From the publisher...

A.S. Waterman

September-October 2007


On Art, Theatre and the Printed Page...
TheatreLouisville Interviews the C-J's Judy Egerton

Mention theatre reviews in Louisville, and most people immediately think of Judy Egerton, a writer well known for her insight, fairness and integrity. What's it like being Louisville's foremost theatre reviewer? TheatreLouisville's A.S. Waterman and Niles Welch recently sat down with Judy to find out.

Judy is currently finishing up her 28th year at the Courier-Journal daily newspaper, and her 13th as a reviewer here in Louisville. "When I was in college, thinking about becoming a journalist, I really was most interested in arts and maybe book reviewing," she tells us. She has done "a few book reviews here and there" for the C-J.

She grew up in an arts-oriented family in Elizabethtown. "I used to come to Louisville a lot when I was young, and I used to come to Actors Theatre when I was in high school. That was when it first opened down at the railroad station. So I was actually there before Jon Jory," she says with a laugh.

She has seen a lot of changes. "Since I started, it seems like there were other, smaller theatre companies, but they weren't doing as much." Now there are many more companies having more extended seasons, or more productions during the season. "And people have come here from other places, like New York City or Chicago, who wanted to be involved in theatre, and they've started their own companies ... so there's a lot more to see, and more of a variety."


Judy Egerton (right) chats with TheatreLouisville's A.S. Waterman over lunch at Fourth St. Live.


There's also a lot more to review. The C-J's editorial policy governs some of the choices as to what's reviewed in its pages, and ticket price is a consideration. "If you're thinking of spending $30 for an Actors Theatre ticket, you need to know if you should or not," Judy comments. The paper uses freelancers for smaller theatres, although Judy makes a point of covering some. When reviewing a smaller, independent production, she tries to remain mindful of their budget, and then assesses it artistically from that standpoint -- saying, for example, for an organization that's just starting out, "This seems like a strong beginning," or, alternatively, "From somebody who has this kind of money, we should expect better."

The Role of the Reviewer

What is the reviewer's role in the arts? Judy describes it as the sharing of knowledge. "I think it's just to learn as much as you can about the play you're going to see, or the people involved in it, so that you have knowledge you can incorporate into your review or story ... to be knowledgeable about it, and then to share that with your readers -- not so much to promote the arts, but to encourage other people to expand their own experience." She says she strives to be as honest as she can about what she sees.

Judy says that it's important for a review to tell people the context of the play, and why, perhaps, the theatre chose that particular piece. In her own work, she also enjoys offering the element of surprise by including some details that readers might not know. She explains that readers appreciate being able to learn something new about a piece.

Directors and producers can also benefit from the review process. "At times, they've learned where the work might be weak, or where they've lost their audience," she says. They can also learn where casting might be coming up short, although it isn't always easy to tell whether the script, the acting or the direction is at fault. "I think that's really hard to know, when you're outside of it," she tells us. "All you can say is, 'This scene didn't work for me,' or 'I fell asleep here.' I just try to stay in touch with my senses about it." And if the show is bad? "You just have to say so, as kindly as you can." More importantly, you have to try to figure out why you hated the show so much. "That's not always easy in a short time."

The rush to press can cause problems also, but Judy says she tries to give herself time to think a piece through. Deadline pressures used to be worse. "When I first started, I had to write that night," she recalls. "I could see a Broadway series thing that didn't end until a quarter to eleven, and it had to be done at 11:30. And for an Actors Theatre show, I'd see it that night and it would be in the paper the next day." While such timeliness may seem nice for readers, it can be otherwise when the reviewer hasn't really had time to focus. Accuracy is at risk as well. "So it's better to sleep on it," she says, "and get your head clear the next day."

A Wish List

Asked whether there is anything that she wishes Louisville theatre would change, she quips, "Well, I'm glad to see that Actors Theatre has added something besides A Tuna Christmas and A Christmas Carol to their seasonal line-up. The Santaland Diaries -- I'm glad to see that." She says she's glad that theatre groups have begun to communicate more about their seasons. "It used to be that everybody was opening the same night -- and they all expected to get covered!" At the top of her wish list is more advance notice from theatre groups about what they're planning. "I think they just don't know how far ahead we work," she says. Theatre groups could also help themselves by finding out the paper's deadlines and where to send their information. They could also gain from taking a more varied approach to coverage, such as with a neighborhood or food story, rather than thinking that they absolutely need to be featured in the arts section on Sunday.

From Verbal to Visual

While making her living with words, Judy embraces her visual side during her free time. "I've been a painter for the past 15 years, so I've sort of enjoyed that shift," she tells us. She has sold quite a few paintings this year. Although her work encompasses a wide range of subjects, she's currently focusing on a series called Fruit in Motion and at Rest. A painting from this series, Snuggling Pears, will be on display at Actors Theatre of Louisville in October, as part of Aqueous, a national juried watercolor show sponsored annually by the Kentucky Watercolor Society.

She describes these paintings as showing a departure from the loose, flowing styles that many people associate with watercolors, using glazes of color instead. The technique involves repeatedly painting over an area to give the subject an undercoat, while also adding depth.

On Being a Good Reviewer

Asked for any advice she can offer new reviewers, Judy replies that she thinks they should read the scripts, although she recognizes that occasional or freelance reviewers may not always have the time or the access to them. "I think it's important to know the words on the page as the playwright has written them ... and to know when the play was written, and the context, and to start from there. And then, knowing that, see what the director chooses to do." She also advocates reviewers keeping a respectful distance from what they write. "I think critics do their readers a disservice when they're too much in the review -- you know, when the critic becomes the review. I think it's okay to say, 'I liked it,' or 'I didn't like it,' or 'I felt this, or that,' but I don't think you're sharing information about the work when it's all about the reviewer's experience." She states that it's important to say how and what the reviewer felt about a production, but as the starting point, not the goal.

One of Judy's biggest challenges is covering the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. She generally covers it all, and says that the C-J is good about letting her devote her time to that. A lot of background work is involved. By the time she writes, she usually has already interviewed all the playwrights, and perhaps the director. She has usually talked with the artistic director at length, and she has requested and read all the scripts. She laughs when asked whether having read a script causes her to become distracted when an actor flubs a line. "Well, you know, they change a lot. I might get an early version and read that, and then I think, 'That's not what was in the script.'" Because these are new and groundbreaking works, change is part of the process.

She reads the scripts early, so that when she interviews the playwright, she'll have knowledgeable questions prepared. "And then I can let that rest until I see it," she says, "and when I see it, it's fresher."

A Reader-Driven Medium

Judy encourages readers to tell the C-J what they would like, and what stories they'd like to see covered. "Sometimes people say, 'Why don't you ever cover...' and I didn't even know it existed. They're welcome to call me and tell me about a story." But on the other hand, "Then you have the other people that call to ask you stuff like, 'I was watching a movie at 2:00 a.m., and so-and-so was in it, and I can't think of their name. And I can't think of the movie, and I can't think of when I saw it, but could you tell me who that was?' And I'm like, 'I have no clue.'"

Good Wishes

A warm and friendly woman with a ready smile and a lively sense of humor, Judy was amused to become the interviewee. "It's usually the other way around," she laughs. "One reason I'm a journalist is that I like to ask the questions. I'd rather be in the audience watching someone else than be on the stage being watched." And she did ask us questions, for a full 20 minutes. We were glad to answer. She also wishes us the best of luck with theatrelouisville.org, saying that it's a great addition to the city's resources.

As for the future, she plans to continue following her career and following her heart. "I guess I'll be a writer forever," she says, "but I'd rather just be painting now."

You can view Judy's artwork at Judith Egerton, Artist: (http://www.judithegerton.com/).

 




Published Sept. 1, 2007

________________

Artwork and text are copyright © 2007 and 2017 A.S. Waterman.
All rights reserved.