I had a young man from Great Britain ask me recently whether as a critic I'm ever able to enjoy the theater or whether I'm always critical of it. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Without getting defensive, I tried to explain that I'm a theater critic because I love the theater, not because I hate it.
In fact, I would go so far as to argue that outside of the people who are actually creating theater, you won't find a group of people who are as passionate about theater as critics are. One of the amazing things about the NEA Fellowship that I attended last year was the fact that a group of 25 critics got to spend two solid weeks together from sunup to way past sundown. We never ran out of things to talk about and we instantly bonded because of the one thing that we had in common: We all loved and were passionate about theater.
It's not often you get to spend two solid weeks with people who attend theater two to three times a week and when they're not in the theater, are talking to and interviewing people who work in the theater.
I was impressed with all of them because there was such deep commitment to the art form. They wanted to find ways to get people talking about theater and to be able to engage it at an ever-deeper and more meaningful level. They weren't interested in just getting people to show up and toss out half-hearted praise. They wanted people to go to the theater and truly engage with the work that was done on stage.
Personally, I would rather go see a poorly performed or poorly written show than not go to the theater or simply watch television. There is a joy to seeing a show when I am able to engage my mind and truly analyze all aspects of a performance. This isn't a chore, it's one of the experiences that makes theater so amazing.
There may be stories of those few critics who claim that they hate the theater, but all the ones that I have met are critics because of their deep-seated passion for and love of the art form.