Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Frivolous Findings - If you're a drama critic don't read this

The artist doesn't have time to listen to critics.

William Faulkner

One of the worst reviews I ever got said "As an actor D__ B__ continues to disappoint me." A week after it was published I found out that the critic was only 18 years old. Obviously, I had been disappointing him for a long time.

Some wise man once remarked that no one ever constructed a statue to a critic. The problem with drama critics is that they rarely know what they are seeing and hearing. They will praise a poorly written play without realizing that it was saved by the actors. or praise an actor for a great script. They will find fault with the director when it's the actors' fault. And so on.

Unfortunately they seem to have a lot of power. People will read a review and go see something because the critic said it was good, only to be disappointed. Or, what's even worse, stay away from a great show because the critic didn't like it. That is tragically true in New York City. Critics for the New York Times have praised a play or musical that was really not worth much and, as a result, kept it running and it eventually found it's way into regional theatres and maybe even a movie. But they have also destroyed a perfectly good play.

I heard one of them in conversation one day describing his job, He said that he had no responsibility to the American theatre or even to his readers. His only responsibility was to his editor.

In community theatre one playa for the audience, in regional theatre one plays for the producers, in New York theatre one plays for the critics. It's a sad fact.

But no one should pay any attention to them. I used to know a woman who directed a play and got a bad review from a New York paper. So she went back into rehearsal. Then she invited the critic to come back and review it again. She got an even worse review the second time and closed the show.

I have seen other productions come to New York from out of town where they had some success and get into a rage because they were castigated by the ignorant NY critics.

I received a review once which said that I "bellowed" my way through the role. My first impulse was to let it pass. But just for the critic's information I copied every place in the script where it said to "bellow" or "in a bellowing manner" or "with a laud voice," and sent them to her with a copy of her review.

Another time I received a great review from a critic who didn't read the program carefully. She got the name of the role correctly but used a different actor's name. He was very upset about it, but I said to take the review and run with it. He had been given a gift by a numb skull critic. Take advantage of it.

So are there any good drama critics? Of course there are. They are in the minority, but they're there.

One of the best and most famous was Elliot Norton in Boston. He used to say that his job was to be a reporter, to report on what he saw. But he went further than that and made positive suggestions to the writers and directors. Since many of the shows he reviewed, "reported" on, were out of town openings, headed for Broadway, he helped to protect them from the New York critics' sabers.

Norton never got to review me, alas.

The Vagabond


Big Mark 243 said...

Interesting. Especially that the one you respected, said he 'reported' on what he saw, rather than critique what he on what he though, which is what most critics do.

Beth said...

I often read reviews of movies, books, etc., but don't really take the words to heart. After all, it's just one person's opinion, isn't it? I know if something entertains me or moves me, and I know that my tastes aren't everyone's. Why would I tell someone to not go see something because I didn't care for it?


a corgi said...

I don't take much stock in reviews; I think the critics and me always are on different planes because if the critic says they like it, I usually don't and vice versa. So I go to a movie because I'm interested in it or on a recommendation of a friend; same with books

interesting entry DB!! thanks :)