Enter the Female Drama Critic

I’m going to start this off with an anecdote.

When I was in eighth grade, my family didn’t have that much money. So, for Christmas, my dad went out and purchased a copy of the New York Times and gave it to me as a present. After that, I started buying a copy of the Times or, when I was too poor to go and get a copy, I would read the theater reviews in my junior high library when a class I was in would be there. I got in trouble a few times for doing this and they eventually blocked the website.

That same year, my guidance councilor asked me what I wanted to do as a career. “I want to be either a theatre critic or an epidemiologist,” I replied. “Why an epidemiologist?” she asked. “I think diseases are really interesting,” I answered.

She looked at me and said, “Stick with the epidemiologist idea.” So I tucked my desire to critique theater as a career in the back of my head until my senior year, when I said I wanted to be a playwright and a drama critic. My high school guidance councilor told me to get a degree in “something useful, just in case.”
I was watching an episode of Theater Talk yesterday and one of the critics they talked to, Barbara Hoffman of the New York Post, who I didn’t know wrote reviews (my fault), commented that most of the critics didn’t like “9 to 5” because most of the New York critics are men (true) and couldn’t relate to the female bonding story. She also compared it to “Wicked” in the female-bonding-men-can’t-relate-to manner.

Four things popped into my mind. The first was, “Wait, John Simon enjoyed ‘9 to 5’.” The second one was, “Why didn’t I like ‘Wicked’? Because I’m female and I don’t like it.” The third one was, “Why are they not mentioning Elysa Gardner?” (Her review of “9 to 5” was a bit of a meh) And the final thought was a reminder of a comment someone left on The Theater Loop in reference to John Beer being named the new theater critic for Time Out Chicago. That comment was, “Oh good. Heaven knows we need more middle-aged white male critics in Chicago.”

While that comment is directly in reference to the critics in Chicago, most people could apply that to critics anywhere. Four of the major New York critics are female. (I’m counting the woman at Entertainment Weekly.) Two of the critics for print publications in Eastern Iowa are female. The critic at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is female. Those are the ones immediately coming to my mind.

The fact that there aren’t as many women that are drama critics is not something I lose sleep over.

How many girls, or boys, wake up one morning and come bouncing to the breakfast table going, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, I want to be a theater critic when I grow up”? I’m going to guess very few. That’s not a career people are probably going to steer children or teenagers towards. Especially with the fate of print journalism. From my own casual observation, more young girls would much rather be actresses than critics. Or directors, stage managers, or stage hands.

And I don’t think that if we have more female theater critics we’re going to suddenly have a better understanding of female problems and struggles and friendship on the stage. I don’t like “Steel Magnolias” nor do I like “Wicked.” Although, I don’t like “Wicked” as an objective analysis of the show. I know a lot of guys who like more chick-flick type shows.

Does anyone disagree with me? Agree? Do we need more female drama critics?


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