From the beginning of the human civilization, theatre, as an art form of expression, has been cultivated by philosophers, storytellers, symphony creators, writers and actors. Then there came the television, 35-70 mm screen and the digital revolution. We thought that this oldest form of storytelling would lose its way and eventually, die.
It’s a wonder that in this era of instant gratification, the theatre has not lost its roots. Rather it’s expanded into many intriguing forms which compel new audience and help them grow their visualization and knowledge of this world & human emotions by presenting multiple perspectives. Admit it or not, humans starve for stories; this is one of the many reasons that theatre is still alive.
But just being alive doesn’t qualify for anything except that everyone shows a ‘respect’ towards this form of surviving through low times – I really hate to say this, though. It should be effective enough to lure more people in, give them a platform to contemplate and create dialogues among them to debate; because it truly can. Certainly, creative marketing (as if that is some term) takes a big part in it. But one of the best ways to bring a particular play into everyone’s notice is Criticism or Review or Expert Opinion.
And here’s the biggest concern. There aren’t enough critics for theatre plays and forms. In my belief, it is close to none.
What is criticism?
For Audience: Criticism is a brief or detailed opinion to bring the audience closer to the art form with interesting snippets & angles and ultimately help them decide whether the play or show is worth watching or not.
For Theatre Professional: Criticism is a brief or detailed opinion to let the theatre artist know the effectiveness of their articulation style, theme & story and the presentation and ultimately help them improve with adequate points.
This is the basic definition I believe for criticism and the real purpose is to improve the quality of the performance and generate a larger audience base by letting them familiarize with the art form and the story. Of course, these are the generalized definitions as we know that there are a particular set of audiences for particular theatre forms.
If you feel the need to ask why then the answer is hidden in the definitions.
How can I say not enough Theatre Critics?
If I consider Bengaluru Theatre Community (the city where I resumed my theatre journey after college dramatics and got introduced to many new forms), since the last few years, there is a sudden growth in a number of theatre groups, plays and events despite the unprofitable business. Every day there is a play or performance happening in and around the city. Every year, a few new theatre groups put their foot into this mud in order to shine like a flower.
In order to promote and show a good repo of the plays, the theatre has previews story or interview in the newspapers and radio. If the play is running repeatedly, then they usually take audience reaction videos after the show and post it online. Those reactions, without a doubt, will be positive ones and have words like ‘good’, ‘awesome’, ‘I had a great time’, ‘it was amazing’, etc. I must remind you that most of those audiences are non-theatre background, hence we can’t actually expect them analyze the entire performance with hits and misses. These reactions can’t be considered as reviews.
However, there are very few people from theatre background or with the journalism profile who review the show but first those are written in a favour to a friend who is part of the performing team (I am not saying it’d be biased); second, those are not written by regular critic (yes, even the real journalist from the newspaper or magazine team do not watch the performance regularly); and third, too low in numbers.
What criticism can do?
As the number of performing teams and performances is going up, the lack of criticism, in my belief, make them go directionless. The meaning of art can be how any theatre group defines it but, in the longer run, they would never be aware of what they are doing wrong (yes, art can be wrong) and what novel and interesting elements they can introduce in their performance.
I am sure that hardly any theatre groups can say that they are perfect. Criticism, if applied as per its definition, can push them to achieve closer to perfection.
How criticism should be taken?
It should be welcomed without any defence shield or mechanism. It should be taken how it is. It should be given full attention. It should be taken seriously – positive and negative both aspects. One must see the possibility of implementing the implicit or explicit suggestions in their further shows; because we, theatre professionals, have the luxury to do so in our next, unlike filmmakers.
If you, as a theatre artist, cannot take the criticism in a good way and often react badly then, in my view, you must not be an artist at all. You must learn to listen to criticism.
Who should do the criticism?
Obviously, the journalists and any professional critics are not usually interested unless a big name is attached to the play. I feel, as a theatre artist, we should be doing it. Yes, we must. I am doing it whenever I get time.
It can be learned. If you want to know how to do criticism then please read the section here (it’s written for film criticism but it can be applied for criticism in general).
The only thing we must avoid is being too sweet or too bitter. We must be neutral.
So, what do you think about generating a proper and healthy theatre critic community? Hit me up with your opinions, I will be all ears.