How is a critic to function given conflicting personal and business associations? Ideally, a critic should have no previous or current associations with any of the artists he is setting out to review. Rather impossible, isn’t it. However, the farther away you can stay from all those individuals whose work you might eventually review, the better off you are to render fair verdicts. So many hidden agendas can color reviewing. New York drama critic Brooks Atkinson was known and respected for shunning social contact with theatre people. Need we even explore why?
Now, ask yourself, should a “critic” review the work of his spouse, close friend, brother, sister, uncle? I hope the answer is obvious to you. You should be a friend to your friends and family, not a critic. Why are circus fans so unable to render anything other than upbeat notices? Because they feel a genuine or hopeful friendship to the performers they are writing about, and to be critical would be to betray the spirit of a friendship. I can't blame them for how they feel, but at the same time I see little value in a review having been written by a virtual or quasi friend.
What about reviewing the work of a former or possible future boss or colleague? Now we are getting onto ice, thin or thick. You may hold a grudge against an ex-employer, which could slant your notice in the negative; you may be campaigning to land work with the very person you are now critiquing, which will slant your notice in the affirmative. Either path you take may reveal itself and backfire on you. Avoiding such a review altogether is the honorable thing to do.
Now, there is another possible conflict that arrives when you face new work from an artist/producer/director whom you have tended to champion or dismiss in the past. Can you approach new work of theirs with an open mind? If you, indeed, can teach yourself to concentrate on the work itself rather than on your personal feelings about the creators and performers, you are on the road to success.
All too numerous, I have to assume, are the incestuous relationships between critics of all ilk and the umbrella corporate entities who pay their salaries. The cozier the life, the bigger the pay check, the harder it is to maintain one's high minded principles.
The circus community (and its various schools and institutions), so small and insulated, employees a number of knowledgeable experts who are ideally situated to critique circuses; trouble is, for a staff member of circus A to go out and file a review of Circus B is like having an executive from the Shubert Organization in New York review a new show produced by the Nederlander Organization. Does that make any sense to you? I hope not.
The point is to separate those with whom you have ongoing relationships from those whom you do not know or know only casually through minimal professional association. It is up to YOU to make the critical separations, to recuse yourself from the critical task when you know you are going to be compromised. And you will know, whether you will ever admit it to anyone other than yourself and to possibly those who might be slipping you gratuities under the table. I would urge you to slip them right back. That is, if you are critically serious.
[photo by Boyi Yuan]