Mark Charney, Associate Director of the O’Neill National Critics Institute Talks About the need to foster responsible Theatre Criticism
By Ademola Bello
July 9, 2014
Mark J. Charney is Associate Director of National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. Charney, a playwright is currently a professor at Texas Tech University Department of Theatre and Dance. He was a former Chair of English and director of theatre at Clemson University. Charney serves as national chair of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy and the Dramaturgy Initiative for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Playbill conducted an interview with Charney in Waterford, Connecticut about the O’Neill National Critics Institute among other questions.
Question: What drawn you to theatre criticism? And who are your influences? Charney: I've loved theatre since I was a kid. I was raised in a mill town in SC and I found that theatre represented an escape for me, one that actually drew me into the life of the imagination. Mill folks are desperate, and I needed an escape from a life that involved Southern Baptists telling me that, as the only Jewish family in town, that I was going to hell. Interesting, Ademola, but I found that I needed to be the sort of artist who saw the big picture, who understood life outside of my Southern upbringing. Theatre represented an escape.
Question:Can you discuss O'Neill National Critics Institute expanded curriculum?
Charney:Yes, with Chris Jones at the helm, we are actually doing more than theatre criticism. We're having them critique restaurants and dance pieces as well, understanding that critical acumen is related to more than just theatre. We're also seeing more fully-realized plays, from Trinity Rep to Goodspeed. Love the idea that we are reaching out. I'm National Chair of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy, and that also tries hard to ask critics to look at the big picture, to understand writing in terms of blogs, tweets, and interviews—more than just traditional criticism.
Question: How many critic fellows are in this year O'Neill summer program? How are they spending their days?
Charney:This year, more than any year other than 2002, when we divided 14 among two 2-week sessions. They write, discuss their writing in round table criticism, and hear about the profession from the best in the business.
Question: What are you doing at the O'Neill National Critics Institute to revive American drama criticism?
Charney:Teaching students the tenets of good, responsible criticism. Bettering their writing. Discussing parameters. Building skill sets.
Question: What are the factors that led to the decline of American drama criticism?
Charney:I don't think there is a decline. I mean, traditional criticism is less in terms of newspapers, but we have blogs, tweets, and all kinds of opportunities to be published. In other words, there is just as much opportunity, even more, to express your opinion in writing—maybe less in terms of news writing, but more in terms of opportunities. We are training the best in theatre writing.
Question: Why do you think there are dearth of female, Latino and African-American voices in theater criticism?
Charney: I don't. I believe that all writers are being heard right now, and the O'Neill actually fosters diversity
Question: What is your view on non traditional casting?
Charney: I'm all for it. I believe we cast the best actors for the roles.
Question: What are the rules of theater criticism?
Charney: There aren't real rules. We need to foster responsible theatre criticism, critics who can write and support their craft. We need advocates, critics who represent their affection for the theatre, even when they critique it.