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.”

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