Jun 19, 2012

Coming To Our Consensus

As my partner Isaac Butler points out, as much in amazement as celebration, it's been 3 1/2 years since he and I launched Critic-O-Meter, which just over two years ago morphed into StageGrade.

Isaac has a great post about how working on these sites has changed his views not only of criticism and its purposes but of specific critics themselves. I too miss the lively comments section on Critic-O-Meter, and I would second his observation that while there are some astonishingly poor critics and editors out there, the value they bring to the art and practice of theater is undismissable—and I'd emphasize the they in that sentence. C-o-M and StageGrade are built on the premise that to read just one critic, no matter how good, is myopic and wrongheaded, and that the "conversation" we always hear that theater is supposed to spark is already going on to a large extent; you just have to know where to look for it.

I love this comment from a friend of Isaac's, which I'll just steal most of:
Here's one of the major things StageGrade has proved: critical consensus is largely correct. Much like in polling, where individual polls can be outliers, but the averages are largely correct, the StageGrade for every show always, without fail, replicates the word on the street. And it shows that most critics actually do understand that their job is to consider the work on its own terms. Sarah Ruhl and Amy Herzog are really different artists, but the same group of critics agrees that they are fulfilling the aims that their work sets up. When there's a legitimate split decision—Lonergan's The Starry Messenger, Shinn's Picked—it's generally because the work is legitimately divisive. In both those plays, audiences who want to see long, uncommercial plays by each of those writers weren't disappointed.
If StageGrade has helped not only to steer theatergoers to plays they'll like (and ward them off plays they won't) but to go some small distance toward democratizing the way criticism is read, shared, and used, so much the better. There might be hope for its future yet.

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