Tuesday, August 28, 2007

once more on criticism, and then I'm done for reals

Here's an article in the Chicago Reader regarding reviews of developmental workshops like Steppenwolf's First Look Repertory of New Work.

I had the good fortune of working in the First Look Rep as a playwright in 2006. It was a blast. It was kinda like summer camp. And the audiences who sign up for First Look 101 and sit in on some of the readings and rehearsals become groupies and fans of the whole process. I thought it would make me nervous as hell walking around in my playwriting underwear in front of complete strangers, but I took a shine to it. There aren't any other developmental workshops that offer such transparency of process to an audience and a full production for a playwright (albeit with reduced production values and a limited run). But what it lacks in set, it makes up for in casting and direction -- these are top tier Chicago directors and actors who work on these things, and the 'Wolf charges some moneys for an audience to get a first look.

I went into First Look under the assumption my play wouldn't be reviewed. It was a developmental workshop free from the pressure of critical consumption, I was told. It really took a load off. Steppenwolf doesn't bill any of the plays in their First Look as "World Premiers", but that's a whole 'nother can o' worms in theatre business-speak.

Well, Chris Jones reviewed the shows, and he reviewed my play favorably. I know a couple theatres wanted to read my play based on that favorable review. Beyond that, I don't know what effect the review had other than giving me a little street cred on the mean streets of Theatreopolis. Kate Fodor's 100 Saints You Should Know, which was reviewed less favorably in the same article, is opening soon Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. And thank goodness for that, because it's a good, heartfelt play that I'm thrilled is enjoying a full go at another theatre.

The realm of critical appraisal in developmental workshops is a sticky thing. You want to give a play and a playwright a chance to mess around in a full production. Now you can do this reviews or not -- just, sometimes thinking you won't get reviewed will lessen the chance for an anxiety induced rupture of a major artery in the neck. A bad review of something "in-progress" could potentially make producers want to pick it up as much as they'd want to pick up a pee-soaked rag. A good review could launch it. Or a review, good or bad, could do nothing. You never know. It's like a really crappy Choose Your Own Adventure book.