How to Write About Theater in the 21st Century

August 4, 2014

Martin Denton will lead the FringeU panel "How to Write About Plays in the 21st Century" on Monday, August 11 at 1pm.

Visit FringeNYC's website for venue info

I've been a theater reviewer (aka critic) for nearly eighteen years; I've actually had this job longer than any other in my career. I've written at least 3,000 reviews in that time, and edited well over 4,000 more. All of which is to say not only that I know something about the craft of writing about plays, but that I think about it...A LOT.

Weirdly, perhaps, the more I've reviewed plays, the less I put stock in its utility. Do we read Shakespeare today because of the glowing reviews he got when he was working at the Globe? Or is it that his words, his work, has stood the test of time?

More contemporarily: is it more useful/interesting to read Stephen Sondheim's two-volume memoir about his art and career or to read a compendium of reviews and critiques of his shows?

In a world where:

(a) anyone can be a "critic"--reviewing stuff on Amazon, creating a personal blog about a topic they're passionate about, or just tweeting and Facebook-posting about how they feel about art they've encountered; and

(b) theater can be captured and archived in various media to be appreciated by a broad audience (I'm thinking about anything from YouTube trailers to web-based performance to the National Theatre of Great Britain broadcasting plays in movie theaters)--and thus does not require an intermediary to describe an ephemeral event for those who missed it

what is the task of one who wants to write about theater?

Through my work on Indie Theater Now and nytheater now, I've been re-thinking the role of the theater writer, testing assumptions (and testing the waters) to build a 21st century paradigm for my particular craft, one that will add value to the community I serve. I feel like I've left behind the ideas of being a judge, gatekeeper, tastemaker, and/or consumer advocate; and that I've been heading toward fulfilling Kirk Bromley's description of me as "an engine of enthusiasm for the art": as curator, cheerleader, archivist, and context-provider for the NYC indie theater scene.

What do you think the role of the theater writer/reviewer is nowadays? This is the subject we'll be talking about in our FringeU panel on August 11th. I am eager to share and learn.





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