Margaret Hair: When to be critical
October 12, 2007
Steamboat Springs — For the preview story of “Godspell” in this week’s 4 Points, I got the chance to remember what high school drama productions are like.
Well, at least a little.
“Godspell” is an independent community theater show and doesn’t have anything to do with Steamboat Springs High School, but most of its cast is in that age range.
But the amount of energy and work that goes into any kind of community theater (high school, college or town) is about the same. Mostly, it’s completely insane. And almost always, it’s underappreciated.
As I was leaving one of the rehearsals, director Michael Brumbaugh asked if I would like to come to opening night and write a review of it – if I liked the show, that is. This is the kind of thing some arts writers might not want to hear.
Actually, I’m all for this philosophy: Reviewing community theater (or a local art show, symphony, opera, anything) is great, but only if you’re not going to trash it.
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That idea comes from a desire to support those who make local art by focusing on the effort itself. And my acceptance of this philosophy came about six years ago, when a freelance theater reviewer ripped apart a volunteer, community production of Cole Porter’s “Bells Are Ringing.”
The review was heartless. For a show that cost $8 a ticket – and for which no one involved saw a penny – this part-time critic tore apart our actors, our orchestra (of which I was a part), our set, our staging : everything, really.
It might be that I’m blowing it up in my mind as being worse than it was. But I’m pretty sure this woman lacked a soul.
With any kind of public art pursuit, you’re putting your work out there to be judged. That’s understood. But at some point, to foster art, anyone viewing it has to decide how much judgment is really necessary.
You can’t say that a performance is flawless if it obviously wasn’t – really, you shouldn’t say a performance is flawless, ever, because that wouldn’t be true.
You also can’t say that a performance is a complete waste of time (exceptions are for concerts with exorbitantly high ticket prices), because the only thing that supports is the critic’s inner vindictiveness.
My reason for walking that line, especially with young or volunteer performers, is that few critics understand what goes into some of these productions.
For example, a few of my college roommates were living in the woods near an outdoor theater about this time last year, trying to survive tech week for a production of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”
No one knew that they were doing this, and the critic who reviewed the show definitely had no idea that its producers had been up for days in a row trying to pull the production together (in retrospect, building a multi-platform set on a stage that had a floor made of sand probably was a bad idea).
But that’s the kind of mania on which volunteer theater thrives.
And it’s why, even if every community production I ever go to in this town is terrible, I won’t tell anyone.