Truth in the Theatre Foyer

7 Jan

Recently I’ve filed a couple of reports from the International Theatre Critics’ Conference in Anchorage.

And several people have had the temerity to suggest that no such event is actually occurring.

You can imagine my indignation. (In fact, you’ll have to, as I’m not going to waste a moment describing it.)

As incontrovertible proof, I offer the following:

Firstly, this photo

veronica in the snow2

I’m holding the camera. The subject is a pine tree covered with snow. (Annoyingly, Paul Gilchrist, from subtlenuance, has bombed the shot; another example of a playwright getting in the way of the creation of a perfectly good piece of art.)

Secondly, I offer this, the transcript of Paul’s address to the conference:

Truth in the Theatre Foyer

“Recently a friend asked ‘What do you say in the foyer on opening night when the play you’ve just seen is horrible?’

Say it’s wonderful and drink more champagne.

Why does it matter what you think? (The exception is if the play is promoting something evil. In that case, drink even more champagne – then confront the people responsible.)

Otherwise, you have no moral responsibility to be ‘honest’.

In fact, one might question why you feel the need to be ‘honest’ at all.

Annoyingly, I keep suggesting ‘honest’ should be in inverted commas. Why? Because I believe it’s a word used to hide a multitude of sins. Bullies, for example, are always ‘just being honest’.

Before you are ‘honest’ with anyone else, you should be ‘honest’ with yourself.

If you hated the work, ask yourself why. What criteria of yours hasn’t it fulfilled? (You might even remind yourself that it’s unlikely the work was produced in order to satisfy your criteria.) And then, as you reflect, (and this is the serious part) you might ask yourself why you hold those particular criteria? (Perhaps you’ll realize that you have no criteria you can actually articulate. Maybe you respond to a play merely according to whether you want to sleep with the lead actor, or whether your last play was rejected by the literary manager.)

It takes courage to acknowledge that our ‘honesty’ is often just self serving.

I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t have an opinion. And I’m not suggesting you don’t have the right to evaluate the work. (Indeed, if you’re a reviewer, that might be the very reason you were invited.) And, regardless of who you are, if the artist asks you what you think, there’s no need to lie or to hide behind equivocation.

But every evaluation is a political act.

Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting you have to like everything. You can think plays are poorly executed. You can think they’re downright incompetent.

But remember, artists are not offering themselves up for assessment. Or only the worst are.

In a society that rightly prides itself on its pluralism, we should be asking ‘What is this trying to say?’ Or, perhaps more importantly, ‘What is this trying to give?’

(You don’t even need to ask ‘What is this trying to do?’, thinking this is the fairest way to judge the play on its own terms. It’s not asking to be judged at all.)

Let’s not turn art into a competency test. Let’s not have our basic response be ‘Is this good enough?’ Good enough for what?

A work of art is a sharing.  Don’t ask merely ’Was this presented well enough?’ Don’t even ask ‘Is it true?’

Ask ‘In what ways is this true as well?’

Because it is.

Accept the gift, and become richer.” *

Veronica Kaye

*I’d like to thank Paul Gilchrist for this transcript, but not for ruining my photo.

11 Responses to “Truth in the Theatre Foyer”

  1. Gina January 7, 2014 at 12:06 pm #

    Waves at Paul. Great shot! Please bomb Veronica’s aims a bit more, ’cause it’s GOOD!

    So. Did you really go to Anchorage? The snow looks nice resting on twigs et al. Hee hee…

    • veronicakaye January 9, 2014 at 2:57 am #

      Hi Gina,
      And, no, it’s New Zealand.

  2. schoolforbirds January 7, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    Wonderful post and something we all need reminding of from time to time. Thank you!

    • veronicakaye January 9, 2014 at 2:58 am #

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read it.

  3. Joanne Dickie January 8, 2014 at 2:33 am #

    You could be down here in Tassie, but bombs-away I say Paul! 😉

    • veronicakaye January 9, 2014 at 2:56 am #

      It’s actually in New Zealand! And, of course, Paul improves any photo.

  4. lisathatcher January 8, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    Great post Veronica!
    I’ll also take this opportunity to thank you for your blog.
    I write reviews for indie and smaller theatre in Sydney and I often struggle with ‘authenticity’ issues because I tend away from negative critisim.
    It’s not that I am afraid (i’ll criticise a film that squandered enormous resorces on something that is a waste of time by my own judgement) its more that I feel compelled to stretch toward the art work always – learn something from IT rather than teaching it what I know.
    I don’t know if this approach creates worthy criticism – maybe commentary is a better word, but I do know it is not timidity or a fear of conflict that prevents me from panning a play. Unless I feel that the writer or the director actually hates (disrespects) the audience (and I have yet to see that play) I haven’t felt the urge to give negative reviews.
    Thanks for a great article addressing an important topic.
    Sorry for long comment.

    Also – I’d love to hear what you think reviews are ‘For’. If they are not to inform the audience about the value of a ticket, in terms of quality of performance, what are they for?

    • veronicakaye January 9, 2014 at 2:55 am #

      Thank you, Lisa, for taking the time to read the blog and write a comment. I very much admire your writing. It’s definitely some of the most intelligent and insightful on the scene. And I think your vision of learning something from the art work rather than attempting to teach it is beautifully humble and wonderfully wise.
      In case you haven’t stumbled across my blog’s “About” page I’m a creation of Paul Gilchrist of subtlenuance. I, too, am uncertain about calling my writing ‘reviews’. I call them ‘responses’. I generally write about the ideas that plays make me think about. (I don’t go in much for evaluation, though I have absolutely no problem with other writers doing so.) I adopted this approach because the playwright I know best (Paul) writes in order to present particular ideas, in all their complexity and contradiction (which is the reason he uses the dramatic form). In a nutshell, his aim in writing and creating theatre is to give the audience what he believes are beautiful and useful ideas.
      In regards to your question about the purpose of reviews, I’ll attempt a blog entry on that soon.
      Once again, I’d like to thank you for your blog. It’s an invaluable addition to the Sydney theatre scene.

      • lisathatcher January 9, 2014 at 3:05 am #

        Oops – did not read about page (blush)

      • veronicakaye January 9, 2014 at 3:11 am #

        No worries, Lisa – no one does!!!

      • lisathatcher January 9, 2014 at 3:27 am #

        … and thank you for your compliments.
        I’d love to hear your thoughts on criticism. Thinking a lot about that myself at the moment.

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