Tuesday, March 24, 2009

metaDRAMA: What NOT To Do #2

Or perhaps the evening more readily calls to mind an interminable elementary-school speaker, as the audience sits on the carpeted floor looking up at Oberzan as if it's story time (I used my miniscule pull as a critic to snag a chair).

First off, and this is aimed more at editors than writers, but try to avoid perpetuating errors. (Minuscule is the proper spelling of miniscule, though the former is now as much a variant in the dictionary as irregardless.) However, that's not a serious issue--the reader (especially the casual reader) will still understand your meaning. The far more dangerous transgression is Peikert's boast that he snagged a chair--in other words, that he did not experience the play as it was designed to be experienced. (This would be like going to Fuerzabruta and watching from the safety of the wings.) If a critic writes for readers, why would s/he want to be treated any differently from them?

One of the problems I've observed with modern criticism is that this elitism not only exists, but it extends to the reviews, which may be one of the reasons why younger readers--largely hearing only from older critics (or younger critics who parrot their ancestors)--tend to tune such comments out, filing them in the "this doesn't apply to me" category. For the longest time, my mother's insistence that I see something was the surest way to prevent me from seeing a show. On my own behalf, I think it's bad enough that I have to wrest my eyes away from the stage long enough to jot something down (and I'm getting better at writing blind), or even that my mind isn't as relaxed as those of my fellow theatergoers. But when I see another critic in the audience taking notes in the margins of the SCRIPT . . .

There's also the problem of how much ancillary material a critic is sometimes provided with. I've seen reviews that have yawning stretches that read like paraphrases of the material, as if the critic, trying to fit something incomprehensible into a frame of reference, has chosen not to do the work or to simply go with the flow. This extends to the script, too: of course things are going to be clearer when you read the script, but if your initial impression was muddied while you did your best to understand it--especially from a critical perspective--and you then write otherwise, then you are misrepresenting the production. Many clear scripts have been rendered incomprehensible by vague staging.

Now I've exaggerated things to a degree (sadly, the examples I refer to are not hyperbolic): some of these issues are unavoidable given the duality of the critic as both passive audience and active responder. But I do think that we should be doing our best to offset the biases that come of simply being a critic, and we should all--blogger, critic, and audience alike--try to do our best to be fully in the moment for as long as possible. And Mr. Peikert, you can't be fully in the moment if you've got your ass in the clouds.

[See also: What NOT To Do #1]

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