Howie Shapiro

Howie Shapiro
Photo by Cara Anderson


Job: Theater critic, WHYY NewsWorks

SMC degree: Bachelor of Arts, Journalism, 1970

Current city: Wyncote, Pa.

A piece of advice: “The future of arts and entertainment criticism is with highly visible blogs or with established media that operate highly visible blogs.”

Three or four years ago, as Twitter was entering the social media universe, theater critic Howie Shapiro started to broadcast his immediate opinions 140 characters at a time. It was a new way to share his voice with the world and a new piece of technology to master.

“I have always found learning new stuff fun,” he says. “You have to be living in a tunnel to not understand the potential of all that you’re learning.”

And now, as the longtime Philadelphia Inquirer critic (and Temple adjunct journalism professor) prepares for his new job at WHYY’s NewsWorks, he’s learning to edit sound and looks forward to seeing how this new knowledge will impact his broadcasts. This won’t be Shapiro’s first tango in broadcasting. He has been the Broadway critic for The Classical Network, which airs on NPR stations in northern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Print vs. broadcast
He has learned to hone his reviews for radio.

“A print review is not a broadcast review,” Shapiro says. “First of all, the English is a bit different. We don’t write the way we speak.”

His radio reviews are more focused than his print one, too. “They’re not as nuanced,” he says. “You pick your shot.”

For example, Shapiro will hone in on a specific actor, or detail why he thinks the script is flawed. His reviews will likely appear on the WHYY website, too, though he jokingly promises that, “I’m not going to change my mind [about a play] between radio and the web.”

Setting a scene
What won’t be different is Shapiro’s ability to set a scene for someone who wasn’t in the theater, a skill he credits to his early career in travel writing.

“If I don’t somehow get your head into a play or musical or into the theater with me very quickly, then you’re not going to read me,” he says.

Shapiro tries not to be completely dismissive about any play he reviews, which helps maintains his credibility within the theater community.

“It doesn’t do much for my own presentation of my views and it’s unnecessary. I think that if you write or broadcast really sincerely and you’re honest about your feelings and why you develop them, people may be wary of you, but I don’t think they hate you.”

Shapiro says he has wanted to be a journalist since he was in first grade and never had any aspirations to do theater himself.

“I could never do this job,” he says. “I just have to walk in, know my own self, and know that I’m just an audience member with a great big mouth.”