Who could ask for anything more?
Before spending time with my new ATCA colleagues in New York, I was under the impression that most performers/writers/directors shy from reviews, so I was pleasantly surprised with those who confessed to reading them and how many said that both the good and bad live on in their minds and hearts. I tend to think of theater criticism as a service to the reader who is the potential audience, not as the critic telling the creative team how to do its job.
A few folks seemed to think that critics who point out flaws or question an artist’s vision are unkind or destructive. I thought the point was to convey to our readers our opinions of a work based on experience and expertise. I heard more than one person on the playwrights/producers panel say, “we are in this together,” apparently meaning their work needs critics’ support to survive and that newspapers are fighting for survival, too. The inference seemed to be that critics are bound to be kinder and gentler and not express a strong opinion. That was the only disconnect I felt through the whole glorious weekend. We have in common that we both serve audiences, and I did agree that honesty and generosity serve us both.
As someone who has returned to theater criticism after a long hiatus, the conference was inspiring — who wouldn’t be inspired hearing Andre De Shields’ appreciation for a critic’s recognition of what he brought to “Death of a Salesman”? The discussions of mentoring and the need to add diversity to the ranks of critics reminded me of discussions at the NEA’s fellowship for mid-career theater critics almost a decade ago, so I hope we take that to heart and get past the discussion stage.
To the point: I learned a lot; I met fascinating, talented people; I found many topics worthy of further discussion; and I had the opportunity to see Spider-Man, Al Pacino, Michael Shannon and Brian Bedford onstage. Who could ask for anything more? — Sharon Eberson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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