nytheatre mike Weighs In – Part 1

My turn to weigh in on the conversation about reviewing directors and directing. This subject has inspired not only a passionate number of comments from the readership, but an entry of its own on my colleague Matt Johnston’s blog, so obviously a nerve was touched. My thanks to everyone who’s commented so far, and by doing so has continued the conversation. And, thanks to Matt for picking up the baton on his blog. More on that in a minute.

Let me start by invoking The Boss. No, not Springsteen: Martin Denton, the editor of this here site. His comment about Part 1 of this conversation brought up an important point: the kind of reviews I like to read, as a theatergoer, are the ones that make me look at something in a new way, and that inspire me to think about (and possibly challenge) my own opinions. And, of course, I also like the ones that make me want to see a given show. Even if it’s a negative review, if there’s something in there that piques my interest (which is completely subjective), then I’ll want to see that show. As a reviewer, these are also the kinds of reviews I try to write.

Having said that,  I got the impression from both Isaac Butler and Don Jordan’s responses that today’s theatre directors feel mighty unappreciated when it comes to reviews. Which is understandable. If I worked a vocation that people constantly misunderstood or misidentified, I’d be peeved, too. (Oh, wait: I do work such a vocation. Never mind. Directors, I feel your pain!)

Matt Johnston took the bull by the horns in his post, and offered what I thought was some really sound advice on how to review/recognize theatre directing. The five main points he brings up are designed for practical application. Having practically applied them myself several times since first reading them, I can testify to their effectiveness.

I also agree with Matt’s assessment that a director is a choice maker who decides what ends up on stage (this echoes a similar sentiment voiced by Don, as well). I’ve always viewed the director’s role as being similar to the coach of a sports team. In sports, the coach designs the overall playbook, and tailors the gameplan to the strengths of the team roster. The coach implements the strategy and the philosophy, then its up to the individual players to execute as a unified team.

Matt was also quick to point out that, ideally, reviewers with practical theatre experience have a better shot at evaluating how directors solve problems than reviewers who don’t. Which is a viewpoint that we, here at HQ, are much in agreement with.

Isaac voiced concern over reviews these days “disregarding basically everything other than the script [his italics]…The reviewer critiques the script as if he or she were reading it.” I understand where he’s coming from. I see reviews like this often. For my own part, I know that I try to talk about the content of a play, and my reaction to it, when writing a review, rather than “critiquing” how a script reads on the page.

It should be pointed out, however, that reviewers often are reading the script. It’s common practice to include a copy of it in the press materials if the production in question is a new work. Which can be an enormous help afterwards in clarifying something Matt keenly mentioned: “which problems are problems of the play, and which are problems of the production.” In that regard, scripts are a valuable resource. But, I never sit down and review just what’s on the page.

More on all this tomorrow. I just wanted to get this ball rolling again, so that you all didn’t think I’d forgotten about it.

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2 Responses to nytheatre mike Weighs In – Part 1

  1. Kim W. says:

    I actually *don’t* read the script if I get a copy; if I’m there as a reviewer, I’m reviewing the whole experience, not just the script, and I prefer to approach the whole thing with a clean slate. (True, with revivals of classic plays that most people are familiar with, like “Death of a Salesman” or “Othello”, that isn’t possible; but I try for the most part to walk in as an “audience member,” with little to know “advance prep.”

    I’ve been lurking in this discussion, but not commenting, as I also just plain don’t know how to look for what a director does in general — I mean, I know the nuts-and-bolts, as a stage manager, but I don’t know how to look for a directors’ work in a finished production where I’m just in the audience.

  2. Kim W. says:

    Oh — and an aside to Isaac Butler and Don Jordan; gentlemen, if we’re talking underappreciation, try being a stage manager. We’re lucky if we’re even LISTED in the reviews. (snort)

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