Always a Critic.

It is the weekend and you are considering taking in a new movie or play.  You have one in mind however your date is not sold on the idea.  To change their mind you grab the paper or go online and pull out a review.  The jury has decided and it looks like you will be ordering in tonight.

People rely heavily on the review.  It makes or breaks their evening or holiday.  Essentially, people are in need of assurance that their choice of entertainment (among other things) is correct.  However, have you ever stopped and thought, “Who are these Guiding Lights of the Night and why do we trust their word?  Why do these people go out of their way to give us the inside information?”  It is not about taking a film course in college; it is because of much more than that. 

Ernece B. Kelly was not trained in the art of the review.  In fact, she has her BA, MA and PHD in literature.   She also taught for 40 years at CUNY (City University of New York).  She explains that after college she experienced a lot of trouble getting her reviews published. With persistence and determination, her Broadway, off Broadway and Off-off Broadway play reviews have been published for over 15 years.  She currently writes reviews for the New York Beacon, an African-American newspaper that focuses on matters of truth and justice both locally and nationally.   

Why does Kelly write reviews?  She describes her childhood, explains that was raised in an urban community and going to the movies with her father and sister was a highlight for every Friday.  They would talk about every movie they saw.  “My father acted like the children really had an opinion that mattered and were encouraged to speak their minds,” she says.  She always felt like her opinion was important.

Kelly points out that there are three main reasons for her reviews.   “The first,” she says quick and simply, “is that I like getting my viewpoint out there. I enjoy going to a play and writing about it and knowing it is available for other people to look at.  I don’t care if they agree or disagree; I just want them to read it.”

“The second,“ Kelly continues, “is as a reviewer I get invited to previews and we see the drama before the public does. It can give the reading audience a heads up for something they might want to see.”  She then gives a quick flash of her press pass “I practically work for free.  I average about 5 cents a review and about 30-40 plays a year.  Having the press pass is the pay off.”  Kelly explains that it has been tough lately to get a new press pass as they are “like gold” and a rarity.  For now she relies on her Rolodex of the names of publicists and theatres to get her in.  

Kelly’s final reason for writing reviews is the most complex and most personal.  “The third reason, “ Kelly continues, “is that I enjoy writing and clarifying.  “I enjoy writing.  This is a quick, dirty way to write and re-write. I like going to the theatre, going home and writing. I’m not objective.  I don’t feel I have to be objective.  I’m trying to talk about what I experienced.”   She says she always tries to bring a friend with her to the plays.  She enjoys bouncing ideas and thoughts off of someone else as well as discussing any points she may have missed, “I need pushback to help me clarify,” Kelly explains. She also has her partner edit her first draft.  She adds that rewrite and the clarification is just as important to her as the original review, “As I continue writing and get deeper into it I realize it isn’t everything I thought it was and it’s a very selfish purpose for me”.  She then notes that she usually reaches her limit after the second re-write.

Does Kelly ever get the chance to enjoy a play or film without the task of reviewing?  She pauses for a moment and laughs, “I do enjoy the theatre without reviewing and I have mixed feelings because sometimes I just want to talk about how great or awful it is and sometimes I enjoy not having to write down. I feel being more critical helps me understand the play more.”  So, are there any notable plays she suggests to see?   Kelly could not think of anything right away.  She lists a few plays which she felt were notable but boring or insulting; The revival of “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Scottsboro Boys”.   This must be her critical side speaking. 

Therefore, the next time you have a date, time off or just feel like taking in some drama, do not hesitate to pick up that newspaper or log onto that website.  Chances are that critic has a lot of experience and genuinely cares about what they have written.   They know we do not want to be disappointed.

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