Arnold Wengrow, my friend, mentor and former drama professor, believes the Asheville arts can improve with consistent, quality criticism.
Wengrow is pursuing his aim with a new website, An Asheville Observer, where he’s been posting reviews of local theater productions. Wengrow’s an expert in the theater field. He’s professor emeritus of drama at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where he founded the theater program there in 1970. He was contributing editor of Theatre Design and Technology, the journal of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, from 1996-2015.
In a recent post, Wengrow explains his approach to reviewing, which, he notes, New York Times film critic Richard Schickel called the “humble cousin” of criticism. Reviews should be more than just “hooray” or “boo,” and should be written by someone who goes deeper than the instant reaction, something that’s easier said than done in the age of ravenous social media.
“Describe the work with understanding of what the artist is trying to accomplish,” Wengrow writes. “Help your readers see it more fully. Help them see what you see is there. Or isn’t there but maybe should be there.”
Aside from helping readers, and potential theater-goers, better understand the art form, good reviewing can inform and elevate the local players, directors and reviewers. That’s critical in Asheville, which has long been a hotbed of artistic creativity. How can anyone get better without any informed criticism?
Check out Wengrow’s website and reviews. Here’s hoping he keeps at it, and that we can find other qualified writers to review other visual and performance art in Asheville. Here’s Wengrow’s most recent review, his take on Stupid Fucking Bird, now playing at Magnetic Theatre.