5 Ways to Revive Reviewing.

Earlier this month, up North in colder Canada, the Canadian Journalism Foundation put on a panel discussion called “The Walking Dead:  Do Traditional Arts Critics Have a Future?”

Tough title, no?  Perhaps a bit exaggerated, but with the advent of the internet, the role of the critic in theater and all art forms has been challenged.  (Just yesterday, my blog-spiration, Seth Godin, posted this gem of an entry about Critics and my production of Macbeth.)

Will they survive?

You’re probably expecting me to say, “I HOPE NOT!”

Sorry to disappoint.

See while I’ve certainly got some issues with critics, especially in an industry like the theater, overall I’m a fan.  Why?  My mission statement as a theater pro is to amplify the conversation about the theater.  The more people talking about it, writing about, discussing it, debating it, etc. the better.  The louder the conversation, the more likely that the art form will not only survive over the next 100 years, but will thrive over the next 100 years.

And critics help stir up that conversation.

But as the title of that panel discussion tells you . . . even they know they’re in a tough spot.

So I thought I’d come up with five ways to help bring ’em back:

1.  Why have one reviewer when you can have two?

Take a cue from the late great Siskel and Ebert and instead of having one reviewer – have two . . . and have each of them review shows side-by-side.  The public will get two discerning opinions, the shows will have two chances to impress, and the competitive gamification (“I’m right!  No I’m right!”) between the two will make the reviews more fun.

2.  Qualify ’em.

There are a few critic associations out there in the world, but what if papers, etc. only hired those critics that were “accredited” and had a certain amount of education in the theater arts, in writing, criticism, etc?  Critics help shape the future of the theater . . . shouldn’t we make sure that they are well versed in what they’re doing?  A Good Housekeeping seal of approval might give them even more authority than they already have, and might distinguish themselves from the hundreds thousands of other reviewers on the web.

3.  Raise the profile of your critic.

Would you recognize the chief critic of the NY Times if you saw him on the street or in a theater?  What about the critic for the LA Times?  I’d bet money you wouldn’t.  That’s because the critics have always been more “behind the curtain”-like wizards.  They’ve come forward a little more in the past five years, but if I was running a paper, I’d get them out in the world like a celeb . . . at openings, at press events, on twitter, etc.  Pull back the curtain.  People will become more attached, and therefore more likely to read, and more likely to trust.

4.  If you can’t make your critic a celeb, then hire one.

Wouldn’t Cherry Jones make a killer reviewer?  Or what about Harvey Fierstein?  Yes, it’s star-casting, but if it comes with readers, then wouldn’t it be worth it?  I know, I know, maybe they’re not the best writers, but you could get them some ghost writer to help.  Look at this example:  Huffpo had James Franco write reviews of some shows he just saw.  Admit it, when you read James Franco, you were intrigued, right?  I bet most of you click this link to see what he said, just because he’s James.

5.  One reviewer doesn’t fit all.

I’m still shocked that our biz has critics that review Shakespeare . . . and Disney musicals.  Do music reviewers review Opera and Pop?  What if a different reviewer (or even regular person) was assigned to a show depending on what the show was, and who that person was?  A mom of four for a family show.  A professor of literature for the latest Ibsen reviewer.  Let’s face it, if I don’t like family shows, I’m probably not reading a review on a family musical anyway.  So the people reading that review might believe in it so much more if it was written by someone they can relate to.


Criticism deserves a place in our art form, just like it deserves a place in our government, and society as a whole.  But it’s going to take some 2013 ideas to prevent them from being overrun by the criticism of the masses.

You got any of those ideas?  Comment ’em below.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.