Sunday, March 9, 2008

Some Frank talk

Don't get me wrong, I like Frank Rich. I really enjoyed Ghost Light, the poignant memoir he wrote about growing up in Washington, D.C. I read his column on the op-ed page of The New York Times every Sunday. But I have to respectfully take issue with a comment he made in the Times' discussion of August: Osage County.

Rich was responding to another panelist, playwright Marsha Norman, who said that critics need to be public advocates for the theater.

He agreed with her, but added that as much as critics might love a play, they don't really have much power to persuade people to go see it. Rich says: "If the critics have as much power as Marsha says, why do they have no power to get audiences to buy tickets to “The Seafarer” or to stop audiences from flocking to, say, “Young Frankenstein?"

Then he noted the range of information available on the Internet, where potential ticket buyers have access to to any number of reviews of movies, plays and musicals 24 hours a day. Once something makes it onto the Internet, it's there forever, available to far more people than would ever see it on the printed page.

Now this is the remark that got me a little steamed. Rich adds, almost as an afterthought, "By the way, many of the most vicious reviews are written on theater blogs, and they can’t be stopped either."

I think that line is really unfair and it tells me that Frank Rich needs to start reading more theater blogs. I'm not sure whether he's referring to someone in particular. I guess there could be some vicious theater bloggers out there, people who take delight in tearing someone's work to shreds, but I've never come across them.

I've read more than a few blogs over the past few years on a wide range of subjects. I read movie, pop culture and literary blogs in addition to theater blogs. While I normally hate to make generalizations, here's one I'm fairly comfortable with: people who blog about the arts generally do so because they're passionate about that particular art form. They don't do it to be rude or vicious or to tear anyone down. (I've also read a few political blogs, and they're a completely different animal).

I'm sure there are exceptions, but people who write about the theater or movies or books or music do so because they love theater, movies, books or music. And they're very knowledgeable about the subject, even though it may be far removed from their day job. Their reviews are every bit as thoughtful, discerning, well written and professional as any you'd find from a "professional critic" in a newspaper or magazine. (And I'm not anywhere near that level yet).

Reading bloggers certainly fueled my growing interest in going to the theater. Far from being vicious, it was the exact opposite: their enthusiasm and love for the art form made me enthusiastic and excited. Now that I have my own corner of the blogosphere, I hope I'm doing the same.

Even my little blog gets quite a few queries about Broadway shows, about touring productions, about local theater I've attended. I think we complement traditional media. When people get excited about something, they want to read and hear as much as possible. And I'm someone who believes the more information, the more voices, the better it is for the theater. Frank, I hope you agree.

Ok, I've vented. I feel much better now.

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