Critics are not the enemy
By Gaëtan L. Charlebois
When CharPo editor-in-chief, Estelle Rosen, and I were preparing to work together as cohosts of the revamped podcast This Is The CPC, we batted back and forth formats and I mentioned that it would be nice to encourage email and recorded responses to what we discussed from our listeners.
I said, joking that it would get responses, "We should start by reading private emails we receive from theatre people talking about other theatre people." Estelle and I laughed our heads off because we've been around theatre long enough to have received opinions like that. I suggested a script, ""This show is playing in Montreal and it looks good but (insert actor's name here) told me in an email that the lead actress is a stupid bitch.'" Or, "'There's some hot buzz about this new work, but (insert director's name here) said the playwright is a drunk and can't handle the rewrites.'" The fun continued in real life with an actor we both know changing a Facebook profile picture to one so revealing and bizarre that Estelle and I were both speculating (and I with other friends) whether surgery was involved. (People! You can be whimsical with your FB pic, but keep it in your clothes fercrissakes!)
There is the good old-fashioned anonymous email.
The fact is, in theatre we like gossip. I LOVE gossip.
But I have seen other permutations of good old-fashioned theatre gossip that is a little more pernicious. And let me add: it never comes from fellow critics. (Let me tell you, I have pumped critical colleagues for "the goods" and almost never get them.)
There is the good old-fashioned anonymous email. The worst of these was when I worked at the Mirror and I had made the error of saying an actor was one of the finest in the city - I got an email detailing all of the actor's sins: her ambition, her viciousness, her double-dealing, her sexual dalliances. I was stunned. But it was not the only time that I have received "information" from theatre people about other theatre people that was meant to temper my opinion of their work on stage. It never does. What is on the stage is all I care about. (Just as I hope no one cares about my sordid private life when I write a review or article.)
Upshot: shows are not getting coverage.
I know how hard theatre life is. I know how, to survive, we form cliques. I have been told how one of the cliques I was in as a director made life miserable for others. Estelle and I have also noticed there are three or four distinct cliques in Montreal theatre (French and English) and a few others I've identified across the country and they are waging a cold war of bitchy gossip. Worse, they are also programming their opening nights to clash and to split the focus of critics and theatre journalists. Upshot: shows are not getting coverage.
Yes the Quebec Drama Federation exists and so does The Toronto Alliance of Performing Artists and many other arts service organizations but despite the best of intentions on their parts, coordinating opening nights seems like herding cats.
People have told me it's a problem of artists being all talk no action...
So the bitch-fest continues and prevents small companies from building and sharing spaces together, it forces a competition that is counter-productive and it gives journalists across the country the impression that artists can't get their act together. (I've read Tweets in the last month from journos in Toronto and Edmonton about how there were too damn many openings in a week.)
People have told me it's a problem of artists being all talk no action when it comes to organizing or causes, others have said that putting up a show is already so difficult that details like opening nights clashing is just too much. I am worried it's worse: that theatre people do not speak and organize because they do not speak period - because of feuds, held grudges and personalities.
Please, prove me wrong.
(But continue to share the juicy stuff...)