May 14, 2007

Those That Do

Funny what you can find in a student publication, particularly if the students are Columbia journalism grads. I recently stumbled upon the hard copy of their New York Review of Magazines, and found Jake Tracer's profile of New Yorker critic John Lahr. Among the many fascinating things about Lahr and his superlative work as a critic and feature writer is his status as a sometime playwright as well as a critic. (Another esteemed colleague has just taken a similar plunge). Does this create any conflicts of interest? Lahr addresses the issue here:
Lahr sees nothing wrong with his being part of the theater world he covers. In fact, he thinks he’s a better critic and profiler because of it. The journalistic code of avoiding conflicts of interest “absolutely damns critics to ignorance because they have no way of understanding the thing they’re reporting, really being in it,” he told me. “It leads to the deadly kind of ignorance that you have in Ben Brantley [of The New York Times] and all of them. The really important critics in our culture and England have all worked in the theater and been allowed to cross over.”

He might be overstating the case a bit, but as someone who crossed those lines more or less freely in my previous L.A. life as theater critic and occasional musician/composer for theater, I have to say that I agree with thrust of this, particularly with the idea that practice alongside artists can make one a better, more informed critic. On the other hand, I find that most editors and publishers don't agree, which makes it hard to figure out where to draw the line if you actually want paying work, let alone a career, as a critic.

1 comment:

Frawst said...


I agree with you. I think that even in a non-participant role the critic is part of the theatre community, not outside it.

But how frequent and how deep a participant in the community can a critic (who is primarily a critic) be before the conflicts of interest and emotion render there criticism toothless. Or worse, rob them of any credibility because it's just someone talking about all their friends?