CRITIC WATCH: Seven Deadly Sins of Criticism…

20/02/2010 at 11:41 am 1 comment

Yours Truly and The Deadly Sins of Criticism…

Given that CRITIC WATCH is the highest rating page on this blog and I’ve only made three posts on it in six months, I figured it was time to take a more diligent approach. For 2010, I’ll begin by addressing the question that keeps popping up in my inbox, twitter & comment section – Who Am I? Seems like about once a week I get a direct message from someone or other asking for my name and contact details. God knows why…

But for the record – I write this blog anonymously so I can speak without fear of a backlash against those I might work with. I’d hate to think that a controversial blog I wrote became the reason for a show getting knocked back for recognition or review, simply because I spoke up about some problem within a very small and insular community. I’m not saying everyone I write about falls into the category of person who would use a petty grievance to influence their professional choices, but for those who do – well, you know who you are.

The fact is that people don’t speak up about things because they’re quite literally risking their careers if they do. For example; during the the recent debate about women in theatre, we had this in The Australian, as argued by Kate Gaul:

“women have been empowered to speak out now because Armfield is a lame duck, having signalled his exit at the end of 2010.”

(full article here – NB the quote is from the article, not directly from Kate). I think this demonstrates a reticence for artists to directly criticise the powers that be. Anyway, we’re not talking about her, we’re talking about ME. I choose to use a pseudonym so I can speak freely about the industry I love, and perhaps say things that otherwise might not be said. For if I didn’t say them, how would you know if you’ve been acting like a goose?

Does it make any difference to what I say if you know my name? If you disagree, by all means, speak up, I’ll approve your comments, so long as they aren’t offensive. And if you choose to value my words less because I don’t use my real name, well that’s alright too. But it’s a pretty illogical line if you think about it.

Anyway, my identity is not exactly a tightly guarded secret. Chances are if you’re in Sydney and work in theatre we will have met along the way, or if not you’ve seen me performing in some play, or if not then you know someone who does. There are folks who work at all levels of theatre; writers, directors, producers, stagehands, actors and box-office assistants – who know who I am and that I write this arts blog called 5th Wall. Others who know who I am and have no idea that I write it… But anyone I count as friends (or any halfway competent journalist) shouldn’t find it too hard to figure it out if they really need to know. My real question is; “Why is it so important? Doesn’t the argument remain the same no matter who says it?”

Anyway, I started the log out of frustration with a trend in mediocrity in Australian theatre, criticism and a general lack of engagement with the arts from the mainstream press (apart from token gestures & paid ads that is). Turns out there’s some interest in that, and it’s been a real joy so far. So without giving the game away, I thought I’d break the ice a little by, for once turning the deadly CRITIC WATCH blowtorch upon myself.

Who the hell is this guy anyway?
If you’re asking that, then half my job is done.

I was recently undertaking some in-depth research for a writing project and stumbled across a copy of The Name of The Rose – the brilliant novel by Umberto Eco. I’d never read it, although I had once attempted to when I was about fourteen; the sheer density of the book stopped me on about page seven. It really is a book that every writer should tackle, so finding this tattered, dog-eared, foxed edition left me no option but to take such serendipitous manna and plunge immediately into reading it. The book was actually torn in half! I pored over it, finding inspiration among the complex theology and analogous mystery of the narrative within.

I realised that the written word is of such immeasurable value, and my own fledgling attempts at the art of literature are verging on Sin. At least in the classical sense that Brother William is prone to discuss with his faithful novice Adso…

Let me elaborate, beginning with the big bad daddy of them all:

I got tired of mediocrity, and figured there was no point whining unless I got up and did it myself. The ego is a necessary evil of theatre. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to get myself psyched up for another show by telling myself I’m Just That Good. Only actors can understand the fear that goes into an opening night, the fear of not knowing if you can pull it off, but trusting yourself and doing it anyway because you know you’re good enough… It takes a lot of work to get through it without being a total wanker.

Then you read these critics picking apart an actor’s choices or reducing them to a few descriptive words. It’s pathetic. I figured I could do better, because I’m Just That Good. But I’m guilty of pride, especially in this column when I strip down these critics for their lazy plot summaries, insipid analysis and superficial judgements. For that I’m sorry. And I’ll do my very best to stop it, so long as you do your part to lift your fucking game! oh god I did it again, didn’t I?

I don’t nearly write as much as I would like. And it tears me apart. From now on I am committing to write every single day, and post several times a week, as well as complete my scriptwriting schedule, with regular updates to follow on twitter, of course. Feel free to berate me if I slack off.

I’m terribly jealous of other actors who get to sink their teeth into all the sick roles, other writers who get their work up, jealous of critics who get to see all the shows, jealous of producers who somehow get the media to play ball, I’m jealous of people who get better seats than me! But it’s ok, really. Remember that song? “I don’t want it all, I just need a little bit.”

I can’t help it. I want more arts. More I tell you! Feed Me, Seymour!

Not only that – but you should pay me as well! I’m Just That Good.

Well, apart from the occasional sidelong glance at a certain female director when we’re in the same room; this isn’t too much of a big deal. Although in The Name of The Rose, William of Baskerville talks about how lust can possess us in ways that are not of the flesh. As such my mind lusts for knowledge, that challenging role, or perfect line of dialogue. I yearn for a theatre that throbs against my heart before trying to choke me into submission. Woah- did I just say that out loud?

Feel it? Go on, I dare you. You’ll never win. I’m Just That Good…

I feel much better now getting all that off my chest… thanks. Mea Culpa, all that…

Entry filed under: Criticism FAIL, Inside Theatre REVIEWS, Marketing. Tags: , .


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