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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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Chapter 1: The Arts at Arm’s Length

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ƒ C h a p t e r 1 The Arts at Arm’s Length Western theater has been around for approximately 2,500 years. In fact, Aristotle gives us the date of 534 B.C.E. to mark when Thespis stepped out of the Dithyrambic chorus to impersonate the god Dionysus and simultaneously invent theater (formerly ritual), dialogue (formerly monologue), and character (for- merly caricature). Although there is no extant proof as to the accuracy of this tale, we know that by the 5th century B.C.E. the theater was a fully developed entity at the center of Greek thought and identity and has remained a constant in Western culture. Given theater’s impressive pedigree, it could be assumed that the perform- ing arts—and the visual and literary arts—are at the forefront of our modern-day enterprise. It could also be assumed that contemporary audiences have developed the desire and skills necessary to understand, respond to, and appreciate the arts aesthetically, historically, and critically. Such is not the case. In fact, do contemporary audiences even recognize the name “Thespis,” know about the Dithyrambic chorus, or understand what any of the Greek gods have to do with the origins of theater? Probably not. More to the point, do contemporary audi- ences understand why today’s theater is what it is, does what it does, and manages to be as effective and impactful an art form as it has the potential to be? Not so much. Theater is certainly a part of our cultural landscape but, like...

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