When one thinks of theatre criticism, what usually comes to mind is the five-out-of-five stars rating system, or other clever thumbs up/down methods of rating a production. When one says the word review, you might think of a brief article that sums up a theatrical experience in less than 500 words. There is no denying that the practice of reviewing that uses stars and short word counts is relevant, effective, and read in newspapers around the world every day. What happens, however, when 500 words is not enough? What do you do when you put down the paper and want to know more about why an artist set out to create what they did? Where do you go if you want to have a dialogue about the work you witnessed with the artists, the critic, fellow spectators, or all of the above? What kinds of engagement can exist in an online platform where writers are not bound by word counts or stars?
DARTCritics has been exploring answers to these questions since its early stages of creation in 2013. Led by critic and Professor Karen Fricker, DARTCritics seeks to inform readers, assess creative work, and create a dialogue between the artist, the critic, and the community. Although DARTCritics explores numerous methodologies and practices of reviewing, one that we keep returning to is the concept of embedded criticism, or behind the scenes reporting.
Theatre critic, writer, and founder of CultureBot Andy Horwitz first proposed the idea of embedded criticism in his essay Re-Framing the Critic For the 21st Century: Dramaturgy, Advocacy, and Engagement. Horwitz proposes a relationship between the artist and critic situated on a horizontal field, where it is the job of the critic to pickup and continue a dialogue initiated by the artist and artwork. It becomes the job of the critic to advocate for the work of the artists, explaining the artists’ intentions and how their artistic choices reflect the goal(s) of the artwork. This “horizontalism” replaces the current vertical relationship between artists and critics, where the critic’s opinion is presented in the form of judgment thus implying a critic’s superiority over the artwork.
Blogger Maddy Costa has also been engaging in this style of writing since 2012, when she became the critic in residence of Chris Goode and Company, a theatre company based out of London England. Using her blogs, stateofdeliquescence.blogspot.ca. and welcometodialogue.com, Costa blogs about work going on inside the rehearsal studios of London’s theatre scene. She also holds frequent dialogues about the rehearsal process between director Chris Goode and herself, which are published on her blog.
These revolutionary ideas piqued our interest, so DARTCritics contacted theatre companies both big and small across Ontario and began our engagement with embedded criticism. DARTCritics has embedded in over fifteen productions in the last two years, experimenting with writing style, number of critics embedded, and the critic’s position within the production. DARTCritics is committed to Horwitz’s notion of horizontalism, and uses experiences within the theatre community of Ontario to generate dialogue with artists and their communities, transforming the way we think about criticism.