Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What new dialogue can we set up between people who write about theatre and people who make it?

Convener: maddy costa

Participants: forgot to take names, but group included jake orr, roland from theatre delicatessen, rajni shah, theron schmidt, Jamie wood, tom frankland, matt trueman, simon bowes

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Do we want to maintain a distance between the people who write about theatre and the people who make it? Some felt this distance essential: writers shouldn’t be allowed into the rehearsal process, a critic would feel compromised by knowing too much about what the maker intended, and should be coming to the show with fresh eyes. Others felt frustrated by the feeling that it’s not possible to have a relationship with critics, that this barrier between the two groups should be dismantled.

One way of dismantling it: by allowing theatre writers in to the rehearsal process. I’ve been doing this with Chris Goode, Jake Orr is about to do this with a company at Oval House, Theatre Delicatessen have invited a writer in to their Henry V. Jake Orr approached Oval House with this proposal because he felt frustrated by the limitations of criticism, and also by the way artists talk about each other’s work, they are reluctant to critique.

The maker has to trust that the relationship would be beneficial to them in some way. Which raises the question: what do we write? A view on the process, which might elucidate something to the maker they perhaps hadn’t realized about themselves. A document useful to other theatre makers – after all, we all of us read more about theatre than we actually get to see. A record of how the show was made that might help audiences understand what they’ve seen, especially with experimental work. Extend the life of the work beyond the live event. We don’t know what the value of what we’ve written might be in the future.

What difference might it make to say to writers: “the rehearsal room door is open to you”?

When embedded in rehearsals, should a critic be a silent, recording presence? Should they discuss the piece with the maker? Is there a potential model in critic as dramaturg? How do we stop the critic being simply a diarist, or a kind of puppet for the maker?

Another possible dialogue: makers actually talking to critics after a review has been published, to understand better how the critic came to their view of the show. This would be awkward but potential fruitful. Not least for the critic: it might improve their watching!

Makers want more from critics than just the show was good/bad: they want thoughtful engagement – and particularly appreciate a critic’s honesty as to their own confusion. Why does a critic have to write from a point of certainty? Why can’t they be as vulnerable as the makers? When you haven’t got anything useful to say, just don’t say anything.

Makers would like a space to write in themselves – the model is Exeunt, which publishes long essays by makers, and theatre journals.

Similarly, I and Jake Orr are in agreement in feeling that most theatre blogging follows the established mainstream press model – we’re interested in forming a new language. Everyone excited by the idea that theatre writing/criticism could experiment with form, the way the work we watch does. Investigate the sculptural possibilities of writing.

Could there be a new theatre website where these new forms are attempted, where makers and critics/writers explore ideas side-by-side? Does it need to be sustainable? Arts council funding? Makers can offer writers total artistic freedom rather than financial remuneration.

Models we like: Chris Goode’s Thompson’s blog – the artist unmediated. John Lahr’s in-depth profiles, where he spends a month immersed in the life and work of an artist, so he writes about their art from as informed as possible a position. Any theatre writing that communicates beyond the single-show review.

One useful thing theatre writers could do, especially with work that is contingent on individual audiences/changes radically from night to night, is see the same work over a number of nights and contemplate what the differences mean in a wider sense.

There might also be opportunities for writers in engaging with festival work, and long-term multi-year artistic projects.

A discussion that raised more questions than answers, but one excellent concrete result: I realized that Jake Orr and I have been thinking across very similar lines, and instead of travelling those paths separately, we can now think about ways of joining forces and creating the new theatre writing together.

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