between ideas and understanding

I write about theatre. Theory, practise, history, culture, and the political structure in which we create. I don’t review plays, I use them as a lever to crack open some of these ideas. This is what I see as the barrier for audiences in criticism. Context.

There are five walls for a theatre artist to scale if they want to reach an audience.

The first wall to get over is the will to do it, no matter how stupid or ambitious that idea might seem – if we cannot maintain the determination to make it happen, no-one will hear you scream.

The second wall is translating the work from a notion into a creative rationale, so it takes on a life beyond seeming like a good idea at the time – and into something that breathes in its own reason for being. When this happens, the artist no longer needs to work as hard to try and inflate the work, as it draws in it’s own air. Instead the artist must work at keeping the shape and body of the thing as it kicks into a life of its own.

The third wall is to convince another artist, producer or theatre to help put it on. Depends on who you know, but this is either much easier or much tougher than you might think!

In theatre, they say the fourth wall is the invisible boundary between actors and audience. But it goes beyond the simple trick of the hat-tip-wink to let your public in on the fact that you know they’re watching. Even in the purest of naturalism we must be aware of the audience and their needs, their expectations, their moods. Even if we don’t let on, we must trangress the wall to truly set an audience in the right frame of mind for the work.

The fifth wall is the wall between all the formality of theatre convention and production, such that we cannot see any of it, and simply know what the artist is expressing, know what lies behind the dialogue, behind the structure, the individual movements of the actors. It becomes intuitive, telepathic, so that an actor can discern between a pin-drop silence and the quiet of boredom; without breaking character, they can own a piece of expression and it does not reduce the content of the play to mere meaning, but opens up a myriad of ideas and inspirations, it both defies and defines context. It’s that moment in the audience when you simply know what it is you are watching, that moment when the performer knows they are connected to a room full of people by the mystery of thoughts and dreams. This is the wall between that spark of an idea that transcends words, and the ability to share it.

This blog is about opening up the conversation within the arts, to bring a different approach to arts journalism – with a focus on theatre and film – the purpose is to open up the channels of understanding how art is in fact it’s own conversation. The Fifth Wall: between ideas and understanding.

Criticism should break down the wall between artistic expression of ideas & the audience’s understanding of those ideas. As such I hope to join the growing legion of people intent on raising the bar for theatre criticism with this blog.

There are some basic principles to which I will hold:

Don’t Review – Respond
These days I read theatre reviews and they’re like book reports, lazy, descriptive and lacking in any great insight. You people are spoon fed on free tickets and booze and write what – 1200 words a week tops? Make it count.

Take Yourself Waaaaaaay Too Seriously
Yeah, critics. You know who you are. You talk at parties like you’re Bernard fuck’n Shaw, but do you really know the characteristics of a Brechtian vs Realistic interpretation of Chekov?

As such the tongue-in-cheek column ‘CriticWatch’ is a conceit to name and shame those of you who brazenly, publicly, completely miss the point.

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shawjonathan  |  30/11/2009 at 8:24 pm

    I read this after coming home from the launch of A Raffish Experiment, a collection of Rex Cramphorn’s writing. I think you’d enjoy his reviews, which are anything butlazy descriptive and lacking in insight.

    • 2. anvildrops  |  01/12/2009 at 12:33 pm

      Thanks Jonathon, great to hear from you!

      I have indeed read some of Rex’s reviews. My disdain is generally reserved for those in Australian Newspapers 🙂

      thanks again

  • 3. Ted Waldron  |  04/01/2010 at 10:43 pm

    but do you really know the letters that make up the spelling of “Chekov”?

    • 4. anvildrops  |  05/01/2010 at 7:11 pm

      unfortunately my Russian is terrible, so i must resort to crude anglicised versions of words i cannot spell.

      would you be kind enough to enlighten us?

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