Monday, December 7, 2009

Opinion: The Changing Role of the Theatre Critic in the 21st Century, Norman Lebrecht, Melbourne (Australia) Age

Found via ArtsJournal online:

Norman Lebrecht examines the changing role of the critic in the 21st century.

"The challenges of the 21st century are of a different order from anything the arts have known since Gutenberg made the quill obsolete. Print, in decline, is losing its innate authority, along with the expectation that edited words will be read by many people in the same form at more or less the same time. Immediacy is the quintessence of newspaper criticism. Read online, a month after publication, the overnight review goes stone cold. Unlike revenge, it is not sweetened by delay.

"In a borderless realm where anyone can tweet an uninformed response, reasoned criticism is under threat and undervalued. The arts are the first casualty of newspapers in retreat. Many US papers have sacked critics and abolished book sections. Many of those selfsame once-great newspapers are now in bankruptcy or administration.

"More perniciously, editors demand a degree of cheeriness from their critics. Readers, they say, do not want to wake up to a trashing, and advertisers certainly don't. Reviewers are under orders to be more upbeat, more positive, more smiley. Often they are forced to write about superannuated celebrities in preference to fresh talent.

"In deep recession, newspapers are playing safe - and criticism is a live grenade, not a safety pin. Critics, losing confidence, hedge their bets. There are, of course, good critics and bad - I have hired and fired both. There too few women critics, now why is that? Criticism was always an inside job, handed down from mentor to protege, unfriendly to outsiders. Under siege, it has resisted change and courted marginality. Yet, in changing times, its erosion is damaging our culture. A young conductor who has turned a provincial orchestra into a hub of renewal collared me in despair not long ago, demanding, ''What do I have to do to get reviewed?''

"How is the public to learn of new ideas sparking off the beaten track? Who will cry scandal over Melbourne's downgraded recital centre and dismissed chief conductor?

"THERE is good, adventurous criticism to be found on websites and blogs, but it is not connective in the way newspaper reviews can be. Some critics, led by Alex Ross of the New Yorker, have adopted an online persona with relative success.

"Tim Page, a Pulitzer winner, teaches criticism in California without knowing that there will be anywhere for his graduates to write.

"What is needed, I realised . . . , is to reinvent criticism for the 21st century - and for this we have to groom a generation that is flexible in practice while unyielding in principle. The critic of the future is not some academic called out by a city editor to lay dust on a new show, nor is it a showbiz columnist who writes a review after interviewing the stars, nor - as we have sometimes seen - the live-in partner of a prepossessing board member.

"The essentials are unchanged. A critic needs to be knowledgeable, courageous and quick with an aphorism of good headline potential (Pure Theatrical Viagra is one of Charles Spencer's that Nicole Kidman will never forget). Critics in the new era must be prepared to tweet in an interval, Facebook on the bus home and report 400 words for the morning page before adding a voice commentary to the performance snippet uploaded on YouTube. These are the multi-tasking extras.

"But beyond the ravenous needs of an evolving media, there has never been a greater need in democratic society for strong, independent arts criticism. Cities without critics will never achieve their creative potential.

"The arts flourish only when there are arbiters at work and civilisation dies when their voice is stilled. This is a critical moment in the dialogue between creation and reception, arts and society. A huge opportunity beckons for young critics who can meet that demand head-on - and for some of us older ones to teach them the ropes.

Read full article in the Melbourne (Australia) Age, December 6

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article. But I feel that what you're doing here has already superceeded the Chroncile in consistency and coverage.
    So I think the question is how we create some sort of new fabric (like newspapers) that makes it easy to find this independent criticism and rewards those that do it well.