Insights from the Sightlines writers

Xpress:What makes a good review, in your mind?
John Crutchfield: What Goethe said about criticism in general applies certainly to reviewers in particular: You have to answer three questions: One, what is the artist trying to do? Two, how well does the artist succeed in doing it? and three, 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. One consequence of this is that the reviewer must possess a thorough knowledge of the art form in question — its origins, history, and technique. Otherwise, the reviewer’s assessment is merely glorified opinion. But the reviewer has another duty as well: to serve the particular community he or she writes to, for and (in the final analysis) about. 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. 

Lucia del Vecchio: A good review gives you a sense of what you may expect from your experience in the theatre watching the play, written by a knowledgeable critic with professional expertise in drama, whether it be through education or experience or both.

Steven Samuels: A good review challenges artists and audiences to expect more of themselves and each other. It champions the art rather than an entity. It helps to establish standards, and then to raise them.

Jamie Jambon Shell: The main thing I’m interested in when reading a review is “Would I like to see this? Should I spend $20 on it?” I’m a big fan of the basics: quick glance at the plot, quality of performances and overall quality of show. The latter two are, of course, highly subjective, but if you are able to read a particular reviewer long enough to see how their tastes run, you can use that to color your reading. I also like to see a writer’s personality come through in the review and maybe some hints at why the show may have particularly struck a chord (or not) with them and who else they think the show might resound with.

How could this project benefit Asheville’s theatre community? Its audience?
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. Everybody benefits — audience and artists alike.

Del Vecchio: Asheville’s theatre community is vibrant and busy, but the lack of consistent press coverage and critical assessment has left it in a somewhat underdeveloped state. Sightlines has the potential to hold a mirror up to the theatre community and give them a better sense of where they are succeeding and how they can be even more effective, which is necessary for the community to continue to grow. The press coverage and exposure will most certainly increase the likelihood that theatre shows in town will be well attended, which will make theatre companies more sustainable and successful.

Samuels: This project can help to expand the dialogue, heighten interest and thwart the great deadener of art: complacency.

Shell: I like to think most artists want to grow in their work, so getting honest, constructive feedback from third-party sources can be helpful to that. However, I don’t think it’s our job to try to particularly educate anyone or be some grand authority as much as it is just to be another set of eyes. In that respect, I would hope that audience members would feel equally comfortable and competent responding to reviews so that some real dialogue could be perpetuated about what is currently happening in our theatre community, what we might like to see happen, what we question, etc.

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3 thoughts on “Insights from the Sightlines writers

  1. tigerlily

    This is a great little piece. Clearly, each of the Sightlines contributors has a different slant on the question of what makes a good review? There is some interest it seems in a review or reviewer being a catalyst for a broader conversation. How might this be accomplished? Can MX send two critics to the same show at different points in the run? Is there a way to review the reviewers beyond the comments field? Should the artists be involved in the conversation? Who are the passionate audience members (the ones who don’t make theatre)?

  2. tigerlily

    It’s essentially the same thing presented as news, but in the print version, too, yes?

    I liked Samuels’ comment in the other version about spreading the word about arts here. That means these writers need to write as well for people who will never see a show as those who might.

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