In my incredibly short period of time as a reviewer thus far (Richard III’s reign as king was longer), various considerate individuals have offered me some timely advice along the way, helping me to navigate this world of stars, scores, catchy phrases and obscurely titled feature articles.
This, combined with various fleeting, albeit memorable experiences, has led me to examine the odd but still treasured art of critique work. Therefore as a thanks to those that have helped me find my way, this catechism has been composed to perhaps introduce others to this life of revelry and even give a glimpse to those who only ever see the neatly printed bold text and accompanying star rating.
Section A, Article 1: One shall live by their email account
It’s completely true that one of the most crucial aspects of the critic writing experience is checking ones emails. While on the surface this may not seem as riveting as travelling the world or drinking martinis at incredibly high-class dinner parties, there is nothing quite like the email-chase. Known by many within the critic world as a game of cat and mouse, there is undoubtedly an art in itself of scoring the perfect press release while also tragically hoping you’ve bet your colleagues to the punch. The ultimate side effect of this kind of pursuit however, is that one can occasionally enter upon a life of addiction, where no minute passes without a hasty check of the account with the relentless desire to see the unmistakable Gmail glow of a received message. Still though, if one can dodge this path, then the aspect of the email-chase remains one of the most surprisingly suspenseful aspects of reviewing.
Section A, Article 2: One shall know where the venue is before attending
One of the first things I ever reviewed was a youth art exhibition in the city, a few years ago. The only problem was, I never really found the place. About half an hour into my desperate search I began to wonder whether or not the location truly existed or not, and that perhaps it had quite literally fallen out of existence. Another part of me thought that I had read the map wrong, and that perhaps my middle school geography lessons regarding orientation really had been worth listening to. But after asking a rather staunch and serious security guard, banging on the closed doors of a help desk, interrogating two pick up drivers out the back of the NGV and finally making the desperate voyage down countless alleyways, I eventually found my destination. Lesson learnt: make sure Google Maps is set to Melbourne, Australia, rather than the one in Florida (apparently, it does exist.)
Section A, Article 3: One shall never interview an artist right next to a stereo
There is nothing worse in the critic world then getting home from a gig, plugging in the recorder into your computer with giddy anticipation, and then realising you can barely hear your subject over the blast of Daft Punk. While its certainly nice to capture the atmosphere of the night, it is without a doubt an annoyance to pick apart a sentence that is no more decipherable than a Russian nuclear code. The only proper way to fix this is to go through each word singularly, pick it apart, and decide for yourself what the subject meant, then most likely give up, and then ask the artist for a second interview, whilst ensuring there isn’t a stereo within a 5 km radius.
Section A, Article 4: One shall feel like a professional when he or she receives their tickets
Arguably one of the most rewarding aspects of the critics life, there simply aren’t words to describe the feeling of entering a theatre, walking up to a desk, and asking politely for your carefully reserved tickets to a show. It is the moment when seemingly all the stars in the entire galaxy align, and for the briefest of moments you feel as if you’ve been elected President, made famous or even found yourself financially stable. The moment of ticket collection is by and large the instance of extreme euphoria that can only be understood in myths and legends. A true marvel.
Section A, Article 5: One shall not fall asleep during a show
Even if it is the most complicated, pretentious and convoluted piece of material ever to grace the stage, it is best not to rest ones eyes when a review is to be written the following day. If this event were to occur, then it would be better to miraculously disappear, fake one’s death, forge a new identity and never be heard of again then to try and find the words to describe a show that in truth you really haven’t seen. Of course, there is a second option, one hopefully followed by few, which is to describe the show in the broadest sense possible. Describing the acting as ‘somewhat like other acting work present in the theatre industry’ pleases crowds who both hated and liked the show, while claiming that the overall production was ‘executed in a manner that was similar to that of a theatre production’ not only sounds sophisticated, but is also another way of presenting a view that doesn’t actually put forth an opinion. Still though, it’s probably just easier to fake one’s death.
Section A, Article 6: Procrastination of the Pen
Generally straight after one has seen a show, the immediate temptation is to pretend like it didn’t happen. For some unknown reason, there is a very real threat of going about one’s daily life, whilst casually ignoring the deadline that is constantly ticking above your head. Worse than an episode of 24, every clock you see begins to be a reminder of your possibly impending death. As you sit down at your computer and attempt to come up with the words, your brain, in a tremendous act of bad timing, decides to stop working and act productively on any level what so ever. Instead you can’t stop thinking about where you put your wallet, what’s on television for the night or whether or not to put dinner in at 6:30 or 5:30. The ultimate sign of procrastination is when one spends half an hour deciding on a font, endlessly switching between Times New Roman and Helvetica. When you finally do get words down on a page, it is a relief like nothing else.
Section A, Article 7: One shall debate the presence of the ‘quarter star’
There will be times in a critic’s life when the full star doesn’t seem to quite cut it. Its that awkward expanse between 3 and 4, where one knows the production wasn’t absolutely shocking but also knows it wasn’t Henrik Ibsen’s long lost undiscovered manuscript. It is times like this, where one yearns for the existence of the quarter star. Not a half star mind you, but a quarter star, an entirely new invention yet to be used by anyone, mainly because to most people it probably reeks of tedium. None the less, a man can dream for this undiscovered gem.
Section A, Article 8: Severe Editing Paranoia
Severe Editing Paranoia is a very peculiar disorder that sets in approximately five seconds after hitting the send button on a recently written review. Symptoms include sweaty palms, difficulty sitting still and most importantly, the complete fear that the article, despite being checked numerous times on numerous occasions, is in fact illogically plagued with spelling errors, grammatical nightmares and structural disasters. There is also the fear that it might not actually make sense. These are all the kind of thoughts that can enter one’s mind, when the words begin to transmit themselves from the laptop screen and into that strange, cat-video loving invention called the Internet. The only way to properly medicate for Severe Editing Paranoia is to rock back and forth silently, binge on Shapes, and await one’s fate in theatre critic purgatory.
Section A, Article 9: The Wow Moment
The wow moment, is incredibly similar to the ticket collection moment, although its without a doubt a few inches above it on the greatness scale. The wow moment is when the review is published, and with halted breath, you see your name printed on the website, sitting with complete and utter confidence beneath your nicely formatted article. In your imagination you start doing star jumps and within a few minutes you’ve gone from an incredibly down and out, melancholic writer to a syntax superhero ready to conquer the world. All self-doubt is thrown out the window, and your ego fantastically expands in size faster than a balloon being blown up by a sumo wrestler. The rest of the day is spent in glorious celebration, and no one can work out while you can’t stop smiling or googling your name on the net.
While this really only scratches the surface of the critic’s life, it hopefully gives a useful snapshot and brief portrait of a unique position in review. Therefore, with much analysis and thought, I’ve awarded the critic life 5 and a quarter stars.