Monday, October 13, 2008

Writing About Theater

So go read this. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Back? OK.

I like this article. It, the comments attached to it, and my recent OD on theater this weekend has gotten me thinking about writing about theater, both in the casual environment of the blog and in a larger sense of the outside world. The article is pretty much in line of the "Theater is too stuffy", which is a common complaint. But I do like the idea of ripping off the business plan of religion and other successful businesses and applying it to the arts.

Think about it - Church. A lot of people go to church on Sunday, but the Sunday sermon (the performance) is actually just the visible part of what the church does (missionary work, outreach, counseling, youth activities, etc ...). Professional theater (at the REP and Intiman level, which the article seems aimed at) has that same general mission statement to the community, one which is more than occupying a stage three days a week.

Aside from the idea of theater as secular church, I like the idea of concessions. For movie theaters, concessions are where the profit is (which is why they count the cups at the end of the day). Your ticket price? The movie itself, with a minimal bit for heat and light for the building.

In any event, this has gotten me thinking about writing about theater. There seems to be a feeling that the critic by his very nature must criticize. Critics come off as grumpy old goats, cranks with an unfinished novel in the closest and painful memories of losing the lead in the high school production of "Fiddler on the Roof" that left them scarred for life. When you're reading a criticism in a paper or on the web, you're expecting to find someone looking for nits, motes, and the occasional beam in the production. Liking the play, or even most of the play, seems abnormal.

Plus there is the demand for the critic to entertain in his own right. You know -well, the play was just rotten, but let me get my pound of flesh out by making your chuckle about how bad it was.

And I compare this belief to other boosters in the media. The business section is relentless in its rah-rah of business in general and local business in particular. When a local business is caught with its hand in the cookie jar or cratering all over the place, the local media switches to "stern disapproval" but remains sure that once things are corrected, all will be bright again.

Ditto sports reporting. You have to go, oh, 1 and 4 (just to pull a number out of the helmet) before the local sportswriters will finally abandon the glowing hopes of preseason. And then, the story line is still positive and about redemption ("Can they turn it around?").

Yet theater (and other arts) seems to have an adversarial relationship with its media. Part of that is probably because business and sports contributes a huge chunk to the bottom line of media, so going after them hard might have an adverse effect. You're not a GOOD critic unless you show a desire to rip the living flesh from some small production, or lob javelins at some established theater group, or doubt the raison d'etre of some publicly funded group.

Me? I'm not sure I'm a critic, but I do write reviews, and they're usually in the tone of what it means to me. I suppose I have more sympathy to those on the stage and behind. I've seen some bad plays, and unless they are absolutely horrible, I just don't mention them. I don't see it as a public duty to blast a few more holes in the boat just because I spotted a rat in the bilge.

I'm not sure about this, but that's what I'm thinking at the moment.

More later,

Update: Huh. If you wondered if art was important - well, its important enough that Initiative I-985 (A dog's breakfast of magic pony promises and devils in the details) wants to steal from it.