And I shall continue the report of the NSW Writers’ Centre’s Playwrights Festival 2012…

Reviewers V The Reviewed
An analysis of the art of reviewing plays. Do audiences really care
or is it just the artists reading? And what about the growing trend of
reviewing by “blog”? Is it a legitimate way of analysing a play or just
another method of getting the boot in? Either way, if they review
us – do we have the right to review them? With reviewers John
McCallum (The Australian), Diana Simmonds (Stage Noise),
Kevin Jackson and Augusta Supple, and the reviewed Van Badham,
Kate Mulvany, Lachlan Philpott and Katherine Thomson.

A big panel. BIG. Eight people. BIG panel full of BIG personalities and a BIG subject. it made me feel a little uncomfortable – mainly because I saw two topics to be broached within the one subject heading – both which could put me under attack and in the company of some of my heroes. This could get really embarrassing. Thos two topics were:
One: The notion that there is a battle where reviewers are pitted AGAINST artists
Two: The question of whether blogs are legitimate forms of “review.”

Luckily, I am an optimist who believes in and delights in the ancient etiquette of the theatre – and I always expect the best behaviour from everyone I interact with. And of course this was to be moderated by Festival Curator, Kate Mulvany…

So before I begin I want to share a few statements with you.
I use the personal pronoun ALL THE TIME.
I am subjective in my writing.
I don’t believe that I am ultimately right all the time.
I believe in multiplicity of voices and perspectives.
I declare my tastes and my failures.
I write in my spare time.
I am not paid for my responses
I write reponses – they are personal and honest.
I believe in compassionate dialogue.
I write to and for artists, I doubt anyone outside the business reads this stuff.
I know my responses are written too quickly and are full of typos.
I am always honoured to be invited
I pay attention.
I never or rarely re-read what I have written.
I am not paid to write reviews.
I refer to my reviews as responses.
I try to write like no one is reading me.
I know there are people are reading me – I have stats.
I am both reviewer and artist.
I don’t believe that reviews are ultimate indications of quality or worth.
Similarly, I don’t believe in awards (for theatre or reviewing)
I have no interest in pulling down people – artist or reviewers – but I will often ask them to step up.
I feel no need to fight for my ideas, I’m here and I’m not going away.
but I do feel I need to fight for those who are not represented (on stage or in print)
I believe that we are all in the field of creating and it comes out of personal vision
I believe in independence.
I believe that reviewers and artists exist in the same community.
I am not afraid of being judged. I am afraid of apathy.
There was only one person on that panel whom I have not had personal interactions with and that was only because she was too swamped in fans when I saw her speak at NIDA.
I desire diversity.
I encourage conversation when ever I can.
I believe in process.
I believe in reporting and documenting theatre
I believe in theatre’s ability to be exhilarating and transformative.
I believe that we must not “punish the weak” – as weakness is enough of its own burden.
I sometimes feel scared and doubtful of what I am doing, but never why I am doing it.
I love playwrights.
I don’t think making theatre is a priviledge – I think watching it is.
I feel that all artists deserve the best possible scenario in which to make work.
I think the loudest message can come from a soft voice.
I think there is strength in compassion.
I care. A lot.

It was a powerful discussion. One which lingered too long on the idea of writing reviews in the personal pro-noun as a big “no no” in criticism.

The best comments came from Katherine Thomson with an anecdote about James Waites flying to a regional theatre to review a play of hers for the National Times. And an acknowledgement that arts coverage in newpapers is dwindling.

The other comment that stuck with me came from Gandalf (I mean, er… John McCallum) who, when the topic of “Shit on your Play” came up – responded to my comment that “for me tone is important -especially in the way in which a message is communicated” -suggested that it’s not just tone – but quality of analysis. And he’s right. And I could sight a recent gush about Bevloir’s recent production of Babyteeth which is light on analysis and heavy on personal gushy tone. So I take his point.

I must admit though that the main message I wanted to leave with people and for people is that I believe in care: taking care, writing with care, speaking the care. I also believe in caring enough to be defiant, or strong. Care enough to let other people speak and have their ideas. Care enough about art and the people who make it and write about it to say
“I completely disagree with you, but I’m really glad you are here and that you care”