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Chapter 15 – Viewpoints VLADIMIR: Moron! ESTRAGON: Vermin! VLADIMIR: Abortion! ESTRAGON: Morpion! VLADIMIR: Sewer-rat! ESTRAGON: Curate! VLADIMIR: Cretin! ESTRAGON: (with finality) Crritic! —Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot Chapter Summary • Critics often add fresh dimensions to our awareness and appreciation of theatre. • They acquaint readers and audiences with both good and bad productions. • At best, they hope to connect the truly good work with audiences and to preserve it for future generations. Criticism • Two kinds of criticism: – Drama criticism: • Comments on written text from literary and cultural-historical-theoretical perspective – Theatre criticism (theatre reviewing): • Deals with plays-in-performance • Critics are real force: – Critic from New York Times has power to close a show with a bad review. Audience as Critic • Watching a play raises questions: – Is the world a stage? – Were the actors convincing? – Were costumes appropriate? – Were sound effects too loud? • Audiences are critics (they express opinions). • Audiences bring at least four viewpoints to theatre: – Human significance – Social significance – Artistic qualities – Entertainment value Audience Viewpoints • Human significance: – Theatre connects audiences with common humanity. – Explores what it means to be human beings. • Social significance: – Theatre has inherent relationship to society: • Audience = community. – Theatre serves as an arena for discussing social and political issues. Audience Viewpoints • Entertainment: – Great theatre is always entertaining in some way. – Even tragedy delights: • Catharsis • Thrills (ghosts, witches, murders, etc.) – Theatre is a source of pleasure. • Aesthetic significance: – We know what we like and what we don’t like. – As we see more theatre, we develop a deeper awareness of sights, words, characters, actions, actors, sounds, and colors. The Professional Critic: The Critic’s Job • Reviews published in morning newspaper following official opening-night performance. • Stanley Kauffmann: critic is “a kind of para-reality to the theatre’s reality”: – Criticism should be good, whether it’s about good or bad theatre. • Power and, often, hostility of critics creates backlash: – Checkhov: critics are “horse flies . . . buzzing about anything.” The Professional Critic: Services Performed by Critics • Recognize and preserve works of good artists for future generations • Publicists of the good and the bad: – Separate wheat from chaff • Help public decide which productions to see • Serve as mediators between artists and audiences • Serve as historians: – Criticism as record of theatrical times The Professional Critic: The Critic’s Creativity • Are critics more than failed artists? – Good criticism sometimes written by second-rate artists – George Bernard Shaw expert critic, expert playwright • Criticism a talent: – Combines artistic sensibility, writing skill, insight, knowledge of theatre • Stanley Kauffmann: critic’s creativity is “the imaginative rendering of experience in such a way that it can be essentially experienced by others.” The Professional Critic: The Critic’s Questions (c) Patrick Bennett / Courtesy Seattle Repertory Theatre • What is the playwright trying to do? • How well has he or she done it? • Was it worth doing? A Scene from Seven Guitars by August Wilson The Professional Critic: Performance Notes • Several journals publish critical descriptions of distinguished productions. • Provide records of productions. • Offer impressions of trends in avant-garde theatre. The Professional Critic: Theatre Scholarship • Majority of critics are university teachers and/or professional dramaturgs. • They analyze plays and productions within rigorously researched critical contexts. • Scholarly critics ordinarily write with a comprehensive knowledge of a specific subject: – Playwright – Performance theories and practice – Historical period – Intercultural and/or gender studies The Professional Critic: Theatre Scholarship • Works of great writers of dramatic criticism can be of lasting literary value: – Aristotle’s Poetics – Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human • New critical methodologies draw from variety of disciplines: – Linguistics – Semiotics – Structuralism – Deconstructionism The Professional Critic: Critical Standards • Developed after years of viewing theatre. • Best critics remain open and flexible. • Critic and director Harold Clurman: – Whether the critic is good or bad doesn’t depend on his opinions but on the reasons he can offer for those opinions. Working Critics • Brooks Atkinson on Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire: – Wrote two reviews: • After opening night • Ten days later – Both reviews: • Streetcar didn’t address social issues. • Solved no problems. • Arrived at no moral conclusions. • It was a work of art—audience sat “in presence of truth.” Working Critics • Brooks Atkinson on Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire: – Organization of second review: • Deals first with play’s truthfulness • Williams’ “poetic language” • Kazan’s directing and Mielziner’s scenic details • Performances of the actors • Williams’ career Core Concepts • For the professional critic, the play in performance is the end product of the theatre’s creative process. • At best, the critic enhances our understanding of the production or theatre event by enabling us to read about the theatrical experience from a perspective other than our own or that of our friends. • Theatre criticism—carefully weighed by the reader— adds a new dimension to the discovery and understanding of theatre.