"… it’s time for you to withdraw before any more damage is done and what’s worse, you have only yourself to blame." -- Ron Aiken, on Gamecock QB Blake Mitchell

Echo Project
Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau
Issue #20.41 :: 10/10/2007 - 10/16/2007
Reflections of a Theater Critic

Two Decades of Columbia Theater


A lot of curtains have risen and fallen (figuratively speaking) in the almost two decades this reviewer has been covering Columbia theater. Some troupes like Act I in West Columbia are no longer, but the major players remain. However, changes are on the horizon. 

Trustus is about to finally realize its long-delayed second stage, and Workshop will move to the exotic location of Elmwood Avenue in the next couple of years. And USC’s Longstreet Theater is still raising funds for long-needed renovations. So, there will be physical changes in the local theater scene.

Essentially, though, other than the blur between Trustus and Workshop in terms of the nature of the shows produced —  to wit, Workshop’s doing I Am My Own Wife, a show that Trustus might well have done — the local theaters retain their essential character. Town will always go after the blue-haired crowd of all ages, and USC will always have the highest production values. As far as sheer quantity, it is amazing just how much theater there is around here. For all of this, the quality tends to be quite high, even though not everything deserves the well-established Columbia standing ovation.

This brings me to another point, and that is the function of the critic. Quite predictably, whenever a negative notice is run, you can bet there will be a flood of letters and emails, all to the effect of, “What show was that nasty critic watching? I loved it, the whole audience loved it, and they gave it a standing ovation. Besides, everyone worked so hard, and after all, what do you think this is? Broadway?”

Well, everyone has the right to speak his or her piece, but really it’s a fruitless exercise arguing with a critic. It boils down to being one person’s opinion, hopefully an informed opinion to be sure, but just because the critic hated it doesn’t mean someone won’t love it. It also doesn’t mean the critic is evil or possesses Olympian standards, or worst of all to a Southerner, “He’s just so negative.” One theater has actually banned this reviewer to its premises because not everything he wrote was a rave.

Now that I’ve vented about all of this, I will go on to predict that there will be the usual quota of wonderful moments and awful moments in the upcoming Columbia stage season, just as there have been for the last 20 years. It’s the unpredictability that makes it interesting because, after all, this is live theater. Apropos of that, something I’ve never understood is the person who declares him or herself a “theater lover.” Huh? Is anyone a “movie lover”? You love good movies and abhor bad ones, and just because something is performed on stage doesn’t mean your critical faculties go on holiday. If you love everything, how do you know anything is special?

Still, in an age where a good percentage of the population is fixated by some sort of screen — iPhone to 52-inch plasma — it’s comforting to know that some people still crave live entertainment. It’s also satisfying to consider that at its best our local theaters do work that is as good as anything anywhere. So even without that obligatory standing ovation, take a bow Columbia!
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