The population of working theatre critics in Los Angeles is now decimated. Wild controversy within the community as to the effects of this sea change persists. Will we be forced to shoulder the burden of professional malcontent with a series of flashy crowdfunding efforts? Will we languish in the sewer of illegitimacy, relegated to the cultural wasteland-that-was of showcase pieces and overfervent improv fringe? Will we even notice?
Rather than think it through or meaningfully contribute to the conversation, I’d like to personally empower YOU, the swarming hordes of my dozen readers, to launch your nascent career as a Featherquill Sassypants Los Angeles Theatre Critic! You too can stomp on the futile hopes of hundreds, you too can damn fragile talent in less than three hundred words, you too can wield the intoxicating power of the Confirmation of Arbitrary Mediocrity. Come with me, you shall be as Gods!
1. The purpose of a critic
As a critic, you’ll be expected to dislike and summarily dismiss all but the least comprehensible work. Anything pedestrian is beneath you and a simple reiteration of plot points with some salty prose is all that will be required. If you find yourself at a piece that is challenging and obtuse, it will be your sworn duty to read as much into it as possible, overextending your knowledge and showcasing your sheer brilliance.
Lesser mortals will cower beneath your wisdom. Lost souls will flock to your whimsical prose and find meaning in a bleak universe. It is your calling to be the authoritative voice of a conversation between the artist and the community. Don’t let it bother you that it is the last mad cry in long-emptied room.
2. Train up with these handy bullet-point exercises!
This is where we’ll build the real muscle you’ll be working with. Get ready to dig deep! We’re going to transform your permissive, flabby aesthetic into a hard-assed, opinionated damnation machine!
• Practice sneaking into places and reducing them to a single-paragraph life story.
• Find ways to use the word “pedestrian” as pejoratively as possible.
• Go to dinner at a new restaurant. Find a way to make the experience your worst ever. If you can’t find anything wrong with the meal, critique the server flair, ambiance, decor, clientele or the fact that they served you.
• Look for the hundreds of people that work very hard to make your day-to-day life better. Make a point to ignore them; if they were so good at what they did, you’d be a king by now.
• If you ever have trouble finding fault with something, think of all the ways the world owes you.
• Take a moment to reflect on how impossibly difficult it is to make anything of value. Laugh at the cretins who try anyway. They are the lowest form of life.
• Apply your meager understanding of design culled from half-watched Tim Gunn reruns and a textbook you didn’t read in college. You obviously know more than people who got an MFA. For one thing, you weren’t stupid enough to get an MFA in anything. Suckers!
• Know in your heart that you are a better director than anyone who has passed up the chance at a stable family, generative career or prospects of legal compensation for hard work. Crucify the unworthy.
• Bitch about parking.
3. Start your own publication!
Did you know: it’s absurdly easy to publish in the semi-dystopic future we all inhabit? A variety of easy website-building tools are available to you, ranging from intimidating offerings like Wix, Squarespace and WordPress to the more pedestrian options of Blogger and Tumblr. All you need is a sassy hundred-and-fifty-word bio and a picture of you leaning disinterestedly toward the camera.
Boom! Now you’re in the biz! Start harassing producers, theatre companies and front-of-house staff for the industry comps you know you have coming to you. If you ever get push-back, casually mention your fifteen dozen Twitter followers and your regret that they will not receive your glowing praise. It doesn’t even matter that most of them are bland automatons you cleverly acquired after Googling that twitter bots were a thing!
Take it to the next level by creating your own awards, preferably distributed a few months in advance of whatever significant community-vetted awards are offered in your market area. You’ll give your dear friends and concubines warm fuzzies while roundly shitting on the popular kids who never talk to you at the real award parties.
4. Burning out? Pump the brakes!
Sooner or later, you’re going to have to bail on this glamorous lifestyle. It’s not your fault; the weight of legions of mediocre offerings will take their toll and damage your soul. It’s a triumph of the human spirit that you lasted this long. The time is for you to make a bunch of vague pronouncements about the steady death of the art and then recede to the lukewarm oblivion of half-realized 99 Seat Plan vanity projects from which you rose.
Like mighty Cthulu submerges into the evanescent waters shrouding R’lyeh, like the pillowy loam upon which Lord Dracula’s coffin rests six feet under, like the worryingly irradiated jetstreams on which Mothra sweeps in slumber, you shall become one with that which you once railed against. You shall look upon the latest generation of critics and nod with satisfaction: they will never spit such bitter shit you once lovingly crafted. Your work is done; sleep, dear one.
A word of warning: if you ever catch yourself genuinely enjoying a moment that dozens of people have conspired to painstakingly craft, despite the wage of profound fatigue and at great personal expense, you’re out of the club.