By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
A View From the Artists
Curiously, in light of Keshaviah's dread of artists' "indulgence," solo performer John Grady, whose Fear Factor: Canine Edition, about his dog, was one of the most moving entries in the Hollywood Fringe festival, wrote in: "I dread that they may perceive the show as being indulgent and clever. But if I've done my work, then I anticipate they will have had, at some point in the evening, an honest theatrical experience that they feel inspired to write about. ... Oh, I also dread that the douchebag sitting in front of them has neglected to silence their cellphone."
The douchebags have invaded. Says Martha Demson, artistic director of Hollywood's Open Fist Theatre, "I dread that the rock band to which our landlord has leased space adjacent to ours will start practicing, or that the therapeutic improv group to which the landlord has leased the space on the other side of us will start their primal ululations — and that no amount of professional production work will overcome the impression of cheap theater. You think I'm kidding? Both groups have our performance calendars, but still our final, sold-out performance of Foote Notes was accompanied in its most tender moments by the shrieks of at least 50 improv-group members."
Similarly, director-producer Jeremy Aldridge is very concerned about uncontrollable circumstances that might influence critics' impressions: "I worry about traffic, parking, the temperature of the theater, who will be the first face the critic meets, will that person deliver a good handshake, is the chair lumpy, will we have a 'good' or 'bad' audience and then, of course, the performance. ... Much of this I have no control over, so it's a good exercise in faith and always a test of leadership."
Writer-director Jaime Robledo, unwittingly expressing many critics' dread, sees reviews as more about affecting ticket sales than about creating a dialogue about the show. "It isn't just about getting a good review, it's about getting the right kind of good review. ... The good review makes your show an option to a prospective theatergoer. A rave can demand their attention. The critic can almost play kingmaker."
Mark Seldis and Katharine Noone run Ghost Road Theatre Company, which devises works collaboratively with its ensemble. They just want their work to be understood on its own terms. "When critics view our work, it is always our hope that the person reviewing the piece will have some sort of knowledge of our company, or at least the ensemble devising process, and be capable of putting the work into its proper context."
Sometimes artists worry about certain critics. Says solo performer Kristina Wong, of one critic who has reviewed a couple of her shows, "What I dislike about her bad reviews is they are so scathing and unforgiving, like she wants to not only scold the artist but kill their careers forever as well." She adds another dread: If critics, or even audiences, don't like her show, they'll avoid wanting to meet or speak with her "or feel that our friendship has ulterior motives."
This ache for a relationship between critic and artist underlies the comments sent via Facebook by solo performer Mike Daisey, currently working on a performance about criticism (who wrote after he'd submitted the following that he wanted to clarify that he really does like critics, but they, like artists, must rise to the occasion):
"In no other artistic endeavor is the act of the creation of work so intimately tied to its criticism — only in the performing arts is the critic present, affecting the performance by their very presence. What I most anticipate is rarely achieved — a true synthesis and communion with the critic, whose words illuminate beyond a recitation of what happened, or a Yelplike assessment of whether the show is 'worth your money.' What I dread is the opposite: seeing the same reviews over and over again, even when they are positive — especially when they are positive — written with no real contact with the work, without risk or joyful struggle, by overworked, underpaid scribes who get no support in our age for real criticism to take root. Every critic should know that they themselves will be weighed, and the better the artist the more exacting our measure is. ... Truly great theatrical criticism is a unicorn in the American theater — but I'm a dreamer, and I want to believe, and insist on believing, that it is possible."