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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 6: The Evolution of Theater Criticism: The Modern Era


ƒ C h a p t e r 6 The evolution of Theater Criticism The modern era As was noted in the previous chapter, it took nearly 2,500 years for theater crit-icism to eventually evolve into its own enterprise within the realm of print journalism. While some argue that modern theater criticism was born in the salons and coffee houses of London in the early 18th century,2 a case was made that it was the saloons of America in the 19th century in the aftermath of the industrial revo- lution. The growth of cities, rail transportation, and leisure time by an increasingly large privileged class gave way to several subsequent changes in America which, in turn, gave way to changes in theater criticism. A More Learned Press Corp Conditions that had encouraged the Bohemian life had vanished during the Civil War and the chaos that followed prompted writers to seek refuge in tradition, not attack it. Moralists, conservatives, and puffers reasserted themselves in the press. Developments in Europe and increased travel after the Civil War, however, intro- duced theatergoing Americans to Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw (see Shaw as Critic, in profile), and other European dramatists who produced an intelligent and naturalistic form of theater, known as realism. Public demand brought those playwrights to America, which required that critics broaden their scope of inter- est and knowledge about theater.3 Some critics, such as Harrison Grey Fiske of the New York Dramatic Mirror in the 1880s, encouraged a more professional...

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