Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Role of the Critic / Role of the Audience ... As I See It

My dear anonymous letter writers, if you think it is so easy to be a critic, so difficult to be a poet or a painter or film experimenter, may I suggest you try both? You may discover why there are so few critics, so many poets.
- Pauline Kael, "I Lost It at the Movies"

Most people believe the role of a critic/reviewer is an easy one. However, that role is often misunderstood. I agree with Ms. Kael who hit the proverbial nail on the head. Being a critic/reviewer isn't easy or very popular. For starters, both audiences and reviewers alike are there to enjoy the production. The audience has the expectation they are going to see a play, show, or movie that meets a certain personal acceptance and enjoyment level. The reviewer goes hoping to see his or her expectation level exceeded. No one goes to the theatre thinking "I'm not going to like what I'm about to see."

A positive attitude on the part of the audience can actually enhance the enjoyment of the impending performance or it can soften the blow of disappointment when the play fails to live up to the hype or expectation. In the case of those audience members who went looking for more and came away disappointed, all they can do is shrug, grumble about the play saying it stunk, and then tell their friends to forget about going to see it. Those that enjoyed the experience, however, become the bearers of great news and music to the ears of the performers, to say nothing of anxious theatre producers looking for that mega hit and long lines at the box office.

Nothing speaks as loud as "word of mouth" praise; it's the most powerful validation and best form of advertising one can receive. Performers are in the business of performing in front of audiences and the more the merrier!

For critics, we don't have the luxury of dismissing the entire evening with a shrug and then go home to the comfort of a loving family or loyal pet. We are at performances to observe, evaluate, and report on the experience of the evening for the benefit of those not in attendance.

A popular held belief by the public is that critic/reviewers go to see plays or movies hoping they are bad so they can write witty and clever reviews denigrating the actors, the director, and the other technical elements; and by so doing, elevate their own importance. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least, not by the reviewers and critics I've known. To a person, we all wish that every production we review will be worthy of the audience's hard earned dollar outlay and applause.

In our effort to assist both audience and theatre producers and performers, we like to think we can make a contribution by offering a professional and experienced independent eye to the proceedings; someone who can be relied upon to offer a fair and honest evaluation of what went on at the theatre that night.

Sometimes the review disappoints those we know in the production. But friendships with performers have to take a back seat when it comes to maintaining standards and credibility with readers or listeners. One doesn't have to be cruel or mean-spirited. One doesn't "kick the chorus girl" just because the star sings off key. We just try to be as professional as one can when doing the job.

I have been attending plays for over 50 years and have been writing reviews and critiques for more than 40 years. I have been an actor, writer, producer, director, and a passionate supporter of live theatre and movies since I can remember. I'm a member of several professional unions and can honestly state I am eager to see all creative endeavors not only succeed, but flourish and thrive. My wife was an actress who also directed, so all forms of creative art were and are a very important component in my life. I would like that component to become important in the lives of others, as well.

My role as a critic/reviewer is to report what is presented on the stage at the performance I attend. Good, bad or indifferent, I always look to see if the performers achieved what they set out to do. What are they trying to accomplish and how successfully have they done it ? That's the main criteria and measuring stick I use. Imagination, innovation, and the marshaling of the available technical elements is also a major factor, as is the vision of the director. Sometimes these elements are MIA and the critic is faced with a review that is not going to please the producing organization.

I always try to be positive in my criticism, offering a suggestion or two where appropriate, which might help shore up an unsteady scene or moment. Remember: it's easy to criticize a problem area but one should also be prepared to offer solutions to fix it as well. I also take into consideration the disparity between the professional actor working along side the non-professional performer in the same production. It doesn't happen very often in most of the cities where I review, but it does take place every now and then.

Your role as the audience is to attend live theatre and be open to new experiences and allow the performers to write on the blank slate each of us brings to the theatre that evening. When the performers capture lightning in a bottle, and the theatre gods smile down on the stage, it can be a magical moment indeed, and an evening one remembers for years. So enjoy and savor your next theatrical experience.