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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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5 The Evolution of Criticism: From Dramatic to Theater Criticism



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The Evolution of Criticism

From Dramatic to Theater Criticism

The intellectual foundations for theater criticism can be found in classical literary and dramatic criticism, which, as with theater itself, originated in ancient Greece 2,500 years ago. In fact, the first recorded instances of arts criticism go back to dramatic festivals in ancient Athens—the Great Dionysia—which were organized as contests that required an official judgment as to which author had produced the best work.2

At these dramatic contests, which began around 500 B.C.E., prominent playwrights submitted three serious dramas and a satyr. Later, during the Lenaia—a winter festival that began around 442 B.C.E.—comedic works were considered in the competition. The conception, creation, form, and impact of dramatic poetry were contemplated and evaluated by judges, with significantly more attention given to the work itself than its theatrical performance. The social, political, and moral functions served by creative work at that time were of greater consequence and value than any particular artisan’s interpretation or delivery of that work. Originally, an ensemble of singing and dancing chorus members presented the work with the intention of being viewed as an anonymous, collective whole rather than as separate and identifiable players. Over time, individual actors joined the chorus, wearing masks so they could play multiple parts without revealing themselves.

Their performances were looked upon as merely the vehicle required to make the work public...

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