There are without a doubt, subjects that can be defined as “best” and . . . “not best.” For many things, however, the line is distinctly less obvious, and the difference between what’s good and bad often comes down to one person’s opinion. “Everyone’s a critic” rings painfully true for artists, who often feel as if their entire life’s work can be made or broken depending on whether or not the critic was able to find adequate parking or hasn’t fallen ill from an undercooked fish.
Artists will devote countless hours on a project, plumbing the depths of the human condition, often at the expense of their own pleasures. Da Vinci once said that “art is never finished, only abandoned” and, as an actor, I get that. Weeks go by and you’re still tinkering with the artwork, knowing that at some point you’re going to have to let it fly on opening night. It’s hard to do that, especially when you know there are people actually getting paid to sit in the dark to critique you on all of that devotion. Exposing yourself like that is, in short, a leap of faith.
Yes, the critic is there to do a job but as for power? I believe we give critics only as much power as we let them. The simple question is “Who do we do it for?” To serve ourselves in the hope that a “good” review will grant us the keys to a sort of acting El Dorado or to show audiences a glimpse of their own forgotten humanity? In my short career, I’ve come to learn that by focusing on the former you lose sight of the latter, leading to a weak foundation that will eventually crumble in on itself.
I ask then: Who determines what’s “the best” theatre? The reviewers, the audiences, the artists themselves? All of them are intrinsic to the welfare of the art and have a voice. Inevitably those voices clash and no more so than during big “oo-lah-lah” events such as the Tony Awards, where suddenly anyone who has seen a play–any play–speaks out about the nominees and not always in the most positive light.
These are the same people who annually disparage the Oscars for not amounting to a hill of beans. Why should we care about an awards show that rewards bloated and stale Broadway? Because I believe, for better or worse, this is the face of the industry–practically the only thing Joe the Plumber may think of when someone says “theatre”; and dang it, if Joe the Plumber thinks anything about theatre at all then we’re off to a good start. Of course, we artists sticking it out here in the hinterlands know that the American theatre is so much richer than what the Tony’s represent, but it pays to be informed about what’s happening in New York, no matter your position. So I would recommend not forgetting to take your grain of salt and just appreciate the fact that Theatre gets its day in the mainstream sun for at least one night a year.
“The Best.” Can we define it? Can we spot it in a line up? Sometimes absolutely; but more often than not, we’re just comparing apples to oranges, whether it’s the critics or the Tony Awards. I say we, the artists, raise our voices a bit more in solidarity and less in sniping at each other. Then we can enjoy the big oo-lah-lah events as the giant self-celebratory parties that they ought to be.