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Playbill#3: The Role and Value of Theatre Critics

By • Sep 1st, 2006 • Category: ShowBizRadio

Listen to the ShowBizRadio Playbill #3 for September, 2006 [MP3 4:39 1.3MB].

Laura: We’re just chatting about some issues that have come up over the past week involving theater critics.

Mike: Up in Philadelphia a new theater critic was hired by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her name is Toby Zinman. She gives rather negative reviews. When she gives a negative review she tends to give very insulting negative reviews. Some of the theaters up there got very insulted by his. So they actually started up a blog about the critic herself. That blog is at http://consumedwithrage.blogs.com/welovetoby/. They have a discussion board and different comments and copies of her reviews. It’s very interesting to see people that are being criticized going back to criticize the reviewer. That’s a pretty good development, I think in general. So that’s developing still. We’ll see what ends up happening.

Laura: Here’s another interesting controversy that came up this week. Heddy Weiss is a theater critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. She reviewed a workshop that ended up having eight one act plays that were performed at the end of this workshop. She just lambasted them. I think there it was a matter of miscommunication. When she called to set it up they gave her a press kit and everything. Then she went to this workshop and just blasted it. People were complaining that you don’t do a review of a workshop because it is a work in progress. I thought that was interesting.

Mike: And then a positive article came out this week at the Seattle Stranger, with an article about Joseph Boling. He is leaving the Seattle area, he is getting remarried and moving to Indiana. He loved theater so much that he would basically go to every show he could. Children’s theater, dramas, musicals, everything. In 2002 he saw 427 shows. After he had been seeing shows for a while, he put a summary of one on a web site that is run by the Theatre Puget Sound Conference. A few months after that he put another comment up. Then he realized, “Well, I’m going to all these shows, I might as well put a summary up.” It isn’t really a review. It’s just comments about the show. He has no formal training in theater, but he knows what he likes, he knows what confuses him, that type of thing because they’re his experiences. He’s a regular of the theater scene now. It’s just a very interesting story.

Laura: These three situations brought to light the power of critics. With the larger newspapers, brought up the question of: do theater critics have too much power? Do they weigh in too heavily on seeing a show?

Mike: I just finished ready a book by Susan Jacobs. It’s called On Stage: The Making of a Broadway Play. It’s copyright 1972 (not 1967 like I said in our podcast). It’s an old book, but it’s really interesting. It talks about a behind the scenes, fly on the wall view of a Broadway play. The play was called Johnny No Trump. They go though rehearsals, they go through the writing process of the show, how the sets were built. Then they start doing previews. After the first opening night they’re waiting to see how the theater reviews are going to review the show. It comes on the radio and tv. Then the New York Times review comes out. I won’t tell you what happened, but the weight of the reviews was very great. It was really interesting to see the impact in 1972 of theater critics on a show.

The Washington Theater Review Magazine has just published an interview that they did with Peter Marks, the head theater critic at the Washington Post. It is on their web site now.

Laura: There are lots of ways to get information about theater reviews: websites, radio, tv, newspapers. We were wondering what you think the role of the theater reviewer is?

Mike: So, if you’d like to share your thoughts, do that here at ShowBizRadio.net and leave your comments. We’ll get an interesting discussion about the impact of theater critics on theaters, on actors, and all those other people that work really hard to bring us these great shows in the area.

Laura: And now, on with the show.

Links Mentioned

Philadelphia:

Chicago:

Seattle:

Washington DC:

This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/1778.

started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

One Response »

  1. Thanks for discussing this important topic. I think the rise of blogs will erode the power of a single, printed newspaper critic to end a show. But I do appreciate the erudition and well-chosen words of many print critics, even if I am not guided by their views of any particular show.
    One thing has always grated on me, though: that the critics rarely pay to see a show. They never have to ask, “Was it worth the money?” This is a key question to many potential audience members. Sorry to be so capitalistic about art, but it’s true.
    I hope that some critics at least PRETEND to have paid a fraction of the ticket price before they recommend a show.
    Frugally yours, Wendy