People who are open about opinions are knocking down the walls of a ghetto that the anglo community here has always been in danger of making more impervious.
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Have you any idea how difficult it is to get informed, rational people to express an opinion on Montreal English-language theatre (MELT)?
CharPo has squads of people who are ready to write for us. We are a content factory. We have published articles on a huge variety of subjects, all written by people who knew what they were talking about. All written, to my estimation, very well.
But opinions? And—oh! my Lord!—reviews? Forget it. The veterans on our team all write long and hard for us about everything under the sun but reviews? Nope. They will not. And you know what? I don't fucking blame them.
I often paid for the opinions I expressed: death threats, barred from Espace Go, barred from Centaur, called ugly, faggot - name it.
I know crowds of very smart, educated and highly informed people in MELT. The problem is that whenever they express an opinion out loud about damn near anything related to theatre, they get their head kicked in from arsehole to breakfast time. I point to the commentary following Patrick Goddard's perfectly germane piece, 10 Things I Hate About Theatre.
A digression: When I started writing for the Mirror, two decades ago, I decided I would no longer do theatre for money. I had had a good career in theatre and radio, but I wanted to explore this new path and the Mirror offered me the opportunity and, soon after, a decent living. I was a critic. Period. I often paid for the opinions I expressed: death threats, barred from Espace Go, barred from Centaur, called ugly, faggot - name it. I simply did not give a fuck because I did not have to work directly with these people and sometimes felt sorry for those who did as every opinion given full voice amongst them had to be a fawning one. Everyone became Pollyanna. Nothing nice to say should say? Say nothing.
But theatre isn't like that. Theatre is messy. Theatre is loud. Theatre is controversial. Theatre is bitch-and-take. Theatre is feuds and fights and making up and disagreeing and defending beliefs. Let me insert an analogy. If you were in a play and the director never said anything but, "That's nice" you know your opening night would be a dog's breakfast!
We have a solid, creative and often-brilliant community but it's small and (to put it bluntly) often pretty thin-skinned.
We have a solid, creative and often-brilliant community but it's small and (to put it bluntly) pretty thin-skinned. No one, especially amongst the practitioners, may openly say what might be wrong or made better without being treated like they are betraying a cause. However, I firmly believe people who are open about opinions are NOT betraying anything - they are knocking down the walls of a ghetto that the anglo community here has always been in danger of making more solid - more impervious.
An arts community, without loud, opinionated discussion and without a solid army of critics, is no arts community at all. It might be a lovely hothouse bloom, but it will surely wilt. Worse, it won't travel. If we do not submit our theatre to the most rigorous standards, the most vicious attacks, the most bluntly stated opinions then it goes nowhere.
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In passing: Read this article
I have never witnessed a dearth of honest criticism, both for better and worse among MELT members. Heated conversation about the good, bad, and ugly take place over barroom tables, in venue lobbies, through e-mail and on the Facebook posts of those members who present and offer critiques.ReplyDelete
We are not shy. We are hard on each other. I have seen things come to blows. I have seen unfavourable reviews break up relationships, and drive people to change professions. I have seen sincere, honest critique compel and propel theatre makers to do better. I've seen crap reviews do so the same.
What I'm observing MELT do at Charpo is not us showing our thin skins. As is evidenced by the content of the comments, wherein we're ranting about the quality of the *review* rather than that of the *show* -- It's not that we can't take a bad review. It's that we don't take well to pontifical tones. We don't respond well to critiques that go "I HATE IT" or alternatively, "Look at how cleverly I can hate this" for a few reasons:
1) To borrow a phrase, A Critique It Ain't. The tone and language used in the review of Schwartz's and the review of Humans that garnered controversy here in the past are not conducive to productive, civilized conversation. Badly written and ill-thought-out reviews serve nobody. In these 2 cases, they border on masturbation. Write us a review that compels us to discuss how we can do better.
2) We'd call out a play that's all style and no substance, we'll roll our eyes and dismiss as childish any show that is shocking for shock's sake. We behave the same way about the reviews than we do about each other's show. What's that? You don't like the reaction to your review? Simple. Write. Better. Reviews. It's possible that there's a bit of the old Freudian projection going on here.
To show what I mean by thin-skinned, I could not choose a better example than your #1. "The tone and language used in the review of Schwartz's and the review of Humans..." It enrages me that the comments on Goddard's piece rarely took note that it was not our review. Our review, published the night the show opened, was completely and utterly positive (not masturbatory at all, I do believe) and most of the three dozen goddam reviews on this site have been positive...take some time and have a look. Everyone went fucking apeshit over an article that was published after the show closed and - importantly - after it set a record for attendance for that space. MY God! Just how much glutinous hurrah-ing does one show require to feel successful in this city?! And is our Schwartz review going to do damage? No! As has been shrieked from the rooftops, it is damn near sold out for the entire run. Centaur - after they called our reviewer a cunt - wisely moved on and are quoting the Gazette which is what I mean when I say we need an army of reviewers - we need varrying opinions. And as to the writing of the Schwartz piece - clearly that is a matter of opinion. I have been writing and reading reviews for 40 years and I happen to think it says what it needs to say without being tedious. End of. And what you do around bar-rooms has nothing to do with the point I am making. I am talking about open, public discussion.
One more thing. Simple. Do. Good. Shows.
When you do, we'll say it as we always have.