Critiquing Community Theater- Opening the Can of Worms

Julie H. Jordan

In Cincinnati, we are fortunate to have an abundance of community theater groups.  The groups are diverse in scope and experience (as is often the case), so The Association of Community Theater decided on a judging process for the productions (for those belonging to ACT) with the original intention of offering suggestions for improvement through constructive criticism and praise when noted.  So how far should a critique go to accomplish this goal?

First of all, the word “critique” immediately suggests “criticism” which does not have a positive connotation to many.  Judges should balance their critiques by noting positives and negatives in a given show.  In addition, effort should be made to separate the director’s vision from what just didn’t work.  In other words, each director has an interpretation of the play and chooses to focus on particular themes or details.  To denigrate a director’s vision is to discourage what makes each version of that show unique!  If there truly is only one acceptable way to direct a play, act a part, light a show, etc., most of us wouldn’t even want to participate. 

That is not to say, of course, that critiques should be lavishing praise on areas that need work.  We all have a lot to learn in the community theater world since most of us are not professional actors and directors.  Some of us have degrees in theater (mine was a minor), but many do not. There are certain comments in critiques I have received that I have taken to heart. It needs to be emphasized, though, that comments should be given in such a way as to encourage improvement, rather than discourage involvement.  Respect for those that put in the work on a production is paramount.  If the judge has strong feelings about a play due to prior involvement with it (acted in it, directed it, designed lighting, etc.), this becomes even more difficult.

Awareness of a group’s physical limitations is also crucial.  Most groups do not have actual theaters in which to perform.  That shadow on stage left may be because the lighting instruments are not sufficient to light that area despite the best efforts of all involved.  Other limitations include the size of the stage, wing space, and a host of other obstacles found in spaces not originally designated for a theatrical production.  Judges should be aware of these so that a group is not downgraded for issues beyond its control.

So, do I think there are merits to a judging system?  Most definitely!  Do I think the majority of judges attempt to write fair and equitable assessments? Yes.  However, it never hurts to revisit the parameters that make a critique a true benefit to a group!

Photo: Facetime Community Theatre