Theater critic jumping into trenches


Forgive me for having to do a housekeeping chore.

For the past 16 years that I've been working as a theater critic (10 for this newspaper), I've been fascinated by the relationship between the reviewer and the reviewed. I was brought up in the tradition that a journalist never participates in the area he covers. That tradition is alive today. The New York Times' Ben Brantley, for example, said on New York's "Theater Talk" television show (co-moderated by New York Post columnist Michael Reidel) that although he'll take phone calls from performing folks and respond to their mail, he won't have lunch with them. He doesn't want to hear their explanations of why they do what they do because he wants to focus strictly on his opinions of their productions.

Makes perfect sense.

But I attended a critics' seminar in which The New Yorker's John Lahr offered a different perspective. The son of the Cowardly Lion said he thought critics should stop pontificating from on high and get out there and be reminded of what it's like on the other side of the footlights. (He practices what he preaches. He won a Tony Award for writing a one-woman show for Elaine Stritch.) People who live in think tanks, he explained, sometimes forget the practicality in carrying out ideas.

At first I thought Lahr's suggestion would not be practical for me, how shall I put this? A lot of people in the theater community resent the tone of my reviews. Will they be able to put all that aside? What will it be like when I've just panned an actor in print and the next day am rehearsing with him on another project?

Then I reminded myself that I often interview people I critique for this weekly column. To stay on top of what's happening, I've been socializing with "the enemy" for a long time.

Still, a major fear persists: Will this become a conflict of interest?

To be honest, I don't know. But I'm about to find out.

I'm throwing my hat in the ring. I'll be rotating among local troupes (those who will have me) doing whatever: writing, directing, acting, backstage crew. If things get too dicey, I'll simply stop doing it. But for now, I feel I'm beginning a new, exciting chapter. I don't plan on doing any publicity or reviews for any productions I'm involved with (rest easy). And I won't be writing about any backstage experiences, except with permission, or in a general way (sorry, no exposes here. I'm a big believer that rehearsals should be held in an atmosphere of trust).

I've held people to high standards in my criticism, and frankly I have little doubt that I as a show person will not always live up to those standards. One thing I do know: I won't be writing any nasty notes to critics.

Wish me luck?

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

 

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