Australian Theatre Forum: A terrifyingly amicable discussion between artists and critics

by Jane

Open Spaces thoughts: two.

Terrifyingly frank discussion between arts and critics”, is what was proposed by Cameron Woodhead,  and “Given the ABC has just dropped its in house arts coverage, how do we nourish and sustain critical connections?”  was instigated by Alison Croggon.  I was very excited by the size of the group which choose to attend the discussions.  I was disappointed together, everyone was much more “terrifyingly amicable” than “terrifyingly frank.”

There are so many issues surrounding both prongs of this debate.  For me and my “career” as a critic it boils down to two key issues: how do I receive critical feedback of my work as an emerging writer, and how do I create a sustainable career in a field which is rapidly being removed from our traditional media sources?  I am paid for only two of the publications I write for – and this sum is minimal.  I figure in a good month I might be able to bring in as much as $220.

I have not yet had one of these months which I would describe as good.

(And then, of course, I buy tickets for a great chunk of the shows I review for this blog, so that’s where that money goes. I am often struck how often I am praised for my work on this blog, and how few media lists I am on.)

This career is currently completely unsustainable, this blog is completely unsustainable.  It’s not necessarily that not getting paid is the issue, it’s that I’m not paid and I work full time and then and then and then.  It can all get a bit much.

And on the other point, it is really really hard to get artists to talk to critics about criticism.  I’ve been having more luck in Adelaide in recent months, perhaps my “contribution” to the arts scene there more visibly seen or appreciated?  My annoying voice popping up in more forums, people figuring out I’m not going away?

There might be a terrible perception that you can’t talk to a critic without that having repercussions on their response to your work.  I hate the fact that I too believe there are writers out there for whom that might be true: you don’t like me?  Well, I don’t like you either.

But when a critic instigates the discussion, asks for it at a forum of arts makers, couldn’t we stop playing nice for those twenty minutes?  The biggest point of “dissent” was everyone agreeing they don’t like star ratings, but the four writers in the room also agreed!  I don’t agree with the idea pitched that we should then just give everyone five stars, however, I’m going to work within the system I’m required to. (I only have to do stars for ArtsHub, and I don’t republish that rating here, if you’re wondering.)

Some thoughts put out onto the floor:

The internet’s put out al sorts of new places for debate, but we still have problems surrounding encouraging this discourse.  It’s only going to get worse with papers cutting coverage.  Can the whole sector think of it differently?

Trying to say “we should find funding for this” is hard, but it’s important in creating those pathways.

In print media they don’t privilege the idea of getting the right people assigned to the work: during the Adelaide Fringe, business editors review shows. If you’re stuck with the Advertiser or the West Australian, criticism doesn’t come into it.  Does the tiny amount of coverage mean anything?  What are these places supposed to do?

The blogesphere means we are more likely to be searching out particular voices than particular publications.

How do we get funding?  Could PlayWriting Australia take it on? (This is a question of particular interest to me now, as I’ve just been told I am ineligible to apply for a JUMP Mentorship.)

[Griffin Theatre] invited a journalist in Sydney to a tech run: did it compromise his ability?  Or does it make him more inclined to understand the work?

How do we encourage this dialogue before productions?

Why can we not turn blog hits into a business? (On the weekend at Brisbane Writers’ Festival I attended a talk called The Digital Revolution: Who Pays? about how we do create sustainable writing and publication spaces online.  Minimal amounts of money are brought in by advertising, to actually have any money, it seems, you need to exist on a membership or subscription model [with or without a paywall].  I don’t know how this can exist for people like myself who run a self-directed site where I am the only writer.  And, also, I don’t want to have advertising on this site: it’s not about that.)

We want to unlock a national dialogue about form.

Good criticism is a review that, when you read it, even if it says it hated the show, you still want to see it.  The most interesting part isn’t if they liked or hated it, it’s why.

The quality of criticism on theatre for young audiences is lacking: it either tells the story or just say “an eleven year old liked it.”