May 12, 2010

Doug Wright on Critics

Just stumbled upon this excellent speech from a few years back. It's Doug Wright at the Great Plains Theatre Conference, and he has some great, pithy advice for his fellow playwrights (don't write what you know, for instance). I especially like the way he supports the common and hard-to-follow advice to not read criticism (it's about halfway through the un-embeddable video):
Remember, [the critic] is paid is keep abreast of your work; you are not paid to keep abreast of his. The playwright who turns to the critic for affirmation is trapped in a deeply dysfunctional relationship, like the tortured lover who demands affection from a sociopath.

1 comment:

August Schulenburg said...

I love the quote, but I don't agree. I believe critics should be more than middle-men and gate-keepers. I believe they should be advocates for a better theatre, and as such, are a necessary part of the conversation between artists and audience. The critics that I respect, I follow not for affirmation, but because I learn something from reading their work. Not many critics have earned that respect: most seem more interested in slinging witty banter, ideological posturing, and hasty generalizations rather than the doing the hard work of wrestling with a play on its own terms. But reviewing is hard - plays are complex creatures, each with their own unique set of rules that a critic, especially one operating from a defensive aesthetic, may simply lack the capacity to understand. This is why I'm excited by the rise of more diverse critical voices and audience responses: sometimes you gain a truer sounding of a play from someone with less experience and therefore less agenda than you do from the more informed but empathy-impaired critic.
But good critics? I grapple them to my soul with hoops of steel... even if they chafe and cut that soul from time to time.