Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The role of the critic

One of the jobs that a newspaper has is to serve as the eyes and ears of people when it comes to things such as drama productions, musical performances, movies and eateries (restaurants). It is not uncommon for staffers of The South Texan to attend one of the university's drama productions and write a "review." Also, from time-to-time, the reporters will review a university concert or a new album a group has released. It is at this time that many ask, "What qualifies these students as experts?" Well, they are not "experts." They represent the common citizen or student who is being subjected to the performances and they often review the action from a layman's point of view. This is especially true at the collegiate level where student reviewers (critics) are just honing their skills. As they progress into the professional ranks, they become more familiar with what makes a good drama production, good music or even good custom-making and scenery. Reviewing drama or musical productions is just part of the work we do at The South Texan and our students regularly look forward to these assignments. Having said that, it is important to note that the students who are chosen usually have a background in the area they have been picked to review or have been doing this for some time. The Advanced Reporting class offers a section of "critical reviews" for students and prepares them for this chore. In addition, the Structure of the Arts class gives students a background in many areas. Once on staff, students are coached as to what to look for when assigned to do a review. The reviews, while critical, are not intended to be personal assaults on any one and never should reflect that character. From time-to-time student reviewers will assert things such as a certain actor should speak louder or the scenery was not appropriate. Other times the review will ask why sound systems were not improved. All are done in a positive manner, supposedly. The reviews are not supposed to offend, and we hope none have. Also, we have learned that the reviews often help the student actors get better and improve their skills. Whether this happened because of the review or because the student just improved, we can't tell. Also, the reviews serve as a learning experience for the drama students who must get used to "critical reviews." Pictured with this blog is a scene from the Drama Program's last play, "Somewhere in the Middle."
Having said, the last drama production of the season - "Steel Magnolias" - was awesome. It was one of the best that I (Dr. Manuel Flores) have ever since at this university, dating back to the 1950s when I saw a King Lear production. Congratulations to all the cast members.

Let us know what you think of the reviews by our South Texan reporters. And, are you interested in joining our staff to do this type of story? Call. That's all.


Sean said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Even though the critic is supposed to represent the viewpoint of the common reader, it does help for them to have some background or experience in reviewing in a particular area.

It's important, though, to realize that reviews are not read only by the potential audience/consumer. Performers, restauranteurs, and manufacturers use reviews as a gauge of their success in an endeavor. A poorly-written review (in this case meaning a review written by someone who clearly does not have a solid understanding of what they are reviewing) can do just as much harm as a negative review. I have seen this first-hand over the years, and it can often be hard to convince a student or colleague that the review was not a personal attack, but rather an honest layperson's opinion.

Given that this is the case, I would suggest that it is sometimes better not to publish a review at all, if the alternative is a review written by a critic who clearly doesn't have sufficient knowledge of the field to make an informed response.

But that's just my opinion...

Long Time Hoggie said...

Of course, you are correct, but how are the reporters and actors to learn that the critical review process is part of both professions if we don't do this at this at the collegiate level? Perhaps, in the past, our students have not been as prepared as they should have and let personal opinions - not informed and/or critical from an artistic stiandpoint - filter into the reviews. It is the job of the Editor of The South Texan to assure this does happen and, for the most part, this has been done, with but a few exceptions over the last 18 months, as I recall. Also, with the new journalism curriculum being put in place, students will actually have hands-on assignments for reviews, be more familiar with the process and eventually become more proficient with this practice. It is, after all, a learning experience and, we are on our way. That being said, our drama students are superb. They work so hard and are so good. They represent "the best" of our student population at TAMUK. We feel equally as proud of our J and RTV students. We are good and getting better.

Rosa said...

Any art field - from painting, to writing, to drama and beyond - must be aware of the critic. Providing an avenue for the future professional critcs to hone their skills is admirable. An artist should never worry about the critics, by the way. An artist should be his or her own worst critic. Knowing how the public reponds will help the artist grow.