Aug 21, 2009

"A Blessed Release"

Michael Feingold brings some sanity to the outrage over first-night critics getting their Tony privileges revoked:
Some of my colleagues on the press list are dismayed by the Tony administrators' decision; some are downright irate. For me, it's a blessed release.

Indeed, he reports that the first thing he did when he heard the news was take Burn the Floor off his calendar. He explains why:
These days, most of what we call "Broadway," good or not, comes, like Burn the Floor, from elsewhere: London, Off-Broadway, resident theaters across the U.S. The era when "Broadway" meant a specific way of creating theater, with its own attitudes and its own approach, is long gone; its surviving practitioners are mostly older than myself. And I am not young, except at heart.

And I can't argue with this:
The roster of Tony voters includes Broadway producers, presenters of touring attractions, artists with Broadway credentials, and officials of the theatrical unions. By removing the first-night press, the one sizeable voting bloc not directly involved in producing Broadway shows, the Tony management reaffirmed what the award is: a trade association prize, given by members to the work they hold most valuable—which, in practice, often means most commercially valuable. The theater press, as a group, is not part of this association, nor should it be.

That prompts him to ruminate on the future of criticism in the post-newsprint age, and to an essential home truth about the relationship of criticism to its subject:
The theater that leans on critics as a crutch, deriving its own estimate of its worth from its reviews, is probably in as unhealthy a state as the theater with no critical guidance or intellectual perspective at all. Somewhere between those two conditions, the new world that the Internet has caused will probably find a healthier middle way for the astute critical sensibility to function as part of the theater.

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