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February 15, 2009

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owens

is theatre for the people or is theatre for theatre people? sometimes, especially when i read things like this, i think that theatre (and even the community) is pretty i love with itself...to a fault. you know what else? sometimes sondheim is BAD. even more? BORING. there. i said it.

Roach

Gotta piggyback on what owens just said. There are many times I walk out of a show in Chicago wondering "Now, who was that for?" I know a lot of theater folk, including some of my good friends, who bitch and moan that they need some butts in the seats, and then proceed to produce theater that is only accessible to grad students who supposedly "get it." If you want folks to come to your shows, you have to entertain them first. I'm not going to see a musical because I understand Sondheim's music theory, I'm going because I would like to see some great singin' and dancin'. Is that not enough?

Ed

While it's nice to have a critic that understands music theory, etc., reviewing a musical (especially a new one) what does that additional knowledge allow a critic to convey to a layman audience? Precious little. It's sufficient for the critic to be paying attention to presentation of the score, in addition to the production's other components, and faithfully relay how the score's presentation affected him/her and meshed with the other elements of the production. I have to agree with the previous commenters that by-experts-for-experts theatre (and by the same token, criticism) by its very nature limits its own usefulness.
So I guess the target audience for criticism has to be taken into account as well. For example- Kris, if you were writing reviews for a high end music appreciation magazine or something where everyone who subscribed was an aficionado of Sondheim and other composers and could discuss theory at length, *then* it would be shocking for you not to have a grounding in theory. But T:OC is not that kind of publication, and discussing theory at any length would eat your word count and bore many of your readers, and have little bearing on whether or not they decided to see the show.

Bilal

While I agree with you, Kris, that not every critic needs to share an expertise in what they're reviewing, I think I do hold critics to a slightly higher standard than simply as "representative of the audience," because critical opinion is set up to have more "weight" than that of the regular audience.

How many stories are there of the well-attended show that everybody in the room but the critic seems to enjoy? And yet, how rarely will you see the critic write in such instances, "Maybe I just didn't get it"?

Sometimes, yes, the material on display isn't "accessible" to a larger audience. But sometimes the material is looking for a very specific audience, and when the critic is not a part of that audience, they do the material a disservice by claiming that their expertise as a critic qualifies them to declare the work a failure.

Ryan

It would have been nice to compare music critic's assessment about why "Bounce" sucked next to a drama critic's.

Tony

It it being reviewed as a piece of theatre or as a score?

I think there are some critics who don't know much about music, but there are also some that know more about it than some composers do. The flip side is in opera, where there's lot's of critics who don't know much about staging, nor do they care.

But, I wonder what all of the Guild members having plays done in smaller theatres in NYC--those who'd kill to have one Times critic make it--would say about the need for two of them at big musicals.

David

I always thought there should be some sort of critics aptitude test since anyone can call himself a critic and write about a show for some sort of media outlet. From self proclaimed critics who can't form a sentence- yet have their own theater critic websites- to ones who write for magazines and newspapers. And to top it off we have to kiss their asses, so let Mr. Sondheim (whom I'm not crazy about), vent.

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  • Kris Vire
    I write about theater for Time Out Chicago. I write more about it here.

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