Theater critic Howie Shapiro takes a good look at his job

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When this year’s Fringe Festival ends, NewsWorks theater blogger Howie Shapiro will have seen 17 performances in less than two weeks.

We recently caught up with Howie between shows to talk about where his passion for criticism comes from and what makes Philadelphia’s theater scene especially noteworthy.

“I can’t go to the theater without wanting to tell somebody about it,” exclaimed Shapiro, also the former theater critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He says he typically attends a show by himself, discusses it with no one, and takes just a few notes on the performance. “But at intermission,” he said, “I often slink around listening to what people have to say.”

Shapiro said, over the years, his tastes and his critical eye have changed. “You can’t have seen ‘Romeo and Juliet’ more than a dozen times without beginning to put your own experience into that play,” he explained.

But he contends that the role of a critic, who can bring a lifetime of experience and theatrical knowledge to a review, remains important to the public. “I go to the theater sometimes seven times a week … so I live in this world of fiction,” Shapiro said. “But I also know a lot about how things are produced to work.”

After decades writing reviews in Philadelphia, Shapiro said the theater scene has finally “exploded” here, due in part to the Fringe Festival.

“The Fringe has taught Philadelphia audiences not to be scared of new, weird things,” Shapiro said. “That new wierd things may have something in them that makes you sit up and take notice, that move you, that give you a new idea about how something happens.”

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