It feels like everyone’s a critic these days, voicing their opinions, analyzing other people’s choices, and providing commentary constantly. With the amount of ways people can communicate today, everyone is able to post a review: whether on Facebook, Instagram, or via text, people love discussing and sharing about anything under the sun.
Of course, most people don’t get paid to do this, although a truly opinionated tweet could go viral and result in discourse and a follower increase- but we all know exposure doesn’t pay the bills. When it comes to art, and theatre especially, professional critics can dictate the money a show makes, the demographic of the audience, and how the general public may receive the show. A critic can make or break a show in some ways, dividing cult classics and box office hits. While you don’t always have to agree with a critic, they can provide commentary that is important for analysis, understanding, and growth. Critics are essential to art, and many are artists themselves in their own right. When you critique something, you engage with it, and isn’t that what we want from art? To draw people in?
Agreeing or disagreeing with a critic is beside the point. The best way to form an opinion of a show or performance is to see it yourself, and decide how it makes you feel. A critic can convey a lot of emotion through the tone of their writing, their directness, and any bias that peaks through, but ultimately we should all be critics. Critiquing art isn’t about tearing it down or throwing blanket support, it’s about holding art to a higher standard. Good, honest criticism comes from a place of desire for understanding and pushing the piece of art forward. Theatrical critics can make the stage feel bigger, linking live, raw art to the world we live in now. They can analyze, in their critique; like a professor giving a lecture to an audience made up of students with a desire to learn and expand. Criticisms are a part of what pushes art forward, constantly shifting the box. Critics often get the first word, the first engagement a show has with the general public. They jump start the train of discussions, exploring how the show stands up to artistic standards and desires. However, in addition to aiding in setting the tone for a show, critics set the tone for the theatre community at large, naming future trends and paying homage to theatre past.
Critics pick apart shows into “dos and don’ts,” dig for new treasure, and keep a finger on the trends. Critics are some of the most well versed people in theatre history, traditions, and how the old is influencing the new. They make ties to stories that most people may not catch, making references that pull the community together. They also provide feedback, because while it feels great to walk out of a show you’ve loved and connected to, it’s important to eventually face realities. If you read deep level critiques, you may learn something new which can influence how you support the show- the ethics and history behind the new, shiny story you just laughed through.
Critics can promote inclusion and equality by sharing performer’s pronouns- even if they’re cis.
They can also commend shows for inclusion, or argue that the show wasn’t very diverse. Critics are, in some ways, on the front lines of art’s change and inclusion efforts because criticisms are so accessible. Not everyone can get to Broadway to see a show, but everyone can experience a version of the show and the world created by the artists involved through a critic’s language. Audiences can learn of new performers, who share similar identities, and understand the nuances of identity when a critic makes an effort to convey them. Critics have an undeniable impact.
There’s always going to be a reason why you will or won’t like a show, something that causes you to disagree, and a critique that makes you groan, but by engaging with critics, you engage with the world through higher thinking, and that is both important for the future of theatre and artistic in its own right.