As some of you may have heard, Mark Arnest has resigned his position as arts critic for the Gazette; he will now be writing and working for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. We wish him well. Mark disharged his critical duties with distinction and grace for nearly a decade, and our town is the better for his good works. Critics are regularly scorned by audiences and artists, but we all know we need them. The critic ought to be part of the deep fabric of a culture, and Mark has been exactly that. He brought a rare combination of gifts to his job: a remarkable intelligence, a broad education, a generous spirit, an open heart, a passion for excellence, and an ability to write lucidly and concisely. He had additonal quality found only in the best critics, an ability—even a desire—to put the art ahead of his opinions and his own ego. Mark was and is very special. I doubt we will see his like again—at least in my own lifetime. In fact, at the moment I can think of no one in town who is comparably qualified. I believe there IS no one comparably qualified. Such is the fragile ecology of culture on the high plains—not everyone can be easily replaced, and we can be the poorer for loss.
I think it a good sign that Warren Epstein and Gazette will not fill this position with just anyone who wants a shot at rendering an opinion in print. But the immediate result for us is that the Shakespeare Festival, arguably the most significant locally produced theatre event of the year, has opened without local reviews. Is this a disaster? No. The festival can certainly survive without them. But it is not a good sign. A theatre experience is not complete until it has been talked about, until it has been the subject of conversation. Good theatre, like all good art, makes us more intelligent; it creates opportunities for discovery and the exchange of ideas and feelings. The critic's role in this procress is crucial—a considered response which can and should occasion,refine and develop additional response. We all get smarter together—and it's fun too.
There has been a disturbing and understandable recent trend towards the elimination of local arts criticism in print media. The Independent no longer reviews theatre producions. We hope the Gazette will be able to find a wonderful new critic an to support criticism—though asking one critic, even if he is as gifted and assiduous as Mark Arnest, to cover visual art, music and theatre is simply absurd.
The new electronic media offers some new hope. This blog, for instance, gives me a chance to discuss our work in a way I haven't had before. It also has the potential for developing and extending theatre conversation (though the total of three comments to my posts so far suggest this conversation is still mostly one way). Our emailed audience surveys have met with a great response—you are taking them and sending us your comments, which have been helpful and illuminating. So it's just possible we could be enteriing a new more democratic era of theatre conversation—where everyone is a critic. This is a good thing.
But we still need professional serious Critics, just as we need actual professonal teachers—dedicated people of education, passion and thought, who are not simply shooting off the cuff but really devoted to the art they analyze and report. We do have at least one such theatre critic left in Colorado: John Moore of the Denver Post. John has been remarkably dedicated to the Colorado theatre scene; everyone of us in theatre here knows how much he cares, and how hard he works. It helps that he can write too. It's more than a little ironic that the one Shakespeare review we have had so far is from Denver. We're not exactly right on their beat, and John often makes the long drive here and back to see us.
You can find his good review here.
It is generally accepted practice for artists to accept critical verdicts in silence. You take your lashes or your bouquets quietly. This has never made sense to me. I almost always write the critic who has written the review, whether the verdict has been thumbs up or down. Here's what I wrote John Moore:
Many thanks for the review and for once again getting over the hill to see us. I'm glad you liked the show and Rosalind, who I agree is wonderful. I cast her from a virtual audition, something I'd never done before—so I count our blessings.
You are not the only one who finds Bob's Touchstone too much, though I think you are in a distinct minority. For me the problem with most Shakespeare clowns is that they are rarely funny (Costard & Co. at Boulder's LLL are this season's typical representatives), and the great and compelling virtue of Bob's Touchstone is that he actually IS funny. I'm sure you could see how much he delights the audience, and how the laughter he occasions is full and genuine. Good laughter in Shakespeare is a rare and wonderful sound, and I thank Bob for it, and have let him go. Yeah he's over top but at least as you say a champion in this event. It's all Shakespeare's fault too. He wrote the part for Robert Armin, a new clown, who made a meal of it. The text gives several suggestions where Touchstone is a clown show—his musical dismissal of Martext, his send-up of Rosalind, his killing William 150 different ways, and his 7 stages of the lie speech (which is followed by the only encore Shakespeare ever wrote for a clown) are all pure vaudeville turns, parts for a clown to run away with. And I bet Armin was just as freewheeling as Bob Rais, though possibly no funnier. In his next play Shakespeare seems to have had clown remorse since Hamlet tells the players to make sure the clowns speak no more than what is set down for them (which means he knows that's just what they do). I also think Bob does great bawdry, and he holds up his considerable end on the lower more robust elements of love. For more on this (and I bet you've had enough already), you could check out my blog (!) which sort of anticipates your review.
As for the production being too long, maybe so. The first act runs 60 minutes, the second 90, but with an extended intermission and late start we can push 3 hours. I don't think the show is ever slow. I did cut the play, and honestly couldn't find anything more I wanted to let go. It's all too good. I know I speak as a bardolator, but I have noticed that in England Shakespeare always lasts over 3 hours and at least we're ahead of them.
Again, thanks for being there!
No doubt I wrote him because I can't bear anyone else having the last word about our work. But talking about theatre and Shakespeare also seems to me the most natural thing in the world. I have a lot more to say. So, I bet, does John. So, perhaps, do you. If so, please come in and join the party. We'll all just sit out here on a long summer night, look up at the stars, and fall asleep talking about the very best stuff in the universe. We'd love to hear from you!