Guidelines for Writing Critiques for Theatre Performances
(printable version here)
By Dr. Dorothy Holland, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Richmond
- Good writing begins with close reading of the text. In the case of theater, texts include both plays in written form and performances. One must "read" a performance closely by understanding its content, the historical, social, and cultural background of the performance, as well as by analyzing the components of the performance.
- Honesty is important when writing for theater classes; your initial reaction to the text is often where the strongest writing begins.
- Be sure not to employ top down writing; this means that one should not begin with a claim and force sources to fit their idea and ignore evidence that is contradictory to their claim. Let the evidence speak to you and arrive at a claim based on the evidence.
- Beginner writers tend simply state "I liked it" or "I didn't like it" without elaborating intelligently on their reactions. A high level of personal engagement with the material is a cue of strong theater writing. One should have an emotional response to the work rather than treating the assignment as a distanced intellectual exercise.
- As with all writing, clarity of ideas and precise organization, such as the employment of topic sentences, are necessary.
- Context and background information is vital to understanding and analyzing theater texts. Don't be afraid to ask questions in class or do extra research of the time period, setting, etc. to better understand the material.
- Do not refer to a play or a script as "a novel"; not every text is a novel nor can every text be treated as such.
- In regards to other terminology, be sure to ask your professor for specific do's and don'ts, especially in technical theater courses.
- Theater is art and art is subjective. Beginner writers tend to search for the right answer in an attempt to "get it"; however, there is no right answer and one can only achieve strong theater writing by eloquently expressing their opinions and addressing all of the elements of the text in doing so.
- Self-reflection is very important in the arts. Introductory level courses, such as Basics of Acting, will likely engage the students in journaling to inspire self-reflection within their writing. Freewriting is an effective way to begin the prewriting process for a theater paper.
- When using sources, be sure to only include evidence that is very relevant to the purpose of your work. Beware of using the first source you find; having the patience to search for meaningful, substantive sources shows an interest in the subject and commitment to your work.
- Remember that theater can be abstract; refrain from taking everything literally, but remember that your interpretation, as long as it's qualified, can neither be right nor wrong.
- Ultimately, good writing will answer these three questions:
- What is the text trying to do or say?
- How is this accomplished?
- Is what the text is trying to do or say worth doing?
When preparing theatre presentations:
- Pictures and video clips will enhance a presentation, especially when the topic includes an actual performance. The selection of non-textual elements must be relevant as well as enhance the presentation in some way.
- Due to the frequency of technological problems, it is imperative that one rehearses the use of technology prior to the actual presentation. The Speech Center is a great resource for this, but rehearsing on your own is also encouraged.
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