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Sander shares experience as theater critic

Michael Sander made the move from New York City to rural Pine River after 10 years as a theater critic.

Sander spoke at the Sept. 11 Chautauqua in Crosslake, sharing his technique and experience as a New York theater critic.

Sander said he was an actor living in New York when a friend, who edited a trade magazine called “Drama Log,” asked him to be the magazine’s theater critic.

For 10 years, Sander reviewed Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, cabaret productions and more. He also wrote the occasional restaurant review.

His time as a critic meant he was even at one time a Tony Awards voter.

Sander said that growing up he went to theater with his mom, as his dad didn’t enjoy it. He later took the ferry by himself to see productions.

When later in life he became a critic, he was at shows five to six nights a week.

“Critics are the most despised people in the theater community,” Sander said of his occupation.

So who is a critic? Sander said a critic is just a person with an opinion — and it is only one person’s opinion.

“You have to see the good and the bad and impart that,” he said.

He said that ideally he aims to write about a play that he liked “in such a way that someone will want to see it for his or herself.”

The critic must consider what the intent of the work of was, Sander said, when writing a review. A critic also has a responsibility to draw people into the art he’s covering.

Critics should remember that the review isn’t about the critic but about the production, Sander said. The goal isn’t to show the reader how witty the writer is.

Sander also talked about the ethics of writing reviews. He spoke of theaters providing critics with free tickets. While some critics don’t agree, Sander said he accepted free tickets and didn’t consider that a conflict of interest.

He did say that as a critic he found it necessary to disclose any friendship he had with actors in a production, and he remarked on the critic’s responsibility to respond fairly to what’s being presented on stage.

He said that when he saw an opening production of “Annie,” he didn’t like it at all. When he saw it opening night, for its first production, he said he felt like it was endless.

“I’m not always right,” he said.

Other critics gave such productions such as “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Oklahoma” and “1776” poor reviews even though they became popular productions.

“I’ve always felt the best critic was the one who agreed with me,” Sander said with a smile, adding he feels that’s a valid reason for a reader to follow a critic.

“Ultimately, you are your own best critic,” Sander told the audience. “Read what you find, then go out and find out for yourself.”

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