Guidelines for Reviewers

6 Jan

Recently, I attended the International Theatre Critics’ Conference in Anchorage. (It’s held in Alaska for the sake of the keynote speaker. He drops in from the North Pole and shares his infallible knowledge of who’s been naughty or nice.)

Lest you suspect I’m just making this up, here’s the summary of his address:

  1. Write beautifully. Or, at least, try. Theatre goers appreciate language. It’s one of the things the artform does so well. Don’t be the weak link.
  2. Give evidence. Regardless of whether you liked the production or not, back up what you say. Remember, your readers are actually interested in the theatre, not you.
  3. Don’t confuse mean-spiritedness with wit. You may have really disliked the production. And you can write that. But put downs are only funny when the target has actual power. Remember, you’re not writing about an evil dictator. Actually, remember you are not writing about an evil dictator; you’re spending your time writing about theatre. Difficult to claim any sort of moral superiority, dickhead. (See, that wasn’t funny.)
  4. Go easy on the hyperbolic language. You didn’t have an orgasm. You weren’t tortured. Really, you weren’t. Save exaggeration for the marketing people. (After all, there’s plenty of them. Billions, really.)
  5. Write quickly. (In so far as this is compatible with point 1). You weren’t given a free seat so you could write for posterity. Posterity doesn’t buy tickets.
  6. Do more than evaluate. Don’t just write about whether you thought the production was done well or not. Theatre is not Olympic diving. Hey, Olympic diving isn’t just Olympic diving. Beauty can’t be reduced to a number. And theatre might even have meaning. It’s an idea worth considering, and writing about. Take the work seriously.

Of course, most critics didn’t hear these guidelines for writing. They were practising the other skill necessary for a reviewer. They were at the bar.

Veronica Kaye

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