“How are theatre critics going to remain relevant in a climate where their opinions simply mean less and less?”
I suppose I could have asked it, but I nodded off a couple of times and then lost track of where I was and whether it was over or not and frankly there really wasn’t ample time for audience Q&A anyway (is there ever?). Coffee was good though, as were the cookies. Thanks, guys!
Don’t get me wrong, LASA always puts on a good show, excellent production values, and there were certainly a bunch of smart peeps up there saying some really smart things about the difference between a “reviewer” and a “critic” and how to wear the right “hat” when writing for different audiences; Don Shirley, Alice Tuan, Steven Leigh Morris, Frances Baum Nicholson, Dierdre Henry (wonderful actress but why the hell was she there?), they all had lovely things to say, but as a colleague of mine put it, the whole event reminded him of one of those cartoon characters who keeps painting himself into a corner until he’s left trapped, standing up on his tippy-toes, looking around, wondering what happened.
Because the real question that should have been asked at the LA Stage Alliance event on Arts Criticism, above all else, is, “Hey, theatre critics, how you gonna adapt? Cuz if you don’t, you’re gonna die.” It’s not about writing better reviews or seeing more shows. That certainly is important, but Darwinism still exists, folks. Even in the theatre. That’s the nut that needed to be cracked, but of course it never even made it out of the snack bowl.
Because where do audiences go to find their advice on entertainment today? Their social network. Certainly there are a few substantial voices out there that still carry some weight, but really only for the artists involved. The audience? They go to twitter, facebook, yelp, Bitter Lemons (Hello!) and ask their peeps – their like-minded peeps: “Hey, I wanna go see some theatre in Los Angeles, any recommendations?”
Why go to a really well-educated, thoroughly experienced, excellent communicator – see “theatre critic” – for this advice when they can just ask their “friends” on Facebook what to see?
This is the crux of theatre criticism in the Twenty First Century: the marketing of the theatre critic.
And what was the first thing that moderator Terrence McFarland said, “Tonight’s event is not about marketing”. Ookay. We have some top-notch critics out there, folks, but not only can they NOT make a living at what they do anymore, but for the most part, nobody really gives a shit what they have to say! At least not when it comes to getting butts in seats.
We’re currently running a poll – we call them BLIP’s – here at the Lemon about that essential factor that compels someone to see a show, the people have hardly spoken yet, but guess what the frontrunner is right now? They knew someone in the production.
So the point was never even raised. Well, barely. I think one guy in the audience asked about Iphones and social media, but he seemed a bit groggy as well and his question was not entirely coherent.
Now just so you don’t think I’m dissing the illustrious panel, or the excellent critics who work tirelessly in the Los Angeles Theatre Community, let me just state for the record: I DO think it is vitally important that the “professional” theatre critic remains relevant. We would be lost without them. They are the historians of theatre, oftentimes they are our cultural guardians and more often then not they are the great contextualists in this scatter-shot theatrical landscape we find ourselves in. We need them to connect the dots, to synthesize the direction of our playwrights, to un-earth the grander themes of our times and in many ways we still need them to stand guard over that mercurial thing called “quality”. They are essential.
But look what just happened over at Backstage. Two longtime, well-established and well-respected critics, Dany Margolies and Les Spindle, basically shown the door.
All I’m saying is they, the critics, better find a way to remain relevant to an audience that is slowly but surely leaving them in the dust.
And THEY are the ones who are going to have to do it themselves, the critics, the reviewers, because no one is going to do it for them.
Well, we might help a little here at the Lemon. If they ask nicely.
About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.