Playwrights & Theatre Critics at San Francisco Playhouse

Playwrights & Theatre Critics at San Francisco Playhouse

2 Panel Discussions held at San Francisco Playhouse as part of the American Theatre Critics Association’s annual conference

Perspectives in Criticism: The Career Continuum
Robert Hurwitt, retired theatre critic for SF Chronicle
Karen D’Souza, moderator and theatre critic for San Jose Mercury News
Lily Janiak, theatre critic for SF Chronicle

The Play’s the Thing: The Critic and the New Work
Aaron Loeb (playwright of one of my favorite plays, Ideation)
Stuart Eugene Bousel
Christopher Chen
Amy Mueller, moderator
Michael Sullivan
Lauren Gunderson


Divider by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (


I went to do panel discussion sponsored by the American theatre Critics Association I'll show you what happened [Applause] [Applause] hey guys welcome back to book your imagination my name is Anne I am a subscriber to the San Francisco Playhouse and as part of this subscription I was invited to see two panel discussions that were sponsored by the American theatre Critics Association as part of their annual meetings the first discussion was called perspectives and criticisms the career continuum and it was with the recently retired theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle Robert and current and his successor Lili Janet the panel discussion was moderated by Karen de Souza's with the current theater critic for the San Jose Mercury News now I'm not going to bring you the entire discussion although it was very interesting but these are the things that I thought were the most interesting the first question was what are some of the hidden challenges of being a theater critic and Lily had this response when I got into this job I didn't really think of myself as a journalist so as much but reporting really is a big part of even every review I write it's me trying to make a case to my editor who might that my editor chief who might not be that interested in arts and to my reader through maybe only have a passing interest in arts I often in every article make a case as to why this whole piece is important not just that show but why is meat is important so I have to make sure even if this play I'm seeing kind of feels like just another naturalistic play at the Geary at apt what's special about it because a lot of other reporters don't have this burden and I don't need to say it burden exactly but they don't go and review this or cover the same people over and over and over again six or more time to here so each time say our white credit goes to a place she's probably going for the first time and it's really easy to make it clear why that experience is special but so each time I go to apt over clear abdomen I have to find a way to say what's new about this experience and I can't just treat it as if it's again another naturalistic play and I also have to constantly think about ways to get theatre on the front page and that that's definitely a new thing for me because it's about realizing my editors and readers that I exist and that this is that this is important it's no surprise that social media has had a huge impact on our everyday lives here's a little bit about how it is that they theater criticism social media is a distraction it's a time suck I don't need this I'm not interested in it I don't follow it and one of the reasons why I retired this isn't going to surprise anyone I think it's a blessing and a curse I enjoy the way I get to talk about shows in a different register I enjoy not always having to do what some artists have I feel like maybe this is Mark Jackson Tom Bishop God bored I like getting to be a little bit more informal and unsure and and post more questions and I also like being more in touch with the folks in might be especially since as we've just been talking about a big part of the job is being a reporter as well I agree I enjoy getting into an argument list and playwright Brooklyn can I tweeted something at the intermission and they had a disappoint of you and that's what to engage someone when I define you when people get nasty I staff respond well I was certainly the interaction with with readers had with with artists was always a huge part of the job and whether that happens by on the telephone and you would actually sit there and write longhand about the write longhand so that people know I care and a general rule I don't want to read a review before I go to a movie go to a play or read a book I like to be surprised and I want to make my own opinion based on my experience and I don't want to be biased by someone else's point of view but that's me and I know not everyone is like that Karen the moderator asked if theater criticisms dying um I'm not in person to answer that I'm still reading it you know you were talking about having to make the case the case for it and it's so hard for me to concede that you would have to make the case for it just seems like such a given it's one of the things that if you are a newspaper in a particular community and there's a large theater scene it's not like the kind of thing you can pick up from the wires you need I have a theater critic you have somebody local just what you need a food critic you know you can't you can't pick up the stuff from Mother Washington Post or the AP as you can with movies or television you might not notice but theater criticism a rather brutal Karen cares this funny story about the time she was banned from a show I got banned once it was super fun and it was that auto tribe try out her lafalot which is like famous play like that the best thing about it was you got uses words like stop and bite in the headline that man hired I have written lots of status because the early days of love and produced in New York you got mad about the blog post I thought it was and in red I essentially argue you know this is not my review I have not seen the show I'm just recapping at that point it is in previews for like three months or something into a really long time there was lots of talk about it lots of people calling me and wanting to talk about it and they badly so we hit the five ticket and I have to wear a case with some clothes and I kind of sculpt my way to the theater and fit like in the horrible seats where you never get this and then it was of course a terrible shown and to get lasted two days on vampires it was an interesting early example of social media and engagement on different producers instead that thought well why are so many people saying it's bad not just every and take obsessed to fix the thing you know maybe it could have come home the second town discussion was called the plays the thing the critic a new work in featured in several playwrights and their King on the theater critic with regard to their and new work the first question was how do you deal with a bad review Stewart Eugene Melville has this answer you put New York on a pedestal but I get to New York at the age of 19 and had a screenplay spot and if you think New York is terrible I will take a shitty in York Times review over an email from an a-list actor any day we were on our way to making a film and suddenly I'm going from a guy who's in college you know to a guy who is fielding emails from actors I don't name but some of them have played Batman and and you know it culminates in me opening my email Wednesday which suggested three breaks from that man and the suggested rewrite work for me to be completely cut out of the equation to completely lose my work and I went and cried as I think anything would be annoyed I went that Jeff and I cried and I was living in at the time in a house with a young woman who spent some time actually he's quite a noble science fiction writer so we were both oftentimes discussing her alive was prior to her life and and I was like you know I Batman doesn't like Miss Christine play and she was Batman Richard right and when I've gotten better dispense what is it than it received its publications or whether they found on blogs or whether they've been just from like you know a parent is honestly very little bit seizes me because I've already been torn apart by Batman sorry none of you were Batman Fenderson edited story about one of her place I actually got some incredible reviews and a play line that was like a sport equipment it was like that my mom framing them and everything and I so it'd be bad so I actually it was just about the colors that play so I had a chance to see it what I thought was maybe the worst version and kind of as we say like after proof it in a way of going blonde is going to make this but you just can't mess it up unless you are trying really hard the moderator asked how involved are you in the early productions of your place and learn gender subsistence but that's ed but you were saying you're some certain cases there's a play one is going to this really huge outdoor space so my really cool walk out right at intermission and not going to work with some cities and working with them to figure out how do you take advantage can mine humor which was really sad work in a thousand over thousands eat more like an amphitheater kind of space yes but I may be able to help it a little bit so things like that I'm all I mean we're life so why not show up in end it can help Aaron Loeb and Michael Tillman answered the question what about myosin criticism when looking at any critical actually started a critic not theater video games which is pretty much the same thing I met three laws of criticism that when I'm as a consumer of criticism I'm mindful of audience you must love the medium that you're criticizing if you hate theater stop for doing theater pay or for your pains in that case to take a position you like you're not some rubber criticism you don't actually take sometimes position that's why did you wait for the Sun the third engage with what the thing actually is nothing you wish it was my fault people from a mind is you know I would occasionally review their family ask for anything they should have been a musical like what that is not what doesn't make any sense is it like what my car like what if you going to the Opera you go why are you always from the playwright's going to view what is it that neither critical don't get how to do play and I do actually think potential is important and when you're looking at new work whether or not I'm not saying that the personnel said it wasn't but there was a sort of like we never can only review what they're not what could be there and I've heard that some a lot of critics and I actually feel like that's kind of cutting you work short because a lot of times the new work you're seeing is in fact not really done it's in a workshop days it's in development phase it it hasn't had a time to become canonized and therefore kind of uncuttable unchangeably it's a living growing thing if when you do go to see Hamlet no one really does critique on whether or not the script of Hamlet is good right but like what we keep are put into production I feel like will only work I would like to see more of that sense of opening a visiting the best worst production but less there's something interesting going on here and that encouragement to see that go on to other life is something I wish I saw more in the crypt world it's amazing to me over and over again how one element of a set can totally shift how an audience in that review or see the play understand that even where I will give you one tiny example where someone and again in my writing comedy is quick and there's a lot of like you come to become out and somebody put a door up a syrupy around their hand so what they had to burst in it was a little hard to change you know two days before where you finally to do my foot look what's going on so you see what I have to really effect on the plane that money isn't it or was it there honey we've got television we've got books we've got movies we've got YouTube we've got Netflix Hulu all kinds of streaming entertainment why should anyone go to the theater Lauren answers this question perfectly if in some ways I started describing a theater as the anti-technology because you have to show up at the same time with other people there's no screen you're actively listening to live human being in front of you all of that is completely in critical to TV and all of our our super computers in inner pocket that's where we communicate but are we listened and listening are we or are we just is repeating lips a pedo ever I'm going to sound like a grandmother but presence of sets of magical theaters being in that place and having this thing happen to you and if your feelings but maybe photo paper – is your feel everything Felix is a fast all the feelings or looking to live in that really likes art really like story and also is even since of the technology in which I was just saying we are debt into this will do so having this kind of constant Homer things like yes you look at that means awesome and all of your your busybox you lose your awesome however go to the caesar and watch this heartbreak open and your mind be blown and it was no strain involved thank you for watching I hope you've enjoyed this video if you like what you see in here and please subscribe to my channel give it a thumbs up and leave me a comment below


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