Monday, January 23, 2012

Ghost Light at Berkeley Rep, and a new medium

(Robynn Rodriguez and Christopher Liam Moore in the Berkeley Rep production.  Photo by Jenny Graham.)

This week I explored a whole new mode of theater criticism: the podcast!  I’ve never recorded one before, and I believe SF Weekly has never done a theater review podcast before.  Luckily, I had Benjamin Wachs, fellow SF Weekly writer and theater aficionado, to help me out, as co-critic and producer.  (When you listen, it’s not hard to tell who’s more experienced in radio!)  The two of us saw Ghost Light, the Berkeley Rep play directed by Jonathan Moscone that’s loosely based on his own reckoning with his father’s assassination.  (His father is George Moscone, the major of San Francisco who, along with Harvey Milk, was shot in 1978 and whose legacy has been somewhat overshadowed by Milk’s.)

The only part we planned was the introduction; the rest emerged naturally.  We spent about 15 minutes recording and then two hours cutting and editing.  I know Benjamin did more work on it than I did, but for me the whole process took about as long as, or maybe slightly less long than, it does to write a review. I think we could have been even more efficient had I prepared for the podcast in the way I do for an article: re-reading all my notes and culling usable observations into a single page.  Benjamin said that flubs are par for the course no matter how experienced you are, but it was naïve to think I magically wouldn’t need to do much prep work at all.

Editing was a revealing experience.  When you have to listen to something you’ve said over and over again, to delete all your false starts and overused expressions (I’m evidently a big fan of “right!”), you start to pay attention to your speech almost as though it’s a musical score.  I was surprised by how often I spoke in an artificially deep voice and how long I tended to pause before every single word.  When I did vary my tone, however, the result was much, much more effective than I thought it would be.  It made me wonder if there’s any way I could write my reviews more like the way I speak.  I probably could to some degree, but it’s also possible that it wouldn’t work as well on the page; line readings and lines themselves are two different animals!

Benjamin and I had similar opinions of the show, so the transition from monologue to dialogue brought less debate than different ways of saying the same thing.  We often finished each other’s thoughts; it was like having a relief critic.  I look forward to seeing how the dynamic changes on shows about which we disagree.  (I wimp out in debates, though, so we’ll have to see…)

One aspect I’m concerned about is how much easier it is to be snarky when I talk than it is when I write.  In-print Lily would have deemed much of what I said unprofessional.  My instinct is that different media have different standards, but I don’t know how to articulate exactly how or why.  Is it acceptable to have separate personas for print and radio?  I’m not sure.  But maybe this is another area in which more prep work could help.

All qualms aside, I do have reason to believe this won’t be the only podcast.  I’d love to make it a regular item, maybe once a month.  As I look into which show would work well for the form next, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we could improve.

Ghost Light continues through Feb. 18; info here.

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