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A Theater Criticism/Arts Journalism Primer

Refereeing the Muses

Bob Abelman and Cheryl Kushner

A Theater Criticism/Arts Journalism Primer: Refereeing the Muses examines the skill set associated with being a critic and arts journalist. It explores the history, evolution, and future of the profession in the United States, and carefully and purposefully dissects the preparation, observation, and writing process associated with generating thoughtful and interesting arts criticism.
Using theatrical productions as the best and most vivid example of a storytelling enterprise that employs creativity, imagination, collaboration, aesthetics, and artisanship to effectively engage an audience, this book is intended to generate the critical thinking and critical writing skills necessary to effectively engage in all forms of arts journalism.
It is designed to be used as a college-level textbook on theater criticism and arts journalism courses, for those looking to become more thoughtful, critical consumers, for casual critics thinking about starting a blog or working for their university newspaper, and for working critics hoping to improve their craft.
The text is written in an accessible style and includes quotes from renowned critics and arts practitioners throughout as well as frequent sidebars that offer timely, insightful, and entertaining examples of the points being made in the text.
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3 The Critic



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The Critic

“First nights are special theater,” notes Sunday Times entertainment critic A.A. Gill.2 “These are moments when the creatives let go of the creation. There is nothing more to be done. Actors are the only artists who have to go on performing through a disaster, so there is a particular electricity, an atmosphere in the theater. Much depends on the first night.” He continues:

And, when it’s over and the audience applaud and cheer and, more than likely these days, rise to their feet for a standing ovation, you may notice a little gang of hunted characters sidle out of the stalls and scuttle up the aisle. They seem to be escaping, running away…. They keep their heads down and don’t look back, and they don’t do applause. You might imagine they were rude, disrespectful philistines. But you couldn’t be more wrong. These creeping things are the critics, keepers of the flame of theater, the referees of the muse.

Theater critics dashing out of playhouses is a long-standing tradition, although what they are running to and from has changed over the years. Back in the day, a critic would be returning to his (yes, his) newspaper workspace to write up his review in longhand on a legal pad, which would be handed to a copyboy (yes, boy) to take directly to the copy desk. Once checked for accuracy, the review would be forwarded to...

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