Should theater critics specialize?

First, let me say that the idea I’m going to propose below probably isn’t practical anymore.  Unfortunately for all of us, the number of theater critics has dwindled in recent years.  I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “But Ken, I thought you’d be an advocate for less critics, and more of the popular voice!”  Regardless of how I feel critics affect or don’t affect the life of a show or regardless of whether or not I feel they echo the sentiment of the theater-going public, the fact is that the more critics there are, the more articles and therefore the more discussion there is about the theater.

One of my missions is to amplify the conversation about theater . . . and well, theater critics start that conversation everyday . . . so having less of them ain’t helping any of us.

Keeping theater in everyday conversation should be all of our goals, and critics help do that, whether or not we agree with them.

So pretend the papers and the media companies out there like The Times and The Post and NY1 had a few critics to choose from . . .

Wouldn’t it be more interesting and more accurate of an analysis if they specialized?

Theater is divided into three niches:  musicals, plays, and those that don’t belong in either category.

Musicals are very different from plays.  And classic plays are very different from contemporary ones.

So what would theater criticism be like if there was a reviewer of classical plays and a different reviewer of contemporary musicals?  Surely in other art forms there are these distinctions.  Does a classical music reviewer also review the latest Madonna album?  And since our world has the same sort of extremes between the commercial and the non, shouldn’t we be afforded a similar judgement?

This blog is a bit of a non-starter, because of the current plight of the critic.  We’re lucky we have critics at all, and despite the fact that we may disagree with them at times, we should all be lobbying for their survival.

But it does make me think . . . with an art form that has so many different subsets, how can we paint the most accurate pictures of their quality for our theater-going public?


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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.