening" (and to whom, is the further question). Theatres must balance the edgy, thought-provoking (and yes, even "in-your-face") theatre with something that is produced for the masses. A majority of theatre goers in this country don't like to go to the theatre to be assaulted--whether or not they agree with the point being made by the piece.

It's a very simple model: do the shows that will bring in the audiences (and their money) so that you can afford to do some of the more avant garde, edgy, less traditional theatre.

Just because a story doesn't "threaten" someone does not make it less of a story.

Anonymous said...

Hello, all. I'm not a blogger myself, but in the past few months, I've been reading some of your blogs (certainly Scott's), along with Parabasis and some others, and I'm all for audience reviews, particularly in blog format.

Anyway, I just want to invite all intelligent bloggers to see the new show at the Culture Project, called DAI (enough), and to write about it.

Just email for press tickets.

Hope to see you soon,

The Culture Project