Theatre's Love-Hate Relationship With Critics

Jul 17, 2017

Theatre critics have often found themselves in the crosshairs over negative reviews. A great review can bring in larger audiences, and in the same way, a negative review can adversely affect the size of the house.

It is safe to say that many theatres have a love-hate relationship with critics; there is a particular pleasure in having the details of a production understood by someone who is able to articulate what works, and there is a particular pain in being misunderstood by those who either should have known better, or know all too well. In any case, great art creates passion in those who make it, those who receive it, and those who judge it.

Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago proved this recently when the controversial play Pass Over, by Antoinette Nwandu, was reviewed by Chicago Sun-Times theatre critic Hedy Weiss. Although Weiss called the acting “brilliant” and “sublime,” other comments she made were considered by many to be bigoted, and caused such an uproar that it was suggested by some that Weiss no longer be invited to review shows. An online petition supporting that idea was signed by thousands. Steppenwolf Theatre's official statement included a quote from Jackie Taylor of Black Ensemble Theatre: “The way to deal with it is to confront it. Human beings must talk with each other, respectfully, openly, honestly, and fearlessly. Having that conversation is not easy. But we cannot move forward as a human community if we do not communicate with each other.”