CMU School of Drama

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Battle for Contextual Criticism

Exeunt Magazine: New York theater criticism is having a week. Where is my fainting chair and good strong drink?

It’s been a while since we had a bona fide criticism kerfuffle but I wish this one did not exist. The dispute that arose this week somehow queries whether contextual criticism is “serious” criticism. I can’t quite believe I have to defend the merits of theater criticism which responds to the work’s place in our time.


Helena Hewitt said...

It feels like anytime someone complains about “PC policing” what they are really saying is that they can’t find a way to make jokes, tell stories, or say words that aren't racist, sexist, or homophobic so they just point finger at whoever is calling them out. And it works because it paints anyone fighting for “political correctness” as the bad guy, the uptight prude who won’t let you say certain words or do certain things. Political correctness was the way to politicize basic human respect. And it works. Because it turns speaking up into making too big a deal out of a small thing. But the small things add up, they create the cultural mindset. The idea that contextual criticism is not “serious” criticism is completely ridiculous. Of course, social and political context should inform both the artists putting on a show and the audience watching it, if it doesn’t we are just making things in a vacuum and theatre loses any of its bigger cultural meaning.

Sarah Boyle said...

The play wasn’t written in 2017, and there is something to be said for not ridding every part of history that doesn’t agree with current ideas. But that is not and cannot be the end of the conversation, because that play was CHOSEN in 2017. And at some point someone has to stop and say, it seems like we are putting on too many plays that don’t reflect our current values. There is a difference between banning a play because it is outright offensive and asking what are we getting out of this? Sometimes brilliant writing, or some point the play makes, is worth understanding and accepting that it was written in a different context. The play can’t always be worth it, if that were true, then the context and our society has evidentially not changed that much. I have also read articles on the blog about how there are too many revivals, this could have been a place to do a new work! And seriously, that was a mild comment, not the kind of criticism that warranted the artistic director writing to the paper.

Sasha Schwartz said...

It makes me upset to see that people are fighting against reviewing art in it’s political and societal context. What’s the point of art if not to be a mirror and/or window into what is happening in the world right now? If we can’t relate the characters in works of theater to people in our everyday lives, to people on the frontlines of the activist movement, to people in positions of power, what is the point of seeing life imitated onstage? It’s so angering to hear people say in response to negative responses to yellow face, black face, inconsiderately staged sexual assault that “this is the way things have been done” and “that’s just the way it is”. The whole point of art, in my opinion, is to change people’s perceptions and reflect on the state of the world and how we can learn to make it more equal. As the author said, it’s time to start saying “this isn’t her story” and “this isn’t their story” as excuses for the marginalization of characters of diverse races, sexualities and genders.