Monday, July 7, 2008

200 Plays

The critic critiques himself

I’m constantly surprised that nobody ever questions my qualifications as a theater critic. So what are those qualifications? I can write. That’s about it.

I was working a temporary job as an assistant features editor at The News Tribune when I was asked to write the community theater column. My editors knew I could write because I had written feature articles and art reviews and book reviews. But never theater reviews.

Did I have any previous theater experience? Hardly.

In the first grade I played one of the seven dwarfs in “Snow White,” and sometime during elementary school my twin brother and I did a silly skit on stage singing “Brothers,” an adaptation of the old Rosemary Clooney hit “Sisters” from “White Christmas.” We were terrible singers, but we were cute.

In high school I joined the drama club because everybody had to be in some club and I had friends in that one. I was just in the club; I never took part in any dramatic production in any way. But years later when I got my first teaching job in a tiny town in Missouri, I listed the drama club on my resume, which was good enough for them to ask me to direct the school play. They offered me an extra $200, so I took it. The play that was handed to me was a horribly stupid comedy about a bunch of boys dressing as girls in order to crash a girls’ spend the night party. During rehearsals the kids started adlibbing like crazy, and a lot of their adlibs were funnier than anything in the script, so we kept them in, and the play was a big hit — mainly because as a director I pretty much let the cast do whatever the hell they wanted to do.

In New York in 1973-74 I had a good friend who worked in theater and I went to a lot of off-off Broadway shows with him, and a few cast parties, and even once went to dinner with a theater critic at the New York Times whose name I can’t remember. It was all fun, but I don’t think I learned anything about theater other than that actors surely know how to have a good time.

Finally, if I ever learned anything about theater before taking this job, it was what I picked up from watching and listening to my son. He started acting when he was 9 years old, and Gabi and I, of course, went to all of his plays — at least until he went off to college, and even a few at Western Washington University where he majored in acting. Now he works as a stagehand at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and since getting this gig I’ve started quizzing him a lot on technical stuff.

Truth be told, I was not at all qualified for this job when it fell in my lap. But I’ve learned a lot on the job from talking to directors and actors and from reviewing approximately 200 plays over the past four years. And by golly I believe I’m beginning to get the hang of it.


Bev Sykes said...

LOL. I could write almost the exact same entry!!!

Anonymous said...

Well I'd say being able to write is about the most important qualification you could have. I've read a lot of theatre reviews in my time, and it's kind of refreshing to read one from someone who views plays in a way that normal audience members do. Especially considering the kind of community theatre you are usually reviewing. The usual audience member doesn't think about what they are watching in the same way that your average professional theatre critic does so their kind of criticism doesn't help much.

Steve Schalchlin said...

As long as you always give me good reviews, I'll consider you the best critic in America!

Alec Clayton said...

Well gollee, Mr. Schalchlin, I'd love to review one of your plays but somebody up here has to perform it first, and who wants to put on a play about God and Ethel Merman or a crossover country-gospel singer with AIDS?

Steve Schalchlin said...

Hey, don't ask ME what's wrong with the theaters up there! I write such obviously commercial material!!

Gabi Clayton said...

HA! Well, Alec understands all about doing 'commercial material' as you can tell from how many agents and publishers are knocking down the door to get their hands on his novels! ;-)