Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ratings for Theater: Horrid Idea

Just took a peek at the new post on the nytheatre i and I am SO dismayed that anyone would even suggest ratings for theater. And to think my good buddy Jon Stancato, the man with whom I have consumed so much peaty scotch, even suggested this as a topic of discussion! (Jon, Jon, debate me, debate me, let me show you the error of your ways! Here...drink! DRINK!)

In all seriousness, critics have all the reasons in the world to totally reject the idea. Just because everyone else is jumping off the roof of the Empire State Building doesn't mean the street below is begging for your dead body. Er, let me think about constructing a different metaphor.

(Jon, are you drinking? DRINK! I'm sure I misunderstood...)

Anyway, it's impossible for me to see why it would be to the good to give ratings to a painting, for example, so why should we devise ratings for theater -- either as an industry-wide practice or on a single website or publication? Just to ease the financial transaction for the ticket buyer? True, popular music is the obvious counterexample to all this, and I'll let Tipper Gore, for better or worse, address that one. What I find most regrettable in our society is this impulse toward reductionism -- and it's regrettable that coming out against theater ratings is something that must be defended, as if it isn't already common sense. Thumbs up, down... what is the American consumer, a hopeless lemming? Um, maybe we shouldn't answer that. Let's try this instead: Critics must lead, not follow.

Sphere: Related Content


JRS said...


no debate needed. i think ratings are an awful idea. one of my day job clients (who's been to stolen chair shows and likes our work) wanted to know why there isn't a rating system to help her determine which off-off shows are appropriate for her kids. i forwarded the conversation to martin and he wanted to answer it directly on his blog.

yes, said parent could scan tony and backstage and nytheatre.com to see what's hot and read the reviews to see if any material in said hotness might offend. but not everyone likes to read reviews, and as word-counts for theatre reviews seem to shrink daily, interested parents will have to do quite a bit of hunting to ascertain a show's content.

i think (and these thoughts could be clouded by the inordinate amounts of time i spend with young people) the moral of the story is that we need a nytheatre.com junior, trying to generate buzz and interest for the indie theatre community among the PG-13 set. while i'm happy that off-off has held onto its edgy origins, i think very few things happening on downtown stages would actually offend the sensibilities of any liberal new york metro area family.

at the end of the day, it's about finding ways to include young people in the work so as they grow up to be politicians and philanthropists, they can make sure that risky art is still getting made. if the moma can offer tours for young people, why can't more indie theatre groups find ways to teach appreciation for our craft?

Leonard Jacobs said...

No time to read? What are these parents doing? Yeah, yeah, ok, I see what you're saying. But I still think we should encourage people not to boil everything down NC-17/PG number constructs. But point well taken.

Martin Denton said...


I was really pleased Jon raised this issue for my blog, and also that you decided to write about it.

We get asked about ratings for Broadway shows all the time: a lot of folks out there really seem to want there to be some kind of movie-like way for them to gauge content. As I wrote in my posting on the nytheatre i, I don't agree with this approach. But the prevalence of it elsewhere in culture has made it almost an expectation for some audiences, I think.