Thoughts on Reviewing Theatre

Reviewing theatre is an interesting pastime to have. On the plus side, I get to see SO MUCH more theatre than I ever could without being a reviewer. On the other hand, it falls to me to logically explain my reaction to an emotional experience.

When non-reviewers walk out of a play they didn’t like, they don’t have to explain why, perhaps not even to the person they accompanied to the play. A lot of the time, “I did/didn’t like it,” is all my companions are looking for when they walk out of a play. Probably like most people, we don’t talk about the lighting, or the sound, or the stage design. Likely we will talk about the story or the acting, but not really explore what made it good or not.

There seems to have been a critical mass of plays I’ve reviewed that, once past that, I was able to talk about the production elements: the lights, the sound, the set, the props. Now that I’ve observed the production process of Summer and Smoke at Walterdale Playhouse (read the full series on Sound + Noise if you’re interested), I’m able to talk the production elements a bit more knowledgeably, but largely my paying attention to the production elements was out of desperation – searching for a way to rationalize or explain why a play made me feel a certain way. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a reviewer, it’s that I can’t just enjoy a play because it was “good” – there are specific reasons why it is “good” or “bad”. Which makes sense – there’s a whole professional industry, and educational system centered around making theatre (preferably) “good” or “great”. In reviewing theatre for the past two years, I’ve developed a huge respect for those who make theatre.

Sure, my reviews could stick to talking about the story and the acting – two things that everyone relates to – but, is that really what you want to read? I don’t want to read that. I try to go beyond just explaining the story when I review. On After the House Lights, and the reviewing I do for Sound + NoiseI try to focus on the holistic theatre experience. I try to talk about why the play left me thinking about something, or feeling a certain way, or why did I react one way in the play and a different way after the play.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Having to rationalize an emotional experience to convey why someone else should – or  shouldn’t – go have a similar experience.

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