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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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7 Storytelling Conventions



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Storytelling Conventions

In the previous chapters it was established that theatergoers think, critics engage in critical thinking, and the evolution of critical thinking in the form of literary and dramatic criticism has been long and varied. What has yet to be addressed is what, exactly, it is that those who participate in theater—on both sides of the proscenium arch—think about. What is the focus of their attention and enterprise? The answer is stories and storytelling.

Theater is, essentially, storytelling,1 where a playwright has experienced something, witnessed something, or survived something worthy of sharing and theater companies do the sharing. Plays and their presentation use language, image, movement, gesture, and/or sound to recall, recount, and relay factual or fabricated events to an audience. The act of storytelling:

▪ passes on accumulated experience, wisdom, beliefs, and values from one generation to the next;

▪ passes on shared experience, wisdom, beliefs, and values from one culture to another;

▪ creates the foundation of memory, which serves as the building blocks of knowledge and the pathways for learning;

▪ questions, changes, and overthrows the status quo; and

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