Two years ago today, I launched my new blog Compositions on Theatre with a Prologue:
My roommate Roxanne has urged me for months now to start a blog about all my theatrical adventures – seeing and critiquing shows, as well as occasionally composing and working on them myself, in LA and beyond. I hope this blog will be a valuable place for me to work through my ideas, since I often do my best thinking through writing. Hopefully it will be an interesting read for others, as well.
This is my 139th post. So I hope someone out there is reading!
Actually, I know several people who are reading, who have been advocates for my theater criticism from day one. Within the first month, Colin Mitchell gave me a huge boost of confidence and expanded my audience with a Bitter Lemons post on “The Democratization of Theatre Criticism.” Trevor Thomas, with whom I engaged in some early debates about objectivity in theater criticism, invited me to write for EDGE Los Angeles beginning in November 2010. John Topping and Tony Frankel invited me to join Stage and Cinema in March 2011. Some of my most rewarding professional relationships and friendships have emerged from my criticism over the past two years. Thank you all.
Since January 2010, I have reviewed theater and other performance events in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, New York, and Chicago. I have written articles on the blogger-critic, repetitive theatergoing and fandom, and the art of listening. I have used this blog for unabashed self-promotion as I composed, music directed, and dramaturged from coast to coast. I even blogged my trip to Israel with Manny Azenberg and a bunch of “show business Jews” last summer.
But the heart of this blog is and always will be the criticism. From the very first post, I set out to write smart and accessible, personal and visceral reviews for a theatrical community that rarely gets the coverage it deserves in the mainstream media. I am not a paid “professional,” so try as I might, I can’t see and review it all. But I see a lot, review a lot, and think a lot. And I am thrilled by the increasingly porous boundaries across academia, professional criticism, and blogging.
Although the LADCC still has its qualms about blogger-critics, Princeton professor Jill Dolan was recently awarded the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism specifically for her blog The Feminist Spectator. There are so many reasons to praise the award committee’s decision. Dolan breaks down the binary between “educated” critics and “uneducated” bloggers, as well as between “objective” scholarship and “feeling” human beings. What’s more, Dolan is only the 7th woman to win this award in its 56 year history. As Karen Fricker writes in The Guardian, “Much of the joy of the online Feminist Spectator comes from the sense of someone letting their hair down, writing with lucidity and freedom about whatever she bloody well pleases.” What a refreshing thought!
At the same time, the increasing recognition of blogger-critics is part and parcel of the death of theater criticism as a viable career. Only this past week, longtime critic Dany Margolies was let go by Backstage. It is a sobering realization that “professional critics” are increasingly freelancers, jumping from job to job, while “bloggers” are often constrained by time and funds, writing in their spare time for the occasional comp ticket. This is a false binary, but it serves a point: I sometimes wonder if I am blogging myself into an impossible future career in theater criticism.
Yet the critics who navigate this Catch 22 – whether as professionals or as bloggers – are often united by an unquenchable thirst for theater and a passion for dialogue and debate. For the writers who persevere in this strange new system, criticism is more than a job and and more than a hobby: it is an imperative. We write because we can’t imagine not writing.
Perhaps this is the democratization of theater criticism after all. If so, I’m honored to be a little part of it, and I look forward to the next chapter.