Chapter Summary Critics often add fresh dimensions to our awareness and appreciation of theatre. They acquaint readers and audiences with both good and bad productions. At best, they hope to connect the truly good work with audiences and to preserve it for future generations.
Criticism Two kinds of criticism: –Drama criticism: Comments on written text from literary and cultural-historical-theoretical perspective –Theatre criticism (theatre reviewing): Deals with plays-in-performance Critics are real force: –Critic from New York Times has power to close a show with a bad review.
Audience as Critic Watching a play raises questions: –Is the world a stage? –Were the actors convincing? –Were costumes appropriate? –Were sound effects too loud? Audiences are critics (they express opinions). Audiences bring at least four viewpoints to theatre: –Human significance –Social significance –Artistic qualities –Entertainment value
Audience Viewpoints Human significance: –Theatre connects audiences with common humanity. –Explores what it means to be human beings. Social significance: –Theatre has inherent relationship to society: Audience = community. –Theatre serves as an arena for discussing social and political issues.
Audience Viewpoints Entertainment: –Great theatre is always entertaining in some way. –Even tragedy delights: Catharsis Thrills (ghosts, witches, murders, etc.) –Theatre is a source of pleasure. Aesthetic significance: –We know what we like and what we don’t like. –As we see more theatre, we develop a deeper awareness of sights, words, characters, actions, actors, sounds, and colors.
The Professional Critic: The Critic’s Job Reviews published in morning newspaper following official opening-night performance. Stanley Kauffmann: critic is “a kind of para-reality to the theatre’s reality”: –Criticism should be good, whether it’s about good or bad theatre. Power and, often, hostility of critics creates backlash: –Checkhov: critics are “horse flies... buzzing about anything.”
The Professional Critic: Services Performed by Critics Recognize and preserve works of good artists for future generations Publicists of the good and the bad: –Separate wheat from chaff Help public decide which productions to see Serve as mediators between artists and audiences Serve as historians: –Criticism as record of theatrical times
The Professional Critic: The Critic’s Creativity Are critics more than failed artists? –Good criticism sometimes written by second-rate artists –George Bernard Shaw expert critic, expert playwright Criticism a talent: –Combines artistic sensibility, writing skill, insight, knowledge of theatre Stanley Kauffmann: critic’s creativity is “the imaginative rendering of experience in such a way that it can be essentially experienced by others.”
The Professional Critic: The Critic’s Questions What is the playwright trying to do? How well has he or she done it? Was it worth doing? A Scene from Seven Guitars by August Wilson (c) Patrick Bennett / Courtesy Seattle Repertory Theatre
The Professional Critic: Performance Notes Several journals publish critical descriptions of distinguished productions. Provide records of productions. Offer impressions of trends in avant-garde theatre.
The Professional Critic: Theatre Scholarship Majority of critics are university teachers and/or professional dramaturgs. They analyze plays and productions within rigorously researched critical contexts. Scholarly critics ordinarily write with a comprehensive knowledge of a specific subject: –Playwright –Performance theories and practice –Historical period –Intercultural and/or gender studies
The Professional Critic: Theatre Scholarship Works of great writers of dramatic criticism can be of lasting literary value: –Aristotle’s Poetics –Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human New critical methodologies draw from variety of disciplines: –Linguistics –Semiotics –Structuralism –Deconstructionism
The Professional Critic: Critical Standards Developed after years of viewing theatre. Best critics remain open and flexible. Critic and director Harold Clurman: –Whether the critic is good or bad doesn’t depend on his opinions but on the reasons he can offer for those opinions.
Working Critics Brooks Atkinson on Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire: –Wrote two reviews: After opening night Ten days later –Both reviews: Streetcar didn’t address social issues. Solved no problems. Arrived at no moral conclusions. It was a work of art—audience sat “in presence of truth.”
Working Critics Brooks Atkinson on Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire: –Organization of second review: Deals first with play’s truthfulness Williams’ “poetic language” Kazan’s directing and Mielziner’s scenic details Performances of the actors Williams’ career
Core Concepts For the professional critic, the play in performance is the end product of the theatre’s creative process. At best, the critic enhances our understanding of the production or theatre event by enabling us to read about the theatrical experience from a perspective other than our own or that of our friends. Theatre criticism—carefully weighed by the reader— adds a new dimension to the discovery and understanding of theatre.
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