Upon starting as A&E editor in August, we put the call out to readers to tell us what they’d like more of in the Xpress arts section. “More theatre reviews” was a frequent answer. The prospect was complicated somewhat by print deadlines and short runs — that is, could we print a quality review in time for our readers to actually see the play? Also, could we write reviews that were critical (though hopefully, constructively so) in a small town?
Sightlines is our answer, and our attempt to enliven and enrich the local theatre community. It’s online now at www.mountainx.com/theatre, a Web project developed from a conversation with Asheville-based playwright and performer John Crutchfield.
“The first and most obvious benefit is to help create and foster an informed, loyal, and critically sophisticated audience for theatre in Asheville — which turns the heat up on the artists themselves to create high-quality, relevant and challenging work,” Crutchfield says.
Adds Steven Samuels, another contributor,“This project can help to expand the dialogue, heighten interest, and thwart the great deadener of art: complacency.”
Sightlines will involve a group of dedicated reviewers writing up shows as near to opening night as possible and posting them at www.mountainx.com. Crutchfield will be a primary contributor; along with Samuels, a playwright, teacher, critic and editor; Lucia Del Vecchio, a playwright, performer and writer; and Jamie Shell, an avid theatergoer and blogger. We hope our readers will join in the conversation by posting thoughts and comments, and generating a lively (and respectful) dialogue.
What do we think makes a good review?
“A good review challenges artists and audiences to expect more of themselves and each other,” Samuels writes. “It champions the art rather than an entity. If helps to establish standards, and then to raise them.”
Crutchfield offers his ideas: “What Goethe said about criticism in general applies certainly to reviewers in particular: You have to answer three questions: What is the artist trying to do? How well does the artist succeed in doing it? And is it worth doing? Obviously, these questions have to be dealt with in the right order. Evaluating the merit of a work of art before you understand what the artist is trying to do puts you in the position of the man who junks his John Deere harvester because it won't fit in the Bojangles drive-thru.”
We’ve attempted to put together a group of reviewers with different interests. Crutchfield, for example, is most interested in experimental and interdisciplinary performance; Shell loves musicals. Our arts writer, Alli Marshall, will also be contributing, along with others from time to time.
And we approach Sightlines bearing in mind that one of the reviewer’s duties is to serve the particular community he or she writes for and about, as Crutchfield explains. “The best reviewers have a distinctive voice, and however cranky that voice may be, its ultimate purpose has to be both to enrich the community's appreciation for its artists, and to encourage the artists themselves to strive for excellence in their work.”
There’s a wealth and diversity of regional theatre that Xpress hopes to support with this project.
“Theater in Asheville seems poised not only for internal growth but to make a noise in the outside world,” Samuels says. “Informed critical attention now may advance that potential and help spread the word.”
Send ideas and suggestions for Sightlines to firstname.lastname@example.org.