American theatre doesn't really do "raw" anymore. In fact I can't think of a professional show I've seen in the last oh, five years or so that dared to flaunt its vulnerability, much less its rough, warts-and-all humanity. Or one that risked looking long and hard at the dark places within us without the props of adolescent bravado or alienated chic (or, in fact, cultural or literal amplification of any kind).
But somehow the Poles have clung to that defiant ideal, long after the American theatre has forgotten all about Grotowski, artistic community, and (eeek!) poverty.
Bill Marx at the Arts Fuse on the recent departure of Dance Critic Deborah Jowitt from the Village Voice. Jowitt's editor wanted her to write more balanced reviews, thinking that most of her critical output was limited to things she liked.
There is an interesting complication. Jowitt, I suspect, sees criticism as a necessary means to support dance as an art form. She doesn’t challenge Park’s characterization of her reviews, and her vision of criticism as a means for encouraging analysis rather than judgment is a respected part of the history of arts criticism. For some important critics in the past, the purpose of criticism is to illuminate, educate, and engage audiences, not risk turning them off. Generally, the most powerful supportive critics have used their writing to fight for art that they felt was being unfairly neglected by mainstream culture—the rhetorical strategy is to make audiences aware of the difficult talent on the margins, to explore the compelling value of art that, because of moral or stylistic reasons, puts off audiences who, given sufficient understanding, would see what they were missing.
On Howlaround, Hal Brooks interviews playwright Annie Baker, (Boston recently saw a festival of her plays.)
HAL: What are your hopes for the American Theater?
ANNIE: That theater artists start reading more.
Ben Yalom, in preparation for a convening at the Dramatist Guild Conference, throws out an important question:
This convening arises from a belief that, as a field, we have serious difficulty having useful (and sometimes hard) conversations about the quality/excellence of each other’s work. We do this fine, at the bar, without the artists present. But how can we have more useful and constructive conversations?
We need to improve the quality of our work. We make constant demands of audiences, of funders, and more. To have strong arguments for the worthiness of the time and money of these various constituencies, we need to raise the bar. And to do so, we need as a first step to be able to talk about quality: What is excellence? And how can we strive for it? How can we have better conversations to encourage and inspire one another to aim higher?
On Superfluities, George Hunka posts a video
On the eve of the Tonys, it’s a pleasure to be able to offer “The Critic as Thinker,” a Philoctetes Center symposium from 27 October 2007, that features two of these fine critics, Eric Bentley and Robert Brustein, as well as Stanley Kauffmann, as they survey both their own careers and the changing landscape of theatre in the post-war era. Roger Copeland moderates the discussion, which traverses a wide variety of topics, including the original reception of The Playwright as Thinker, the newspaper review as consumer guide, the disappearance of the middle-brow play (this to my mind is alive and well, but let it pass), Marxist politics, and the alleged responsibility of Frank Rich for the decline of American theatre.