Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

What's the Role of Theater Critic?

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

What's the Role of Theater Critic?

Article excerpt

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a reader concerned about the impact of my review of "Nate Jacobs' 50s Jukebox Revue" at the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.

I had generally enjoyed the musical portions, staged as mini concerts, but questioned the effectiveness of the brief dialogue scenes that divided the production and didn't do much to create characters or a story about performers touring on the so-called Chitlin' Circuit in the 1950s.

The reader apparently heard some theatergoers muttering in the lobby that they may be wasting their time, based on what they perceived in my mostly positive review. Maybe they were reacting to a headline that read: "'Jukebox' has lively spirit but it lacks depth."

When I'm writing my reviews, I can't think of the potential impact on the shows, theaters or performers. It would paralyze me as a writer because I don't look forward to saying critical things (well, sometimes it can be fun). I'd much rather write a glowing report.

My job as a theater critic is not to be a cheerleader. I want all shows to succeed -- after all, I have to sit through them -- but I know that's not possible.

Rather, I am supposed to honestly assess what works and what doesn't and suggest ways that the production might be improved. That's especially important for original shows, like this revue that Westcoast founder Nate Jacobs created around hits of the 1950s.

What value is there if the opinions aren't honest? I admit there are times when I try hard to be kind with the criticism because harshness isn't always deserved or warranted. I want readers to enjoy my work, think about it and maybe be inspired to see a show.

Over the years, I've heard of people who canceled tickets because of a negative review. My feeling is if you were interested enough to buy the tickets, why not experience it for yourself? …

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