Writing Performance Assignment #2: Theater Review Essay

Essay #2a 4-6 page review essay of a theater performance (either seen live at Queens College or on video; if the latter e.g. Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror)


Continuing to practice your skills of description and argument, and your your new skill of paraphrase, please craft a review that takes a decisive stance about the power and worth of this performance, and uses a lede and structure that supports that stance.  Remember that in evaluating worth you will need to be explicit about the criteria you use to determine value – it is not enough just to say something is “good” and expect us to agree with you.


The intelligent general readers of publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine (no geographical bias here!) who are likely to be interested in this artist’s work but have not seen the performance in question.

Versions submitted

Two, first draft and final, with peer review after first draft.  Instructor may, as a surprise revelation after first draft, ask the students to edit the first draft down to only 5 paragraphs for the final version (or define the reduction by word count instead of paragraph), making the point that editing to do more with less is a desirable skill to cultivate.  Instructor may also provide an essay about the work by the artist (eg Anna Deveare Smith) after the first draft, encouraging the students to incorporate an acknowledgment of Smith’s intentions for the performance into their final review.

Learning Goals

  • Continuing to build argument from description-as-evidence
  • Practicing the new skill of paraphrase
  • Crafting a lede sentence which draws in the reader and supports an argument
  • Eschewing chronological structure and finding the structure to fit the argument
  • Editing for concision (in the second draft)

Pre-draft assignments

  • In-class exercise on descriptive writing and paraphrase, in response to a 5 min live guest monologue
  • In-class exercise on “lede” sentence, using sample professional reviews
  • In-class exercise on anticipating counterarguments
  • Blog assignment on “my strongest reaction to this piece.”
  • Blog assignment on Novick’s “The Critical Instinct”

Source materials

  • Contemporary professional reviews sourced in the recent weeks of New York Times, The Village Voice, The New Yorker and New York Magazine.
  • Novick, Julius.  “The Critical Instinct.”  In The American Theatre Reader:  Essays and Conversations from American Theatre Magazine. New York:  Theatre Communcations Group, 2009.
  • Rich, Frank.  Hot Seat:  Theatre Criticism for the New York Times, 1980-1993. New York:  Random House, 1998.
  • Smith, Anna Deavere.  “Introduction.”  Fires in the Mirror [published script], New York:  Anchor Books, 1993.
  • Smith, Anna Deavere.  Fires in the Mirror .


Posted in Critique a text to support an arguable thesis

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