I was recently asked to join the OnStage Critics Circle as a contributing columnist. The invitation really couldn’t have come at a better time. I was about to wrap up directing Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and I had made a solemn vow to myself that when that show was done and dusted I would devote time every day to writing or, at the very least, do something that would further the development of one of my writing projects. Since we struck the show on Sunday, I have definitely lived up to the promise in some way or another.
It is an interesting segue, to say the least. I have directed at or been involved with all of the Connecticut theaters within a 20 mile radius of my home and, in some instances, beyond that radius. Through my active involvement in our theater community, I have have developed a fairly broad familiarity of the theaters, the people who run them and the artisans that bring their seasons to life. As such, I was a little hesitant to step out of the director’s chair and pick up the pen of the critic.
I have put some thought into the last 20 years in our community and how the presence of the theater critic has faded. When I first started working in the area, there were a lot of journalists, then of the ink and newsprint ilk, who attended our productions. We would wait with bated breath for their words of praise or damnation and it was, despite our contribution, a part of the process of bringing our art to life. As a result of the digital age, the circulation of printed news is dwindling and so are budgets. Not surprisingly, the arts are the first to go and in this case, published theater reviews in our neck of the woods have become few and far between.
I hesitated to take on the role of critic because of the personal relationships that I have with the theaters and the people that run them. Chances are that every show I will see will feature an actor or two I’ve worked with in the past, a director with whom I am familiar and will be at a theater that is known to me. I have concerns about where to draw that “conflict of interest” line.
After much thought, though, I have come to this conclusion: theatrical criticism is a dying art. Even the likes of Ben Brantley and Michael Riedel are losing their previous luster and sought after praise, so I truly feel there is a need in our community for opinion. While I am certainly nowhere near as accomplished the critics associated with New York theater, I am certainly a person who has both opinions and a pretty comprehensive understanding of the art. And I’m not a bad writer either. Bottom line, I feel I am qualified.
As for the personal relationships, I have seen local critics share their thoughts while they remain involved in the theater as actors or directors. So, as far as reviews that I will contribute to OnStage Critics Circle, I will follow these guidelines: (1) I will not review a show at a theater during a season in which I am slated to direct, (2) I will not review a show at a theater where I am serving as a member of the Board or on a Committee and (3) I will not review a show featuring my husband or another family member in the cast. I also promise to be as honest and fair in my reviews as possible, I will not review a show that I haven’t seen from beginning to end and I will accept invitations to review any show, regardless of my personal theatrical preferences. I believe those guidelines will serve to be a fair and reasonable foundation upon which I will place this next building block in my theatrical career.
So, with that, I will fold up my director’s chair and take a seat in the house, eager to see what the days ahead will bring. Break a leg, my friends, and I’ll see you at the show!