A couple days ago, my friend commented that theatre criticism was a dying medium. I asked if the theory behind this was that blogs were diluting the critical landscape, thereby making theatre critics obsolete. In response, he concurred that theatre criticism as a profession was on the decline, and of course, I had to agree. Much like all journalism, the proliferation of the cyber landscape with non-paid writers, critics and theorists has eliminated the need for these types of paid investigations – after all, why should a newspaper pay for an article when it can be published (and accessed) for free on any individual’s blog?
There are many factors which will still facilitate the thriving of paid journals, specifically online, but nonetheless, even these bodies are turning increasingly to more unconventional types of journalism in response to the pedestrianization of critical and investigative response. My favourite example is “Bros on Broadway,” a new feature launched by TheatreMania.com in which every day men, ostensibly ones who haven’t seen a play since middle school, are sent to review shows from a distinctly non-theatrical perspective. The ones released so far include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cyrano de Bergerac. And man are they funny.
However, aside from being funny, they also allow theatre criticism to expand its tentacles to target a larger populace heading out to see a play. I often struggle with the idea of ‘good theatre’ and how theatre which appeals to a theatre going audience is never necessarily also the same kind of theatre which appeals to those who haven’t seen a play since they were dragged to The Crucible in 11th grade. After all, Spiderman: Turn of the Dark is consistently packing houses with these ‘laymans:’ bros and their dads who are attending a ‘cultural activity’ which simultaneously plays to their desire to feel enlightened while appealing to their tastes as non-theatre goers. I’ve written a few times about the musicalization of hit movies – doesn’t this serve a very similar purpose?
With an increasingly large population accessing articles on everything from baseball to Broadway daily, shouldn’t these articles try to reflect the mass collective experience at any of these events? In Toronto, we have our own version of Bros on Broadway: Mooney on Theatre aims to produce reviews by and for non-theatrical people, allowing them to access criticism which speaks directly to their own experience, rather than one which reflects a very narrow margin of the ‘literati.’
So is theatre criticism as a profession dying? Perhaps. But perhaps it is simply evolving so that the role of the cultured and veteran critic is no longer triumphant, but rather sublimated onto individuals who write one article and then disappear. There is a significant amount of schadenfreude for a theatre artist in reading “Bros on Broadway,” but more expansively there is a genuine connection to people who want to read a review which appeals directly to their own sensibility.
My question is where are the types of non-learned articles I crave? I’d love to read ‘Fags on Football’ or ‘Queers on Quantum Physics.’
What do you think? Does this new type of theatre criticism diminish or enhance the art which is being created?
PS Check out this hilarious video about theatre criticism starring Alfred Molina: