It’s been almost 10 years since Steffen Silvis reviewed a play in Portland. But the former Willamette Week theater critic—known for his high standards and unsparing reviews during his decadelong tenure—still has the ability to elicit strong reactions. Mention his name to someone who was working in Portland theater at the time, and you’re likely to get an earful.
Since leaving WW in the summer of 2005, Silvis spent time living in Prague and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in theater research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On a recent trip to Portland, he stopped by 5 Useless Degrees & a Bottle of Scotch—James Engberg and Eric Kilgore’s weekly no-holds-barred podcast about local theater—for an interview, which aired this morning on XRAY.FM. In it, Silvis says he stands by most of what he wrote, though he acknowledges instances of “intemperate praise and a lot of bile.” But at least he wasn’t working at the Oregonian, he says, where the critics were “stenographers” whose reviews were “empty” and “useless.”
"I was serious in my devotion to theater," Silvis says at one point. "These emotional responses stemmed from the fact that I am very serious about theater and love theater and want theater to be better than it often is."
The full interview, which also touches on Silvis’ toxic relationship with Portland Center Stage (he's not the only one to get into hot water with the largest theater company in town), whether actors should take curtain calls, and if audiences should be allowed to boo lousy productions, is worth a listen. Find it at the 5 Useless Degrees website or on iTunes.