Ben Brantley is the chief theater critic at The New York Times. Brantley is the editor of “The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century" (2001) and received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism in 1997.
Ben Brantley: There was a time in which a single review in a single newspaper could change the fortunes of a particular production, a play, and even change the direction of theater. I think there are so many voices out there now weighing in at all times that no single piece of criticism can have the same impact, not at this moment in our culture. On the other hand, there still seems to be an appetite for a decisive, well articulated opinion that you don’t necessarily get in the chat rooms. I think chatter dilutes the impact of the critic. I don’t think it eliminates the necessity of them.
I do avoid Facebook, for example, as a Times critic because I get a lot of hate mail and crazy people emailing me. I just don’t want to have that open—open a forum, but for example I do—when I go home today I'll do an audio recording for the website to go with a digital show. I have to do a talkback with readers every other week. There is the sense of the conversation having broadened. And it can be a pain in terms of, you do wind up just regurgitating copy all the time now. On the other hand, it brings in a lot of voices and it brings your voice in particular to a lot more people.
Critics have a luxury I didn’t when I was starting off, which is they can just set up their own site, write their own blog and get their voices out there and, if they’re eloquent enough, if they’re strong enough, I do think people will listen. There is a lot of gossip on the internet, a lot of, hey, have you seen this going on. So speak up, I say, speak up on the internet. And you want to get attention? Say unpopular things. It’s dangerous, but it certainly gets you publicity.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
One of the most popular Shakespearean analogies presents George W. Bush as Henry V. But does it hold up?