Some of us were born to voice our opinions. Before I nabbed this sweet gig, I’d tout mine from my apartment roof. The neighbors still wax nostalgic about my air horn. In our age of blogging this and internet that and tumbleruponlinkedfaceporntube the other thing, everyone from your mother to that guy without pants who hangs out at the Brwn Mawr Redline stop wants you to read a super important blog post about running out of napkins. Still, some bloggers rise to the top, and not because they’re louder or more self-promotional, but by virtue of that antiquated attribute: talent.
Take Robert Bullen, or as he’s better known, Chicago Theatre Addict. Through aptitude, research and determination, Bullen turned a humble online journal into an informed theatre blog and himself into a significant voice in local theatrical criticism.
Our Town Casual blogger to critic. Explain.
Robert Bullen When I moved to Chicago in 2002, I blogged as a way to capture my thoughts so I'd have a record of what I'd done and seen. I probably had about seven devoted readers. Really, I never intended for an audience to read anything I wrote. About two years ago, Edge Chicago [was] looking for a Chicago-based theatre reviewer. I pulled together a sampling of theatre blog posts, got the gig and suddenly [saw] a lot of shows with tight review deadlines. I reviewed about thirty-five over a nine-month period. Then, I [thought] why not do this on my own? That's how Chicago Theatre Addict was born. Getting my name on press lists was a bit of a challenge; a lot of people were like, “who the hell is this guy?” I'm just a big fan of Chicago theatre.
OT When did you first grasp theatre’s power?
RB A production of "Godspell" at a tiny theatre where I grew up in Alpena, Michigan. I couldn't have been older than eight. I remember a woman playing a prostitute sat on my dad's lap in the opening number. That blew my mind; theatre was alive, real and interactive.
OT What’s your aim when reviewing?
RB I [attend] with a clear, unbiased mind and try to enjoy myself. When I write about a show, I try to give enough information so the reader not only understands whether I liked it or not, but why. Then they can form their own opinions.
OT Ever feel guilty?
RB One should never feel guilty about their opinion.
OT What’s your favorite Chicago play this year?
RB I was blown away by Belarus Free Theatre's "Being Harold Pinter. Daring and completely engrossing. Here are people literally risking it all for their art; you had to sit up and take notice. In terms of a Chicago-produced production, I liked Sideshow Theatre's "Heddatron." While the play had some issues, the production was amazing. For lighter fare, Drury Lane did a first-rate production of "Spamalot,” the most fun I've had in the theatre this year -- so far!
OT Top three Chicago theatres. Go.
RB There are the powerhouses like Goodman and Steppenwolf that have the means [to] consistently produce quality plays, but I admire companies that take risks, either producing new works or reexamining well-known pieces in a unique, bold way. The result can either be thrilling or disappointing, but at least it's not safe. Companies that I've seen take risks consistently include The New Colony, The Hypocrites and Red Tape.
OT And all time favorite musicals?
RB Musicals are totally my bag. Top three [will] always be "Gypsy," "Sweeney Todd" and "A Little Night Music." Unsurprising choices, but I could listen to their scores nonstop and their books are just as brilliant.
OT Have all the quality musicals been written?
RB In the age of "jukebox musicals" and commercial theater, one could argue that the art of musical theatre is dead. But that's just not true. Recently, Writers' Theatre produced "A Minister's Wife," a gorgeous piece. Luckily that's being produced in New York right now at Lincoln Center so it's getting some rightfully earned exposure. Chicago's storefront scene is developing some great stuff, for example, The New Colony produced a sassy little show called "Tupperware: An American Musical Fable," which was really well conceived. There are also many young musical theatre writers out there, but they need support to help cultivate their craft and realize their work. I do think those support systems are drying up, and that's scary.
OT What do you think of Glee?
RB My boyfriend randomly started watching [it] via Netflix this weekend, and, wouldn't you know it, we watched the entire first season in two days. This after a year of avoiding anything to do with "Glee." I think it's great that the show is giving exposure to Broadway personalities and making show tunes cool. And I adore Jane Lynch. But I just can't get past those damned auto-tuned voices and ridiculous arrangements, and as the episodes wore on, it seemed character development and logical storytelling were secondary. Also: "Don't Rain on My Parade" is not a ballad, Rachel.
OT You’ve benefited from living in the internet age. Is there any downside to laypeople becoming de facto professionals?
RB I write for a living, but I fully admit I'm not a professional critic. However, I treat my blog with professionalism. I arrange my schedule to see as many shows as possible, turn reviews around in a timely way by carving out a few hours each morning to write and keep up-to-date with theatre news. I work hard and take what I do seriously, on top of a full time job. If people read my stuff and like what I have to share and keep coming back, that's great. If not, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing.
A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by followingOur Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez