OK. Upfront I am going to declare that I am a pretty terrible note taker. Always have been. Uni? Terrible. Look at those notes and you’ll find pictures and coffee smudges and lines of dialogue for potential new plays. And I think it’s because I am often distracted by new ideas that crowd like excited seagulls as soon as someone says anything. And also because I start thinking about more questions and answers… and unfortunately – due to the clumsy virtue of having my computer on my lap at most times, the default position of scribe fell on my fingers… and all I can say is sorry… I wish I was a stenographer.

This is probably one of the most fascinating topics I have anticipated. I occupy a weird place in the world of theatre – maker and reviewer. And I am utterly sypathetic to both – I know how completely impossible it all is to say all that needs to be said in a review.

I also know that in such discussions as this it is nearly impossible to address all that needs to be addressed as it is an untapped and unaddressed topic.

For me there are a few things I am just going to air out of the blue just so you know what it’s like to be on the reviewing side of things.

1. I get invited to lots of things – between 5 and 20 arts events, book launches, art galleries, shows, readings etc a day. The demand is sometimes enough for me to never be at home. Infact the 3-6 nights a week I am seeing work is pretty tough. (especially since I don’t get an income from responding to work)
2. Seeing a show and committing to writing to it takes up between 3 and 5 hours per show. (I write at a rate of 600 words an hour.
3. I don’t have an editor or agent. No one monitors or protects my writing or directs my agenda. As such it is sometimes hard to have consistency. Also I rarely re-read what i have written once I’ve written it.
4. I get abused publicly (online and in real life) and privately (email and facebook) for the things I write or the opinions I have.
5. I am conscious that unless I write a favourable review I may not be invited to that company again – or quoted on their website… I am also conscious that if I write an insincere review, or something that I don’t believe in I will spontaneously combust.
6. Everytime I say something I feel more vulnerable than powerful… and I think feeling vulnerable enables me to keep the role of my responses in perspective.
7. Reviews I read by some critics about the shows we see ARE nothing like their post-show foyer opinion. I am sometimes very alone in my opinion.
8. I think about what it would mean to my practice and to the sydney indy scene if I was NOT to respond online to work any more.
9. I am frustrated by the idea that marketing departments want me to write for them – on their schedule. Sometimes I need more time to think about work. Some times I need more time to write about the work.

I guess – i don’t see myself as only a reviewer – I see myself as an artist that writes about work. I give written responses to theatre. I am not a journalist in the formal sense. I just happen to write about how I think/feel/respond to work.

Augusta’s terrible Open Space Group discussion Notes:

“Terrifyingly frank discussion between artists and critics“, instigated by Cameron Woodhead
“Given the ABC has just dropped its in house arts coverage, how do we nourish and sustain critical connections?”
instigated by Alison Croggon

CW -Many artists don’t feel like they can talk to critics without it being taken out on them at a later date. So here is an opportunity for us to talk to each other.

With the development of online technologies there should be more of a real discourse around theatre and criticism.

AC: With Newspapers cutting arts pages and ABC cutting arts coverage – as a whole we can start thinking about criticism a bit differently. Hobart is conscious of a lack of critical dialogue and have created programs to encourage and dvelopcriticsm. Even thought there is a lot of pressure on the artists

THE FLOOR – Profile of the critic counts – and there is a difference between print vs online criticism. Internal criticism within the artists. The criticsm of theatre for children is not fully developed.

THE FLOOR – Problem with print media – that people with not the right expertise to write about the shows – eg the Business editor reviewing a fringe show in Melbourne.

THE FLOOR– Outside Syd and Melb some artists have a very limited exposure to criticsm. Especially if the paper is only allowing 200 words on a show. And the hatred of the stars system..

CW – We hate the star system.

THE FLOOR – What is criticism in the contemporary scene. The model of the artist critic is an interesting one. Arts funding for criticism?

THE FLOOR – More long form criticsm required. The possibility of being published in alternative places.

THE FLOOR – The suggestion that critics need to be able to read theatre work and develop their criticsm.

THE FLOOR- Could PWA help this? To develop writing about and reading of New Australian work.

Sam Strong – Inviting critics into previews and rehearsals instead of just awkward coversations in the foyer post show.

THE FLOOR – acknowledges an important relationship between the critic and artist development.

CW -How can we increase public awareness amongst artists about what we do, how we view and write about work?

AC – the greatest thing that concerns me – is the sustainability- how an we sustain the bloggers and onliners to keep going as often it is something that is maintained by other sources of income. The online income sources can be pathetic amounts of money and not worth bothering with.

Me – The Chinese model of reviewing – that if you want a review you pay the reviewer $100 – but then there are issues about integrity and manipulation.

THE FLOOR – You could pay a company $200 to write a bad review of another company.

Sam Strong – Sometimes there is an overlap between editorial and the review – so sometimes the person who is sent to review has an early engagement with the work to begin with.

THE FLOOR -What is the literature boards role in funding form the OZCO?

Jane Howard – Tried to apply for the JUMP program as a critic, as a means of having a mentor to develop her career and was flatly refused by OZCO because being a critic is not creative enough.

Stephen Armstrong: It’s an (Australia) council issue. If there is a blog site – that has many hits… why can you not turn that into a business? Would that be an opportunity for the bloggers/critics to buying time to put more into the site. It is an archive. TN is the first place SC to go to for info on companies or projects.

THE FLOOR – Funding models to support quality long form reviews– should the theatre companies pay for the review?

What isn’t working?

THE FLOOR – We should ask the question -What makes good criticism? And a definition offered once was that even if the critic hates the show, you still want to see it.

CW -It’s not that you hate the show – it’s why.

THE FLOOR – DO all critics have to attend on opening night?

AC – When you work for newspapers yes.

(Ting ting went the bell and we all moved onto our next session)