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A Different Perspective

August 1, 2008

There's nothing quite like being in a show to teach an arts critic about what it's like to be on the other side of the equation.

Other than sitting in the middle of an orchestra or standing in the middle of a choir, it's been years since I last trod the boards. I think I performed in my last play (a terrible Wooster and Jeeves comedy during my undergraduate years) in 1996, and last sang on stage when I was about 14 in the role of -- hem hem -- Peter Pan.

Now I find myself having to act, dance and sing -- not to mention cope with three costume changes -- in a production of Hildegard von Bingen's Ordo Virtutum, a work which many scholars consider to be the oldest musical drama of its type in the western cannon.

Last night, I somehow made it through the dress rehearsal. Been losing sleep about opening night on Saturday. We'll see what happens.

While I don't think this experience will change the essentials of my work as an arts critic, it is certainly helping me to gain a different perspective on the creative process. The most interesting thing I've discovered is that putting on a show is, above anything else, an act of community. Ultimately, the end product, though I hope that it will be good, is kind of meaningless in comparison to the friendships I've made while working on this project and the bonds we're forging both within our group and beyond.

I'll certainly be interested to read what reviewers have to say about the show. But I can't imagine it affecting me much. This is a comforting thought: I spend way too much time as a theatre reviewer worrying about how companies will respond to negative criticism. If the performers and production team are immersed in what they're doing, they probably don't care.

Then again, it is this cozy-feely-touchy introspection that causes problems for audiences. As a critic, I often wish that performers would stop reveling in their so-called "process" so much and pay attention to the people sitting out there in the stalls. It's a delicate balance I guess.


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