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The Role of the Theatre Critic

Created by Lindsay Price

In the 21st century, we are living in a time of great change for criticism and the role of the critic. Previously, one negative review from the New York Times could close a Broadway show. Now the audience as critic is a topic of much debate. Are professional critics and informed opinions necessary? What is the power of the audience critic? What is the role of the critic and the role of criticism in today’s theatre?

This unit will take students through a brief history of the theatre critic from the 500 reviews that came out of Ibsen’s one-night performance of Ghosts in 1891, to the tumultuous landscape of social media criticism. Students will then apply what they’ve learned by writing on or theatricalizing the role of the critic in a culminating assignment.

Standards Addressed

Overview
The overview covers pre-knowledge questions, time management for the 5-lesson unit, and an outline for each lesson.
1: Introduction
In this introduction lesson, students will begin with terminology, discussion about their own knowledge and views, and try out the role of the critic in a low-stakes exercise. Is it possible to give an informed opinion about a crumpled up piece of paper?
2: Critic Case Study: "A Dirty Act Done Publicly"
Students will continue to evaluate the role of the critic and the purpose of criticism. In this case study lesson, students will examine a 1891 production of Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts. The single-night performance resulted in 500 reviews, many of which were negative and caustic.
3: Dorothy Parker
Students will continue to evaluate the role of the critic and the purpose of criticism. In this case study lesson, students will examine a single critic from a specific era. In 1918, at 24 years old, Dorothy Parker became the drama critic for Vanity Fair. This was a time period when there were upwards of 80 Broadway theatres and over a hundred shows opened each year. It was also a post-war era where audiences were looking for release, and the wit and tone of Dorothy Parker’s reviews were exactly what people were looking for. It also got her fired.
4: Critic Case Study: The New York Times
Students will continue to evaluate the role of the critic and the purpose of criticism. In this case study lesson, students will examine the power of the New York Times drama critic in the mid to late 20th century. While there were many outlets reviewing shows, there was an ongoing mythology that a review from the New York Times had the power to keep a show running or close it. Students will discuss and infer if this is true. They will also reflect on the role of the critic who has such power.
5: The 21st Century Critic: Culminating Assignment
We have now made it to the 21st century. The 21st century is a time of great change for criticism and the role of the theatre critic. There is the tumultuous world of social media criticism with both pros and cons. People consistently choose online options over print. The audience has become the critic. What does that mean for the professional critic? Do we need professional informed opinions of art in the 21st century? Are audience reviews as valuable as critic reviews? Students are given a variety of culminating assignment options in order to apply what they have learned throughout the unit.

Standards Addressed

National Core Arts Standards

California VAPA Standards (2019)

Georgia Performance Standards - Theatre Arts

North Carolina Essential Standards

Tennessee Theatre Curriculum Standards

Tennessee Theatre standards (2018) standards were built using the framework of the NCAS which is built on four key domains: Creating, Performing/Presenting/Producing, Connecting, and Responding. Within each of these domains are foundations and standards to support the development of curriculum, programs, and learning.
(source: Tennessee Department of Education, Tennessee Academic Standards for Fine Arts, Summer 2018)

Please refer to National Core Arts Standards to determine the standard that best suits your needs.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Theatre Arts

MS 117.212 LII - Foundations: Inquiry and Understanding

B.1.E - demonstrate knowledge of theatrical vocabulary and terminology.

MS 117.213 LIII - Foundations: Inquiry and Understanding

B.1.E - apply knowledge of theatrical vocabulary and terminology.

British Columbia (2018)

GRADE 7 - ARTS - Communicating and documenting

Describe, interpret and respond to works of art

GRADE 8 - ARTS - Communicating and documenting

Describe, interpret and respond to works of art

GRADE 11 - DRAMA - Connect and expand

Explore the impacts of dramatic works on culture and society

GRADE 12 - DRAMA - Connect and expand

Examine the impacts of dramatic works on culture and society

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