Michael Kaiser's Huffington Post column took a dangerous turn toward the water cooler this morning. It's usually a somewhat sleepy collection of meditations on arts management, but today the Kennedy Center president takes aim at what he calls a "scary trend": Nonprofessional critics, even audience members, reviewing shows.
In the piece, Kaiser correctly notes that in the past, "[e]very artist, producer or arts organization used to wait for a handful of reviews to determine the critical response to a particular project."
But now, he worries, "it is difficult to distinguish the professional critic from the amateur as one reads on-line reviews and critiques."
A fair point! One maybe undermined a little bit by Kaiser's contention that "younger people get virtually all of their information online, through news web sites, social media and chat rooms" (seriously, chat rooms?) but it's undeniable that the castle walls have been shaken.
So I guess, two questions. The first is whether this parade of ham and eggers through the rarified halls of capital-T theatuh is really a problem; while lousy reviews on Yelp are the bane of many restaurateurs' lives, I've yet to read about bad word of mouth on the Internet sinking a theater production but assume it's a matter of time before I do.
The second is whether Kennedy Center keeps nonprofessional critics out as a policy.
In an incredibly unscientific survey, I looked through the last month of my arts newsletter, in which I try to round up as many local arts reviews as possible, and I found only one review of a Kennedy Center show that came from an outfit that wasn't the Washington Post, Washingtonian, or Washington City Paper — Susan Galbraith's review of the Washington National Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor in DC Theatre Scene, which ran on Saturday.
I asked DC Theatre Scene's Lorraine Treanor if her site had any issues getting its critics into the Kennedy Center: "We don't," she writes in an email, "and we have been covering the Kennedy Center since at least 2006. We've been able to interview performers as well."
Joel Markowitz of Maryland Theatre Guide likewise reports no issues: "We have had no problems getting into anything," he says.
Mike Clark of ShowBizRadio.net has had less luck. "The Kennedy Center has never returned or acknowledged my requests for reviewing credentials of Kennedy Center productions," he writes in an email. "I gave up requesting credentials or press tickets a few years ago."
Stephanie O'Neill, who handles theater media requests at Kennedy Center, says "we don't have any blanket policy" on whether or not to credential a reviewer based on their publication. "It really depends on availability and what the publication is," she says. She asked me to put my follow-up questions in an email, and I'll update this post when I hear back.