Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Sea Change

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.
- William Shakespeare’s The Tempest

For as long as I’ve lived in the Bay Area (nearly nineteen years), I’ve heard the theatre community bemoan the reduction in theatre coverage and reviews with the reported “slow death” of print journalism. We’ve lost papers and critics over time, for sure, and the few remaining papers and critics have – it seems – gained a greater role in shaping box office success or failure for Bay Area professional theatres. While there has been much discussion within the community over the years about what might be done, it’s not clear that we can agree on the solution (or even the problem).

And, surely, these are different times – with the recent rise of social media, blogging, online publications and web 2.0. So why do we continue to long for old solutions? “If only there were more critics.” “If only there were more print publications willing to invest in arts coverage.” “If only…” Fill in your own anachronistic fantasy.

Today, I set before you a challenge and an opportunity. Today, I invite you to be part of a sea change, as it were. Let’s create a new and expansive community of theatre critics and theatre criticism – of and by the theatre-goers and theatre-makers. One that lives entirely within the networked world of the internet – through facebook, twitter, blogger, etc.

Next Friday, May 6, at Thick House is press night for the 15th annual Best of PlayGround Festival (http://playground-sf.org/bestof.shtml), an evening-length program of six short plays and one musical by arguably some of the Bay Area’s best new writers. If you would like to begin the theatre criticism evolution (note I do not say “revolution”) and are willing to commit to blogging or posting your review on the internet by the following Monday (while we may be advocating the democratization of theatre criticism, we’re not above the authoritarian practice of requiring deadlines!), we will provide you a pair of complimentary “press” tickets for the performance.

And to the rest of you. You’re not off the hook! If you agree with the “critics,” sound off and add your comments. If you don’t, let them know. Our only requirement is that discourse remain civil and to the point.
What makes for good theatre? Why do some things move us and others don’t? Who else would enjoy this experience? Why does this story need to be heard?
In time, I can imagine this new breed of theatre reviewers, vetted by their own peers and social networks, playing a significant role in how we engage potential audiences and build a stronger community. Facebook and other social media have connected us and allowed us to share our stories and opinions in ways we couldn’t possibly have imagined ten years ago. Let’s use these tools to create the next logical phase of theatre criticism and, in the process, introduce new audiences to this incredible art form.

So, who’s up for the challenge? Post a comment to reserve your tickets for the May 6 performance of the Best of PlayGround.

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