How to Be a Drama Critic in Five Easy Steps

1. Start out as an overly solemn and often pretentious child with a more-than-passing interest in Gilbert and Sullivan. Worry your parents with constant criticisms of their clothing, their taste in furnishings, and their favorite television shows. Ask Santa for an IBM Selectric and a velvet-lined cape. Brood. Be sent to the principal for referring to your third-grade teacher as "overzealous in her interpretation of an educator." Cast withering glances. When asked what you want to be when you grow up, reply, "Alexander Woollcott."

2. Develop a superior attitude. Declaim. Have the last word. Learn to look bored, even when you're having a good time. Refer to your sister as "Sarah Bernhardt" and your mother as "Cornelia Otis Skinner." Memorize all of George Sanders' lines from All About Eve. Claim to know Jerome Kern and to have seen the original Broadway production of Pippin. Roll your eyes. Sneak out of bed to watch the Late Show, scribbling notes about blocking and costume design. Learn to wear an ascot.

3. Join the staff of your high school newspaper. Be sent to the principal for your review of the school drama department's production of Brigadoon, which you headlined "Brink of Doom" and which included the sentence "The scenery was nice but the actors got in front of it." Begin sleeping with other men, because you plan to be a theater critic one day and there's no such thing as a heterosexual theater critic. Embrace irony. Develop a talent for seeing in the dark and/or the ability to write without looking at your notepad. See Cats and live to regret it. Develop a thick skin.

4. Be mistaken for a drama critic in the lobby of a theater by the managing editor of the local weekly. Accept her offer of a job. Write several thousand reviews that employ the words "execrable" and "hopeless." Repeatedly insist in print that a show was so dreadful that it caused you to have to lie down with a cold compress on your head. Acquire a stalker -- preferably a musical theater actor about whom you once wrote, "He sings like a hinge!" or a director whose production of Amadeus you compared to a Build Your Own Catastrophe kit. Learn to arch an eyebrow and smile acidly when, in response to the declaration "I'm a theater critic," most people reply, "So you write about movies?" Laugh uproariously when people suggest that you secretly want to be an actor. Bask.

5. On your deathbed, criticize the nurse's shoes and the unflattering lighting. Roll your eyes at the priest performing your last rites, and accuse him of "indicating." Expire knowing that your words will live on, and that you have pleased an entire city full of actors simply by dying.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela