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.