I've belonged to the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) for about a decade. Our logo uses an image of a haughty fellow, drawn by 19th-century French caricaturist Honoré Daumier. Pen and pad in hand and supercilious expression on his face, the "critique influent" is taking notes so he can hand down his arrogant opinions.
Some years ago, ATCA members debated whether this image was appropriate. One contingent felt it conveyed the attitude it was meant to satirize; they called him the "crabby critic." The other side saw him as a warning not to take ourselves too seriously.
I hoped to modernize ATCA's image, but I lost that argument. So today I use his image to begin conversations about the role of the critic.
As someone who writes about theater, I offer opinions on a vibrant art form. In New York City, select critics can ensure the success or failure of a Broadway show. That's not such a big issue in Cincinnati.
Following the demise of The Cincinnati Post, two publications routinely offer reviews of local theater productions: CityBeat and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Sometimes people ask me how Jackie Demaline and I can have such differing opinions of the same production. My response is always that a review is one person's reaction, and it should be taken that way, no more and no less.
I never suggest that my review is the only way to view a production. The final word is really yours.
Every critic brings personal experience and bias to writing about a given show. It's unavoidable, and if you read a critic regularly, you'll begin to see what she reacts to or he routinely comments on. I've reviewed theater since 1986, and I see roughly 100 theater productions every year, so I have a reasonable frame of reference to gauge whether a particular show has succeeded.
But that doesn't mean something I like will appeal to you, nor that a show that didn't charm me will fail to win over audiences. One of the joys of live theater is the chance to compare experiences, which can vary from day to day.
Opening night audiences are usually full of friends and supporters, so a standing ovation might not be a realistic measure of success. Many critics avoid seeing a show the day after it opens, presuming the actors will be tired and bring lower energy to their performance onstage.
My job as a critic is to provide readers with meaningful, objective descriptions of what I have seen onstage. But I'm also obligated to provide some assessment.
You need to decide if my reviews help you make an informed decision about whether to invest your time and money in attendance. I love to hear reactions to my reviews; please drop me an e-mail -- whether you agree or disagree with me.
CONTACT RICK PENDER: firstname.lastname@example.org