Theatre Experts

16 Aug

Whenever someone says they see a lot of theatre, I’m not sure whether it’s a claim to expertise, or a cry for help.

I do not claim to be an expert.

This is not because of a lack of experience.

I’ve been around.

It’s simply because I hear such a claim with suspicion. (There’s a hidden violence to it, like the Australia Day air force fly by;  it’s official, and ominous.)

I imagine there are fields of human endeavour where the claim to expertise can be fairly made. Perhaps stamp collecting.

I don’t think it can be made in theatre criticism.

I’m not arguing that a theatre critic cannot, and will not, amass something that might pass as knowledge. (And I’d certainly argue they should be trying to!)

What I’m arguing is that to identify yourself as an expert is a political act.

You’re asserting an authority to which you have no right. Your knowledge is so tied up with your values and preferences (aesthetic, philosophical and political) as to be best thought of as personal.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t share that very personal knowledge with others. It is, after all, what the theatre makers are doing in the first place.

But the assertion that your knowledge transcends your personal perspective and somehow speaks for us all is something a psychologist might indeed describe as a cry for help.

The rest of us could be excused for hearing it as a war cry.

Veronica Kaye

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