HowlRound: Critical Generosity and the Spectre of Niceness

HowlRound hosts a weekly chat on Twitter called The Weekly Howl, which is an open discussion about a topic that relates to theatre culture and performance in today’s world. The Weekly Howl on January 16 was called “Critical Generosity and the Spectre of Niceness” based on an essay that Jill Dolan, who runs a blog called The Feminist Spectator, wrote for a journal called Public: Arts, Design, Humanities. In this essay, Dolan talks about how the term “critical generosity” means responding with specificity as to why a piece of theatre works and how it reaches its audience. It also means clarifying for the reader how much the artist and critic know about each other’s work, and this would allow the critic to comment knowledgably about the piece’s history in development.

In response, Polly Carl, the director and creator of HowlRound, wrote “A New Year’s Diet for the Theatre” where she lists five wishes she has for the new year in theatre. Number three on her list encourages being nicer this year, and she states, “There is a growing critical edge to social media conversation that is beginning to wear on me.” She, like Dolan, argues for more “positive inquiry” when analyzing theatre.

However, George Hunka, artistic director of Theatre Minima, argues that if we agree that “critical generosity” is not about being a bland cheerleader, “then we’re going to get our hands dirty and make a few enemies once in a while — it comes with the territory of criticism.”

Dolan responds to Hunka’s essay, defending and clarifying her thoughts around “critical generosity” versus being “nicer,” saying that when she teaches her students about writing critically, they automatically assume that means “be negative.” That is what she’s fighting against.

Finally, Hunka responds to Dolan’s rebuttal, saying that he does not believe that critics should be held accountable for the effects their criticism might have.

This is a link to the archived Weekly Howl conversation on Twitter. I’d also encourage you to read the essays that kicked off this discussion.

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