The rules of engagement

There’s a rather sad and, at times, hysterical (but not of the amusing kind) fall-out on another blog about town which reviews amateur as well as professional productions in Brisbane.

Briztix, which also sells tickets and provides a very useful theatre resource for Brisbane, published a review of Blue Fish Theatrical Productions‘ Jekyll and Hyde. It is fair to say that it was a savage criticism, and the reaction it caused has raised some issues that are worth consideration.  The comments extend for pages and they make for not very illuminating reading. Of course, blog comment panes are fair game for anyone who has an axe to grind – just check out some of the media sites if you want a sample of the kind of vitriol, lunacy and also quite marvellous insights by readers. On a theatre blog it’s also a logical way for supporters and critics to have their say – part of what the glorious democracy of the web is all about. As to the review in question, the commentary includes partisan name-calling which resorts to picking over the reviewer’s grammar and fitness to review plays as well as more level-headed commentary of the ‘back to your corners now people’ kind. It’s hot under the collar and defensive and, frankly, does no one, and especially not the local theatre community much good. It’s also a good case for not reading reviews until after a show closes.

Blue Fish Theatrical Productions is a new company – they did Spamalot last year – and they are aiming high; good for them. Whether or not they ‘bit off more than they could chew’ – a phrase found in some of the commentary – is not for comment here. Greenroom has not seen the show. In any case, this site does not review amateur productions – that’s our choice. It is not a judgement on the often remarkably fine work being done by amateur companies around S-E Queensland.

I guess the question at the heart of all this is whether or not reviewers should apply the same rules when discussing an amateur production as they do when taking on a professional work. What do you think?

And when does an amateur company cross the very flexible line into independent territory? Some time ago on my personal blog I mulled over what was meant by independent and professional when it comes to Queensland’s theatre. What is clear is that labels are a problem, and we don’t like them. Do they actually mean much any more? From the review postings mentioned above it seems they do.

What’s very clear, whether or not we reject labelling, is that when it comes to the recognition and reviewing of the broad range of work produced by the theatre sector in Brisbane, it’s time to agree on some ground rules.

The rules of engagement … what are they? Have your say below.

On Criticism (4 June, 2010)

On criticism …

I’ve been reading a lot lately about professional theatre criticism.  The articles have been by critics themselves, artists who are the subject of said critics’ writings, and audience members. I’ve been greatly moved by a couple of pieces, one from an obituary on the respected and, from what you read, greatly liked API drama critic Michael Kuchwara who died recently, aged 63 after a professional lifetime of play reviewing.  The other was from Mark Mordue, this year’s winner of Australia’s Pascall Prize for critical writing.

It’s an understatement to say that critics aren’t particularly well regarded by those they criticise; they never have been since their inception 200 or so years ago.  Nowadays, however, it’s often for a reason you might not at first appreciate.

Recently I was in conversation with several professional theatre colleagues who were more upset by the lack of  ‘good reviewers’ than by the ignorance, dismissal, or the brickbats that come their way.  As one said to me, ‘As much as I don’t like a bad notice, if it’s from a reviewer I respect, it’s not half as bad as when it’s one from someone who doesn’t have a clue about the theatre, or who uses his or her position to show off.’  Respecting the enemy is perfectly possible, of course, and if we must think of critics in this way, then let them be the best enemies around.

One of Kuchwara’s colleagues said this about him

He was candid about stunners and stinkers he saw, but never gushy or mean. And his affection for the theater and for audiences infused every review.

He could also write well, and he knew his theatre. I like very much the phrase about being candid but never gushy or mean. Coming hot on the heels of that absolute must – knowing how theatre works – these other qualities make up a ‘good reviewer,’ are what garner respect from arts colleagues, and are finally, what constitute the ‘good enemy.’ Continue reading On criticism …

Poll Results: overall, how do you rate the quality of play-reviewing in your locale?

Not a day goes by without someone, somewhere grinding their axe on a theatre production.  This can be in print or more recently, in online criticism. Equally, theatre workers diss the critics, especially when their production has been less than favourably treated.

The issue of the quality of play reviewing is of sufficient interest we would have thought, to garner some commentary.  However, this poll on the quality of theatre criticism wasn’t well responded to in terms of numbers, and we wonder whether or not there is a general malaise or simple disinterest (by this small – but niche – readership at least) about the issue.  It also opens up another poll which we’ll release soon; this one on what makes for a good piece of theatre criticism.  But to the results of this poll …

Clearly the quality of play reviewing varies here in Australia and elsewhere, and the results show this; perhaps this wasn’t a good option to put – seems far too obvious.  No respondent thought the overall standard to be ‘Excellent,’ but a quarter of all respondents thought the quality of play reviewing in their locale to be  ‘Awful.’

One comment: Pandering, uncritical and written as if the “critic” is looking for friends

Here are the results