The Critic as Colleague

I posted a link to this Howlround review by Kyle Whalen of Lucas Hnath’s The Christians on the blog’s Facebook page this morning, but I want to feature it here to “extend its run” among Director’s Visioneers.  In my Advanced Directing course I spend a week on the relationship of “The Director and the Critic,” and I think this essay will be a useful one for my students to read.  I find its review of the Steppenwolf production interesting, but I find its analysis of the play itself invaluable.

I believe in directors doing as much of their own analysis and as much of their own research as possible.  But I’m a “journeyman director,” by which I mean (to paraphrase Harper Lee), “You got anything needs directin’, I can do it.”  I can direct Shakespeare but I am not an expert on Elizabethan drama; I can direct Euripides but I’m not an expert on Greek tragedy; I can direct Ibsen but I’m not an expert on early Realism.

A really good critic functions as an expert–a dramaturg, actually–that can give me a terrific boost on a job like that.  I’m guessing I could direct The Christians, but I don’t know Hnath’s other plays as well as Whalen does, I don’t know Descartes and Thacker like Whalen does, and I haven’t taken a deep dive like Whalen takes here into this particular play.  He gives me a lift through territory I’d have to wander around, pretty much lost, for quite a while without him.  Fittingly, his article advocates for (and says the play “invites”) “intellectual humility.”  As a director, few postures have served me better than intellectual humility.

What’s more, Whalen inspires me.  With his final paragraph, a conclusion in which he links thematic material from the play to just the kind of audience reaction that reminds me why I keep on directing, Whalen leaves me champing at the bit to work on a production of this play.

So critics are far more than consumer reporters that sometimes unfairly shoo audiences away from our work by bleating “Thumbs down!”  Critics at their best can function as researchers and text analysts, key advisors and indispensable colleagues that can light our way on our directorial journeys.

What Happened to My Blog?

Here’s my first blog post of 2016.  Where has The Director’s Vision been for six months?

One easy answer is “on Facebook!” Throughout the time since my long-ago last blog post, I’ve kept posting links and other tidbits at I hope some of you have enjoyed them and maybe even learned something. That’ll continue (God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, as my father used to say).

It could be that I subconsciously panicked when my last post went quasi-viral, having been linked from TCG’s American Theatre magazine site.  I certainly wasn’t used to having thousands, rather than maybe dozens, of readers, and I did get gently scolded about something in my “journalism” (I didn’t set out to be a journalist, but it’s true: if you’re blogging, you’re doing journalism).  So maybe, without consciously intending to, I went into hiding for the first half of this year.

I think mostly, though, I just had too many other things rise high on my list of priorities.  For example, I was invited to start a new role at the university where I have a “day job,” and learning about it while gradually starting to take on some of the new responsibilities has sent me running this way and that.  I also had an amazing opportunity last month to participate in a top-flight leadership development opportunity: it was incredibly intense and I hope I learned some things that will be relevant to what we’re talking about here on The Director’s Vision blog.

Anyway, it’s a long holiday weekend now and all of my excuses have vanished, so I promise a substantive post within the next few days.  Looking forward to writing for you again, and hoping you’ll join in the conversation!  In the meantime, happy Independence Day to my American readers and anyone else that’s celebrating along with us Yanks.

Oh, and thanks for your patience.  I’m grateful that you’re back.