On Being A Young Critic

by Jane

Last night after An Enemy Of The People (review has been submitted, I will post when published), during post show drinks at the venue, I talked to lots of great people who I knew well, who I had once known, who I knew a little, or who I’d only just meet (or, who I had talked to on twitter, and I introduced my self as “I’m No Plain on twitter…” awkward).   One of these discussions, which got rather heated and passionate was talking to a great guy, Kym (falling into the “knew a little” category) about reviewing, and specifically on why I review, why I feel like reviewing is important, and what gives me the right, as someone who is just 21, to think I have the background to truly give criticism.

This debate lead to me and Sophie tagging along with cast to the Exeter for more drinks and more discussions, and the night wrapped up at around 3am, after some of the most stimulating discussions I have had in a long time, meeting some wonderful new people, and reconnecting with someone whom I went to high school with.

But back to the debate: Kym asked why I, as someone so young, feel that I have enough experience to be able to give my thoughts on a play.  Most of the reviewers at the play on Wednesday night were significantly older than me, as are most reviewers in Adelaide, and probably Australia.   If you look at the photo of members of the Adelaide Critics’ Circle, they are primarily older men.  And that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t respect these reviewers – because there are many reviewers whom I have a great deal of respect for and I know they come from a much vaster history than me.  I know I’m still learning, and I have a long way to go, but I think that in itself can be an important voice to have.  And it’s not like I’m alone: there are other young reviewers in Adelaide, and hopefully we’re growing.

I think the very fact that I did go out with the cast and director after the show gives me a voice that is different than anyone else is going to have.  And maybe that’s not “professional” as a reviewer, but it was so much fun, and it was important to me.  To go back to An Enemy of the People, the people which are creating that show are my peers, or my contemporaries, or what ever you want to call them.  And many of them are “emerging” as I am “emerging”, but that word most certainly doesn’t mean as people in our late teens and early twenties we don’t have skill.  Do we have a long way to go to reach the levels of reviewers such as John McCallam, or actors such as Robyn Nevin?  Undoubtedly.  Does that make what we are doing any less valid? I don’t think so.  I think as people who are emerging in our chosen fields we carry a huge respect for the people who came before us, and an even bigger respect for those people who we have seen doing this for years, and we are now working in the same market.

But then on another token, do I think age makes you a good reviewer?  No.  Hopefully, as with anything, you improve with age and experience, but there are many reviewers whom I just don’t like.  There are a lot of jaded people in this industry, and I really hope I never get there.  If I do, I hope I can see it enough to know to step back for a while.

I also think, probably with complete self-importance, that because I am from same age group as these people, I am the perfect person to review their work.  In many ways, this ensemble was people who are much more advanced in their acting than I am in my writing, but how am I going to learn if I’m not doing this now?

It can be weird, this disconnect from the stage.  This knowledge that a group of people have (hopefully) worked extraordinarily hard for a long time to put something on stage, and then what gives me the right to come in and judge them?  To come back home and sit down at my computer, and detail what I thought worked, and what I thought didn’t.  I clearly think it is important: to create a dialogue about the theatre, and I like to think theatre criticism is important as a way to help theatre-practitioners.  I certainly think it is an important record of theatre: while I love it when ABC2 or its ilk show live performances, I don’t think it should be standard practice to release these recordings.  Theatre belongs live, and so the way we have a record of it is through the writings of reviewers.  One of the things I love about writing for Australian Stage is it is a national record of theatre, from a variety of people with a variety of voices.

I know (believe me I know) that by writing reviews I am in some ways lessening my chances or my employability in the theatre. But I have thought about it, and it is a risk I choose to take.  The current benefits which I get out of it are worth so much to me that I’m not going to give that up, no matter what risks I run.  I have had some amazing things come out of writing for Australian Stage and for my blog: some people whom I very much admire and respect have approached me in person or online or on the phone and have spoken about my review of their show, or my blog, or my “war against the Bistro.”  And I’m not going to give that up.

The theatre blogging community in Adelaide is tiny.  Calling it a community is probably a gross overestimation.  And I think that’s a pity.  I think a great theatre scene thrives from great discussion, and I had the best discussions over drinks at An Enemy of the People, and nothing I write here could come close to explaining that exchange of ideas which happened, and which happens when you get a bunch of people who are passionate in a room together.  But blogging opens up that world.  It allows the discussion to be preserved and accessible.  And I think that’s important.

I wrote this and my review at the same time, because my brain was just a swirling mass of thoughts today, and I’m noticing I am double and triple checking everything I write.  Part of this is because of the swirling mass interacting with the cloud of tiredness, and part of it is just because those talks last night just made me want to prove myself.  I really feel that after all that talk I need to stand up with something and show people this is what I do, and this is how well I do it.  I think I got something up I can be proud of; criticism and all, and after those hours of discussions I hope the amazing people I met (and re-met) last night will still like me!  I am looking forward to their criticism of my criticism.