Stories published this month for Meadows!

Here are the links to three stories of mine that have been published on the Meadows page online:

Click here to read about The BoulevART, the first-ever Meadows fair coming in April. The article was published online on Meadows’ website.

Click here to read about the Green Room uplift.

Click here to read advances on SMUST shows.

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Writing About Theatre by Christopher Thaiss and Rick Davis

“We cherish good critics because they accomplish three things: they report the event evocatively, analyze its essence and its execution and make judgments bout its ultimate quality and endurance. In so doing, they contribute a valuable record to the ongoing dialogue of culture: the encounter of bright minds with powerful moments, the capture of a fleeting insight that would otherwise be, in Robert Burstein’s evocative phrase, ‘written on the wind.”’

These are the words from authors Christopher Thaiss and Rick Davis, who co-wrote Writing About Theatre.

This passage is specifically from chapter 4, “The Theatre Review and Drama Criticism,” in which the authors differentiate between a review and a critic and give a detailed description of what they believe to be the three elements of a theatre review: 1) Reportage 2) Analysis and 3) Judgment. Here is what they said about each component:

  • Reportage: the basic data of the text, setting, lighting, costumes, sound, acting and directing. What is the stage setting like and what is its relationship to the play? What are the specific moments in a character’s performance that serve the play?
  • Analysis: the intentions and effectiveness of the production. What is the production’s attempt? What are the writer, director, actors and designers trying to create and to what end? (Analysis should come easily if reportage is done well)
  • Judgment: the last portion of the review, and often the most difficult. Was the intention realized? Was it a worthwhile intention in the first place?

The essential takeaway point is that reportage and analysis must precede judgment in the thought process of a responsible critic. The goal is to “see” accurately, describe fully, think clearly, and then (and only then) to judge fairly the merits of the work .

Thaiss and Davis point out that a critic must have eyes that are partly a journalist’s and partly a scholar’s and it is important that he or she knows how to actively listen and watch a performance.

They said, “Critics traditionally place themselves in the position of an idealized, well-informed audience member, one without special access to the inner workings of the artists’ minds except as those workings as revealed in the art itself.”

Thoughts on The Guardian

The Guardian is a particularly interesting source because it went from a paper platform to a solely online platform. Lyn Gardner’s culture blog is one in a million. Lyn Gardner certainly follows the Blogging Rules that are taught to journalism students today. Her posts are conversational yet educational; they are funny yet lean!

She wrote one post entitled “Is it Time to Teach Theatre Manners to Children?” which posed the question of who really needs to be lectured about theatre manners – children or adults?

After seeing Richard III on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, I was provoked to write a similar article. A man was sitting two seats away from me and asked me something that I could not understand due to his strong accent in the middle of Act I. Trying to be as polite to him as possible, I leaned over and asked him quietly to repeat it. He asked, “who is the actor playing Richard III?” I whispered the actor’s name in his ear. After this, he responded with the same question, this time much louder. It was clear that the man was just trying to understand the story so that he could appreciate the play, but he did not know the best way to come to this understanding. Two girls down the row shushed us. The man then brought out his phone and pointed to a picture he had taken (during the show) and asked if he was right about the actor being Richard. I responded with “We’ll talk during intermission.” For the rest of the act, this man was on his phone.

He was the talk of the green room for the next few hours because several theatre students who were also watching the performance had seen and heard him during the show. While I want more than anything for everyone in the community to experience theatre, I cannot help but be quite bothered by the lack of consideration for fellow theatre patrons from this man on Wednesday evening. I would be lying if I said that I was not silently wishing during the intermission (sorry, Lyn, “interval) that this man would chicken out and go home.

Musings on criticism – Feb. 27, 2014

How does/should one watch a play as an audience member?

How does/should one watch a play as a director?

How does/should one watch a play as a critic or reviewer?

And when are these lines blurred?

I have been pondered these questions for several years and they still haunt me.

The conclusion that I have come to (at least for the time being) is that a critic should achieve some kind of middle ground between all of these. That is, I think a critic needs to be able to juggle several different “hats” of sorts to use when watching, enjoying, thinking critically, and then of course writing thoughtfully about a play.

A critic should have an informed opinion of his or her impression. The critic should be well-read on the playwright of a play or the choreographer of a piece or the composer of a symphony that he or she is seeing. He/she should be aware of the sets, costumes, lighting, etc. Should he/she always be aware of direction? What about symbolism of the play? If the director did his/her job, is looking for “symbolism” irrelevant?

My directing professor, Stan Wojewodski, Jr., would say “focus on what you see.” He asks us after we have watched a scene in class (as a director), “what action gave you an impression?” He does this to get us to get as specific as possible with the work, so that we can best communicate with our actors. We cannot speak in generalities in the theatre. To create a “vibe” or “feel” of a scene is to destroy it. Rather, it is crucial to attain the proper language with which to discuss a scene best so that actors have tangible working notes.

The same goes for criticism, I think. Critics need to have the language with which to discuss what he/she saw in the play, the impression that these actions made and then furthermore, his/her informed opinion about the piece. Should the criticism focus on the direction?

Of course, this all depends on the landscape of the criticism. Is it for a newsweekly, an online publication, a newspaper, a magazine? There tends to be a disconnect between when actors are using criticism to promote one’s event and when actors are choosing not to listen to critics. What does the criticism do? Just as the actors have to find the necessity for the text because the text feeds the play, what does the criticism do? What is its purpose? If most actors “do not listen to the critics,” why does Ben Brantley (and countless other reviewers nationwide) still have a job? Who is the audience that reads this work, even with the collapse and decline of newspapers? In line with the tradition of the old critic, are critics often expected to have an opinion and then have the ability to apply their point of view to whatever they see?

Some of these questions remain unanswered, but I hope to be able to talk about this.

Arts Read of the Week – Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014

This article on playwright Will Eno’s play is a wonderful example of how an advance on an upcoming theatre performance can also be very similar to a feature or profile story. The article highlights Eno’s upcoming plays, which open March 3, 2014 at the Signature Theatre. The writer of the piece, Alexis Soloski, talks about how pain is a recurring theme in Eno’s plays. Read one way, his plays are hilariously funny. Read another way, they are almost unbearably sad. Soloski says, “They catalog incurable illness, irremediable injury, unrecoverable loss.” Eno is in rehearsal for one play while another one of his plays is in previews.

A particular interesting quotation is the following: “Mr. Eno’s polite reticence does not lend itself to theater’s rough-and-tumble teamwork. Why playwriting?”

Eno said: “I don’t know if I have anything too naturally suited to being a playwright except I do really feel that strangeness and that mystery. It seems like enough. It feels like enough.”

This article really piqued my interest because I will be performing in a Will Eno play, “Middletown,” at the Margo Jones Theatre in April as part of the Meadows theatre division’s REP series.

Arts read of the week: Feb. 19

Check out the arts read of the week, a musing by The Guardian’s theatre blogger, Lyn Gardner.

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2014/feb/17/theatre-what-makes-good-interval-full-monty

She discusses the purpose of having an interval, or intermission between acts of a play. Some plays, she argues, such as works by Harold Pinter, call for a break or pause in the action. For other plays intervals simply acts as deterrents. Still, she says, it is often an integral part of some patrons’ theatre-going experience.

SMUST presents…3/1 – 3/2

Tennessee Williams’ The Eccentricities of a Nightingale opens on the Fourth of July just before the First World War in Glorious Hill, Mississippi.  Performances will be in B349, the Kathy Bates Studio in the basement of Meadows on March 1, 2014 at 4:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and March 2, 2014 at 9:00 p.m and will feature the work of Meadows theatre undergraduates.

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale poster