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The Rock Critic’s Journey

“The first Mistake of Art is to assume that it’s serious” – Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs was arguably America’s greatest rock critic and the first missionary of the movement he dubbed “punk.” His faith was shattered as the rebel ethos of the 1970s gave way to the corporate pop of the ’80s. Artists Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen saw in this gonzo journalist’s own words a solo play that sheds light on his groundbreaking, pioneering voice in music.

Blank and Jensen began the journey of How to be a Rock Critic two years ago at Center Theatre Group as a commissioned workshop at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. With initiative and hard work, the pair crafted the script into a powerhouse performance piece. The workshop sold out and added a second performance. This impressive feat led it to appear at some of Southern California’s most influential theatres. CTG and South Coast Repertory have shepherded the story, and given these two artists the means to turn a great idea into a fantastic production.

"The moment I heard Jessica and Erik talk about How to Be a Rock Critic in a cafe in NYC on a wintry January morning in 2013, I thought, 'this is really compelling.'  A nerdy guy from [Southern California] becomes this mega rock critic and coins the word ‘punk’ and is portrayed by Erik Jensen — what's there not to like?  And to present it in a music industry town was icing on the cake." – Diane Rodriguez, Associate Artistic Director

While rising to great heights as a critic, Bangs struggled with addiction and what he saw as the rapidly decaying promise of rock music. For Jensen and Blank, these qualities are what made him an interesting and engaging subject.

"[Bangs] was dealing with himself as a flawed, messy human being. He had a ragged, ruthless honesty with himself that's important for us to get across in the play." –Blank, in Los Angeles Times

Erik Jensen performs in a 2013 reading of How to Be a Rock Critic. Photo by Craig Schwartz.CTG awarded How to Be a Rock Critic a completion commission to allow Jensen and Blank to fully develop the show. This program, made possible by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, allows artists to finish a work already in development and perform as it progresses. The success of this production is tied not only to the quality of the work, but the collaborative spirit which it and CTG inspired.

How to Be a Rock Critic is part of DouglasPlus, an eclectic mix of theatre ranging from fully staged events to workshops and readings that explore new theatrical possibilities. Attend this and other DouglasPlus events to experience new exciting approaches to theatre.

How to Be a Rock Critic runs at the Kirk Douglas Theatre June 17 – 28, 2015

How to Be a Rock Critic is a CTG completion commission, which is given to collective creators who have developed the piece elsewhere but desire further support to complete the work. Completion commissions are made possible by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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