CMU School of Drama

Friday, April 07, 2017

The Need for Cultivating Theatre Critics of Color

HowlRound: A theatre practitioner of color realizes early on that there are several gatekeepers in any institution. A gatekeeper can be defined as a person who controls the creative processes or hiring in a company. An artistic director chooses the plays produced, and the directors to pair with them, while a casting director decides which actors are employed on the stage. These are obvious examples, but there is another sort of gatekeeper whose influence heavily determines who works in theatre, which shows sell out or flounder, and even who gets funding. These individuals are known as theatre critics.

8 comments:

Julian Goldman said...

I’ve read many articles about increasing opportunities for people of color in theater, but this is the first time I’ve seen an article that discusses the importance of diversity when it comes to theater critics. As soon as I started reading the article, it seemed so obvious that having primarily white men reviewing theater is going to exacerbate the lack of diversity in theater, but I’d just never thought about it before. I think one of the most important parts of this article is that when the pool of critics comes from a very narrow range of backgrounds, there could be lots of very important shows that those critics simply cannot understand in the way that audience members coming from a different perspective would. Having a more diverse group of people reviewing theater would help prevent productions from getting bad reviews or no reviews at all just because they aren’t the type of show that most critics tends to see/like.

Simone Schneeberg said...

I never really thought about the limitations that a critic can have that can influence a show. I've read bad reviews, or critiques that do an incredibly poor job of capturing the essence of a show, but i've usually done so already having my own formed opinions or having my own knowledge of the show. I never really thought about it but it makes perfect sense that people without the appropriate background to draw upon cannot adequately review a show related to experiences they lack. I think the only issue here is that we must be careful about becoming exclusionary. When Paz wanted to choose the critique to review based on their experiences and their life, I understand that she wants to do so to ensure the best understanding of the show and therefore the most enlightening review for any reader or potential audience member. On the other hand, in the same way the critics can exclude shows from the public eye by choosing not to review them, this could be misconstrued as excluding portions of the general public because they might not understand the show entirely, when that is the audience the playwright actually wants. They want a critique who does understand and an audience who they can make understand.

Sarah Battaglia said...

Much like Julian this is the first time I have ever seen an article discussing the addition critics as a group that is lacking diversity. I suppose that I assumed that it would need more diversity because as far as I am concerned every profession could use more diversity. And while this is the first article I have seen this isn't the first time I have thought about the demographics of critics. When the all female ghost busters came out it got very mixed reviews and many people really enjoyed it and many didn't. Which isn't super rare I mean the majority of movies that come out are well received by some and not by others. But what was different about this one was that all of the people who wrote bad reviews about the movie were men, and many who wrote good ones were women. The movie did not do very well and there were a lot of people putting bad reviews into the world maybe because they didn't agree with the movie or because they didn't get it, and that is the same thing for people of color. The theater critic world is very small and needs to open itself up to a broader group of people so that we can bring different and more diverse stories to the forefront.

Sasha Schwartz said...

It’s definitely true what the article writer says about theater “gatekeepers” in that a few people in certain positions in the industry hold a lot of power as to what sorts of plays are produced, what sorts of stories are being told, which actors/ production team members get hired, and, in the case of theater reviewers, what sorts of productions are perceived as being well-received/ “universal” vs. narrowing in on a certain race/ identity in a way that white reviewers might not understand. We have talked a lot in special topics about how playwrights of color are often shoved into boxes in their reviews, for either being “too much about their race” in a way that is unrelatable or “not enough about their race” in that it is surprising to many to see stories of people of color living day to day lives that of course involve their inherent racial identity, but in which that isn’t a central point of interest in the story. Of course I think we need more ethnic diversity in every facet of theater in order to cultivate a culture of variance, openness and acceptance instead of one of fear, racism, and xenophobia, but the identity of the theater reviewer is one that to be honest I haven’t thought of much until now, and I think it is more important than many might realize.

Antonio Ferron said...

I think it goes without saying that we need diversity on the arts. I honestly believe that the theatre world is doing a great job at attempting to diversify the faces we see on stage, particularly with African American representation, but there is still a vast lack of representation for other people of color. This article addresses a very important aspect of diversity that I think is often overlooked though. We know we need diverse representation on stage, but the same thing goes for those who aren't performers. The author of this arrivals is completely correct in stating that diverse critics are needed in order to review the diverse shows that are being produced. The idea of having playwrights or directors select their critics based on their background could provide a very interesting point of view as well. I think only being reviewed by those you select could be problematic though. A show should be reviewed by people with a wide array of perspective. So even if a director selects a critic that they believe can truly identify with the piece, adding in other perspectives from those who are less inclined toward the subject is equally as important.

Helena Hewitt said...

It seems to me glaringly obvious that having theatre reviewed by people who only understand the white/cis/hetero male perspective will reinforce the dominance of that perspective rather than dismantling or challenging it. Last week I attended an event hosted by the Pittsburgh TechShop called “Women in Tech”, which is where I was first introduced to the concept of gatekeepers. It seems that changing the demographics of the gatekeepers themselves, including theatre critics, is essential to changing the landscape of the industry as a whole. I think this idea that companies should get to be selective about which critics review their pieces is interesting. When a play is specifically about a certain minority, I know I am always more interested in what someone who belongs to that group thinks than what my perceptions were. And if you listen to those interpretations you begin to recognize your blind spots and the parts of life and the experience depicted onstage that you simply cannot understand. The best criticism will come from people who can truly understand the nuances of what the work is trying to say, and just occasionally that person might not be a white dude.

Emma Reichard said...

This article brings up a very important but not often thought about gap in our theatre community. Theatre critics are, whether we like it or not, an integral part of the theatrical community. They give the public access to what shows are like and can make or break a production. The lack of critics of color is especially important if we as an industry truly wish to be more diverse. We need critics of color for many reasons. First, they offer a perspective on the show that may be different from non-POC critics, and may reach out to a more diverse audience base. Next, critics of color may be more likely to understand and properly promote works by POC, without using any lame food references that draw on stereotypes. Finally, critics of color may be able to help identify and call out productions that are insensitive to non-western cultures (which is something all critics should be doing by the way). It’s an important niche and one that should be diverse.

Ali Whyte said...

Critics, especially in America, are just a part of a production's advertising as the actual marketing. Especially on Broadway where prices are climbing higher and higher, people don't want to shell out that kind of money without knowing what they're in for. Often a critics', or a few critics', reviews can be devastating on the run of a show. I think it is so important to make sure that these powerful perspectives come from a diverse background. It's hard for someone who has not lived the experiences of a particular show to judge it's accuracy of portrayal, but for someone who has, they have a unique perspective and can give additional insight as to the impact and importance of a particular show. I'm not even sure how one becomes a critic or how one manages to gain the respect deserved to be a good one, but however it does happen, I think we need to make sure diversity is a consideration of that process.