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Tips and Templates for Writing Your Final Review.

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1 Tips and Templates for Writing Your Final Review

2 Writing a Theater Review: Broad Aims The Function Of Reviews And Reviewers Published reviews vary a great deal. The best daily newspapers see the reviewer’s job as to report on a more or less important public activity, the importance which – and the space given to that reporting – is often determined by such considerations as the volume of money spent upon the productions reported upon or the perceived status of the production company. Most dailies, however, offer a simpler service (in the form of a brief ‘taste test’) to the theatre goer who wants to know if the show is worth seeing. In more serious publications, a theatre critic will have a wide-ranging knowledge of drama and the theatre, definite views about what is undesirable or desirable, and a sense of the context in which the reviewed performance is taking place; he or she can take up more inclusive topics, going beyond the performance on the night to a discussion of individual artists and their development, a particular style of production, company policies, theatre finance, theatre in the community – and so on. Sample the reviewers and journals listed below. The Broad Aims Of Reviewing Two points need to be made at the beginning: Firstly, there is no one review style or structure that suits all purposes (contrary to what many of you will have had drummed into you with the VCE Drama ‘CATs’). Different kinds of plays and different kinds of productions naturally lead one to review them in different kinds of ways. It is important to respond to the particular kind of experience provoked by a performance in a particular kind of way. Secondly, reviews are often the raw material of theatre history; long after the play is out of print or its producing company has ceased to exist – and long after a particular kind of fashion has passed – the printed reviews often remain as the only record of a performance. It is therefore also important to report, as accurately as possible, the basic circumstances of the play, the production and the performance. In broad terms, your reviews should: 1)Evoke (or give an accurate impression of) the performance for someone who has not been there; 2) Convey a considered personal judgment of the quality of the experience; 3) Where there is a text which you can be reasonably expected to read, or of which you can form a sufficient impression, consider how the text wasinterpreted.

3 Writing a Theater Review: Specific Aims and Presentation 4. Specific Aims Here are some questions which you will normally need to consider: What kind of play is it, and what is it about? It is usually necessary to provide a (very brief) summary of the main action – which does not mean telling the whole story through all its windings. What is the style of performance? (Eg. Elaborate? Simple? Rough? Naturalistic? A mixture of styles?) As the play progresses your ability to describe style more exactly will grow. What is the nature of the theatre experience? (Your own responses are crucial, but since theatre is a public event, you should notice how others responded, the atmosphere of the evening, the social context and allied matters. Again, these vary widely.) Remember that the purposes of the theatre are varied and so too are the expectations of audiences. How good is it? (Be careful to try to distinguish here between the text and the performance. This is sometimes very difficult, and only a rash reviewer condemns a new play (for example) if there is a reason to suspect that the performance has done it less than justice. Cases vary: you sometimes also see brilliant performances of unworthy material.) In thinking about any of these four questions you will need to describe aspects of the performance in detail. In other words, back up your judgment with evidence from the play and the performance. Some topics you might treat are: acting, direction, design, use of music and dance, special effects; imagery (in word and spectacle), grouping, pace and timing, atmosphere or mood. Remember that these are only examples and not in all cases appropriate. In discussing any of these you should be as precise and evocative as possible. 5. Presentation Your reviews must be headed by the following information: title, author (and translator if appropriate), director, designer(s), company, and venue. Length: about 1,000 words. 6. Reviewers and Journals You may like to read some examples of what professional reviewers do. Among the famous practitioners (in English) were George Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm, Kenneth Tynan, Mary McCarthy and Walter Kerr. Reviews of varying quality can be read in the local and national press; the Arts pages in The Australian give about as good a national summary of Australian theatre as we get at the moment, while reviews in Real Time are more diverse. 7. Assessment In assessing reviews, account is taken of your argument and critical response, your theatrical awareness and your presentation and expression. Two points to note: reviews of plays and performances are typically written in the present tense and actors, directors etc are not referred to by their first names.

4 Practical Tips for Reviewing Theater II Step 1 Develop a system for taking notes. For some reviewers, this is a good old fashioned note-pad. Some reviewers scribble while they watch a performance, although this can distract other audience members (sit in the back if you need to do this). Some reviewers prefer to take their notes during intermissions. Step 2 Do your homework. If the production you are seeing is a revival, track down tapes, reviews, notices, and/or cast lists of the previous productions. A good reviewer will compare aspects of previous productions, without getting locked into the mindset that "It has to be that way because of the genius performance" from before. The beauty of live theatre is that it is not film. Therefore, it is not static; work is open to reinterpretation with each performance. Step 3 Fact check and check again. If you don't have a checker or editor to do this for you, be sure you spell the names of the director, cast, tech crew, producers, et al, correctly. Also double-check dates. Step 4 Get press-kits or information about the production from the source. If the piece is a revival and the script is available, read it before you go.

5 Practical Tips for Reviewing Theater II Step 5 Distinguish between the material, and the way it's told. Many times reviewers will get hung up on a bad performance, and end up trashing the play when in truth, the actor the director is really the one at fault. Likewise, the opposite is many times true, a brilliant performance can shine through the worst of material. This is a fine point that is open to debate. Step 6 Distinguish between opinion and fact about the work. If an actor can't be heard past the third row, then that is a fact about the performance. Your opinion about it may then be that the actor marred the evening with their lack of technique. Step 7 Tell the truth; but also know thine audience and expectation level. If the purpose of the piece is to give press to a community center, then be aware of that expectation. Don't go in with a flaming tear-down of their operation. In more earnest or professional situations, it is the reviewer's job to give an honest assessment of the professionalism and performance level of the work. Step 8 Develop your style. Some reviewers have a flowery and erudite style. Others prefer the direct "Don't waste your time on this" approach. What makes a reviewer worth reading is not whether or not they have a huge vocabulary, or find amusing ways to trash people. Ultimately, people read reviews to learn one thing: whether or not the show is worth seeing. That's not to say if it's good or bad, although these opinions will often determine that. How you say it is often as important as what you say.

6 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 I Great works of art often tote heavy baggage. Yet the revival of August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” a drama of indisputable greatness, feels positively airborne. Much of Bartlett Sherr’s splendid production, which opened Thursday night at the Belasco Theater, moves with the engaging ease of lively, casual conversation. Some part of you, though, is always aware that there’s a storm whipping within and around the breezy talk, a gale-force wind that picks up and scatters people as if they were dandelion seeds. That wind is cold, uncaring history, propelling an entire population of men and women, only 50 years out of slavery, as they try to find footholds on a land that keeps shaking them loose. Set in 1911 and the second chapter (chronologically) in Mr. Wilson’s 10-play cycle of the African-American journey through the 20th century, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is about nothing less than the migration and dispersal of a race and culture, searching for an identity and home. At the same time this play, which takes place in a boardinghouse in the Pittsburgh neighborhood called the Hill, feels cozy, gossipy and domestic. Its characters, embodied by one of the strongest ensembles in town, seem reassuringly knowable instead of fancy figures in an allegory. This is true even when they’re describing mystical visions involving bones walking out of the ocean.

7 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 II An old man named Bynum Walker (Roger Robinson, in a marvelously centered performance) speaks of finding himself in a dreamland where the everyday is so magnified that sparrows are as big as eagles and then seeing, but with new eyes, the world restored to its normal proportions. That’s the scale of “Joe Turner” too. It is magically larger than life and exactly, precisely life size. So is Mr. Sher’s interpretation, which seems to take place in both a well-scrubbed, modest sitting room and a fairy-tale forest. Though it was Mr. Wilson’s favorite among his plays — and that of many critics (including me) — “Joe Turner” was not a raging popular success in its first New York incarnation. Lacking the more obvious melodrama and sentimentality of his two Pulitzer prize winners, “Fences” (1987) and “The Piano Lesson” (1990), it opened on Broadway in 1988, squarely between those two longer-running works, and lasted for 105 performances. It would be a shame if this production doesn’t find a wide and enthusiastic audience. It’s an (almost) unconditional pleasure to watch. (I had problems with some overly mobile scenery, but more on that later.) Unlike many of the later Wilson plays and other high-reaching American dramas of social magnitude, “Joe Turner” seamlessly blends the ordinary with the extraordinary.

8 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 III Much more than, say, O’Neill’s “Iceman Cometh,” which similarly presents an array of American dream seekers in a closed setting, “Joe Turner” keeps its symbols up its sleeves instead of wearing them like cufflinks. This play disarms its audiences with folksy chitchat and homespun comedy before it dawns on them that what they’re watching — in its subliminal sweep and symmetry — is close to epic poetry. Set in a house where residents rarely stay for more than a week or two, the play is suffused with a sense of transience — of people coming, going and briefly brushing against one another before heading in different directions. Only the house’s owner, Seth Holly(Ernie Hudson), and his wife, Bertha (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), seem at all settled. Their boarders arrive as if at a way station, bearing stories filled with far-flung place names (everyone seems to have been in at least three distant states) and descriptions of short-lived love affairs and shorter-lived jobs. “I woke up that morning and the only thing I could do was look around for my shoes,” says Jeremy Furlow (Andre Holland), a young man working on a road crew, recalling the day he discovered his woman had left him. The gorgeous, insolent Molly Cunningham (Aunjanue Ellis) arrives at Seth’s, announcing, “I ain’t looking for no home or nothing.” But you suspect she shares the sentiments of the other young female boarder, the more demure Mattie Campbell (Marsha Stephanie Blake), who says, “All my life I been looking for somebody to stop and stay with me.” In this universe of nomads, a man like Rutherford Selig (Arliss Howard) assumes an urgent importance. A white peddler who commissions Seth to make pots and pans from sheet metal, Selig is also a people finder, and he comes from a long line of men who pursued that profession. His great-grandfather transported African slaves across the ocean, and his father rounded up runaway slaves for plantation owners. Now, decades after the Emancipation Proclamation, Selig is in the business of finding black people for black people.

9 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 IV Among his clients is Herald Loomis (the magnetic Chad L. Coleman), who shows up at Seth’s with his young daughter, Zonia (Amari Rose Leigh), and the ominous look of a man on the verge of implosion. Loomis is looking for the wife he lost 10 years ago. The story of that loss, which emerges slowly since Loomis is a man of few and reluctant words, is what gives the play its title. Loomis’s history has mournful, angry echoes of the theft of human identity that was institutionalized slavery. No wonder his baleful presence scares people. Only Bynum, the most completely realized of the shaman figures who recur in Mr. Wilson’s work, understands that Loomis’s story is that of all of the residents. They are people, as he puts it, in search of their own songs. There is little actual singing in “Joe Turner,” but it is the most deeply musical of Mr. Wilson’s plays, an ode to the unheard melodies that set the rhythms of lives. Mr. Sher, best known for the smash hit “South Pacific” (like this one, a Lincoln Center Theater production), refrains from excessive instrumental embellishment. (Taj Mahal’s evocative guitar riffs between scenes are suitably subtle.) The real music is in the way people talk, and when the boarders come together for a thrillingly staged Juba session — a call-and- response dance — you see their stylized movements as an extension and exaltation of how each one speaks. The look of the show — designed by Michael Yeargan (set), Catherine Zuber (costumes) and Brian MacDevitt (lighting) — conjures the appropriate combination of the particular and the universal. Seth’s house is rendered without walls, an island floating in mottled skies strobed by lightning. One caveat, though: As in Mr. Sher’s 2006 revival of “Awake and Sing!,” this production’s scenery sometimes disappears in mid-scene. Symbolically, this makes sense. But especially in the play’s powerful conclusion it’s an effect that competes with and distracts from the performers. (Ditto for the shower of gold in the finale.)

10 Wilson’s Wanderers, Searching for Home By Ben Brantley Published: April 17, 2009 V That should never be allowed to happen. For the essence of this production is in its organic acting, which matches Mr. Wilson’s writing in its melding of the quotidian and the cosmic. The cast members — who also include Michael Cummings and Danai Gurira, in a compellingly austere performance — all exist with grace and ease between the limited world of their characters’ day-to-day lives and the infinite worlds within them. It is a measure of this show’s success that when Bynum speaks of seeing a “shiny man” who describes himself as “the One Who Goes Before and Shows the Way,” you accept it as matter-of-factly as Seth’s talking about the economics of making dustpans. And, yes, in both soliloquies you hear Mr. Wilson’s America lifting its voice in song. As Bynum says, “Music don’t know no certain night.” In “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” every molecule of life hums with it. JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE By August Wilson; directed by Bartlett Sherr; sets by Michael Yeargan; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by Brian MacDevitt; sound by Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg; music by Taj Mahal; stage manager, Narda E. Alcorn; general manager, Adam Siegel; production manager, Jeff Hamlin. Presented by Lincoln Center Theater, under the direction of André Bishop and Bernard Gersten. At the Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street, Manhattan, (212) 239-6200. Through June 14. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes. WITH: Marsha Stephanie Blake (Mattie Campbell), Chad L. Coleman (Herald Loomis), Michael Cummings (Reuben Scott), Aunjanue Ellis (Molly Cunningham), Danai Gurira (Martha Pentecost), Andre Holland (Jeremy Furlow), Arliss Howard(Rutherford Selig), Ernie Hudson (Seth Holly), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Bertha Holly), Amari Rose Leigh (Zonia Loomis) and Roger Robinson (Bynum Walker).

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