Monday, November 21, 2011

Sondheim On Critics

Stephen Sondheim isn't as terrified of the internet as Michael Kaiser.

Heck, Mr. Sondheim finds a certain optimism in the passion of the online exchanges about theater, even in internet theater chatrooms.

This from an excerpt, (in the Guardian,) of his upcoming book:

For me, a good critic is a good writer. A good critic is someone who recognises and acknowledges the artist's intentions and the work's aspirations, and judges the work by them, not by what his own objectives would have been. A good critic is so impassioned about his subject that he can persuade you to attend something you'd never have imagined going to. A good critic is an entertaining read. A good critic is hard to find.

Then again, to a certain degree, good critics are no longer necessary to find. The phrase "Everybody's a critic" has taken on a universal cast. The internet encourages people to share their opinions with the world. In the theatre, the buzz created by chatroom chatters has become increasingly important to a show's reputation before it opens. There are thousands of critics tapping away their opinions to whoever will listen – so who needs a paid pontificator to tell you what your opinion should be?

Showbusiness chatrooms reveal that the need to criticise is insatiable. They also reveal that there are still people who are enthusiastic about the theatre, who want not only to go, but to talk about what they've gone to. The diffidence and short attention spans that pervade so much of our culture were nowhere evident in the lively chatrooms I looked at, although I soon learned not to keep logging on for the same reason I learned not to read my reviews: every group of compliments about my work that started me preening was soon peppered with potshots that unpreened me. And for every piece of thoughtful observation about other people's work, there was a piece of mean-spirited snottiness – some of which, I regret to say, made me laugh and wish I were young enough again to participate in those kinds of exchanges.



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