PITTSFIELD, MA (WAMC) – Just prior to their June 17 evening production of “Guys and Dolls,” Pittsfield-based Barrington Stage Company opened their “iCritic” booth; a photo-booth like structure next to their lobby and box-office that allows theatergoers to record a video of their thoughts and criticism of any given performance.
The videos are uploaded to YouTube the following day; here is a sample of some of the criticisms recorded on the company’s first weekend with the new booth.
“The dances blew me away; I think I enjoyed it more than anyone else.”
“I’m not a musical guy, but I thought it was awesome.”
“The most wonderful evening at the theater we’ve had in a long, long, long time.”
“It was a great show, the timing was fantastic. I saw this show when I was a little girl, and my father told me that this was the best show I would ever see in my life, and I think he was right!”
As of Monday morning there were 11 clips online critiquing “Guys and Dolls” averaging at about 35 seconds each. Funding for the device was provided as part of a more than $51,000 “New Generations Program for Future Audiences” grant received by the company in 2010 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Theater Communications Group.
Laura Roudabush, Barrington Stage Company’s Marketing Director, said reaction to the booth by patrons has been positive thus far.
“We’ve had young people, old people, and everything in between coming in and it’s all been really fantastic feedback so far.”
“A lot of the young people were the first to jump in. In fact, five teenage girls were the first to cram themselves into the booth and all talk about how much they enjoyed Guys and Dolls.’ So now they can actually go online and then share the video.”
Julianne Boyd, the company’s Artistic Director, said the value of the booth will be getting the audience more involved in the productions.
“We care what they think, we want to know what they think, it can affect our work. The main thing is we want to get our audience more involved and that way they’ll have some ownership of the work.”
To some, the iCritic represents the next step in the evolution of public criticism of the arts.
At the same time audiences are being allowed to become instantly published video critics online, professional theater critics in print and online are struggling with the same issues being faced by most traditional media sources, particularly the growing number of free online sources of information.
Jeffrey Borak, Arts and Entertainment editor and theater critic at the Berkshire Eagle, said the device is a sign of the changing paradigm of media consumption.
“I think this fits in perfectly with the kind of social media instant reaction thing that we see being spread through Facebook and YouTube. People want to share their thoughts, and I think particularly when they’re coming out of a performance. It gives them a feeling of being a critic for a minute.”
Borak said that while he has serious concerns with the overall future of theater criticism with reference to internet critics, the iCritic is not one of them.
“I don’t see any harm in that. I think it’s probably just a lot of fun and a good marketing tool for the theaters.”
Alissa Wickham, communications director at Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company, said the company already solicits critiques through their Facebook page.
“Theater is a collaborative art. It’s a group of actors coming together with designers, directors, to build this great performance. The audience is the end piece of that collaboration. I feel like that’s definitely valuable in terms of building future seasons.”
Wickham said that Shakespeare & Co. will be watching how audiences respond to the iCritic throughout Barrington Stage Company’s production season.
“If it’s successful for BSC there’s definitely the possibly of us taking it into practice as well.”