The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between me and Andy Packer, the Artistic Director of Slingsby and director of Ode to Nonsense. I interviewed Andy several times before the production opened, including time spent in the rehearsal room and tech, before reviewing the work on opening night. You can read my previous pieces on the work here.
Jane: I really appreciated you having me in the rehearsal room. I think it was really valuable just in a general, much broader sense, because I haven’t spent a lot of time in rehearsal rooms. It’s a weird place where I sit, almost, in this industry, where I’m very connected to everyone and I invest a lot in having really strong connections with the community, but I only ever see this end point which is such the tip of the iceberg of the whole ecology.
Andy: You kind of see the church service without everything else that goes on through the week.
It is interesting. I’m glad you were able to come in. And I really appreciated all of our conversations and what you wrote. And I think it’s really important that people critiquing or writing about theatre understand the process that we go through. And things that may seem ill-considered are not necessarily un-considered. So it’s great. I think it should happen more.
Yeah, definitely. I think it should happen more but I am at this point in my career where I am trying to figure out to make it a career, and how to make it sustainable. And that means writing preview pieces more often than not, because that’s where the money is. Stuff like this I’d love to do, but where is the money to sit in the rehearsal room?
It’s the same with artists, as well. You’ve got to create demand. You’ve got to do it and do it and do it until there is interest, and then hopefully there is an audience which means there is some commercial viability to it, you know?
I don’t know if you’ve read any of this stuff: there is a British critic called Andrew Haydon and he coined the term ‘embedded criticism’, and so lots of people particularly in the UK have used that term. Then Jake Orr and Maddy Costa have created Dialogue, and that’s about having conversations with artists and understanding process, and also thinking about what artists want from reviews. Not that that’s the be-all-end-all of what a review can ever be, but it’s about engaging on this really deep level.
And so obviously I’ve been involved with a lot of those conversations online, and I’ve read a lot of their writing about it. So I went in the first rehearsal thinking ‘oh, I’m doing embedded criticism’ and I came out thinking I’m not. What am I doing? You can’t do criticism of that room. And so I started to think of myself as an embedded critic – because I am a critic, that’s how I describe myself – but it took me a while to figure out what my relationship was to the work in that room and how I could respond to it.
Also we didn’t set up any strict rules. I was pretty open to the fact that the reason we were bringing you in was not so we could ensure that you would write a better review, I was really clear on that. The outcome of your response to the work was completely your own, but hopefully what would happen is you would get a better understanding of us as a company and us as a team of artists and the way that we work.
I think probably for myself, I can’t speak for anyone else, what I would love to see more in reviews is long form. Like Theater Magazine in the US: it’s longer form exploration of the artists, the context, and then the work is part of that, as opposed to ‘it didn’t work’ or ‘it worked, it was brilliant.’ Even ‘it worked, it was brilliant’ is great for picking out quotable quotes to put on posters, but it’s not journalism. That’s when I think a bit of writing is really interesting, when it takes all of that into consideration.
And I don’t think you necessarily need to be in a rehearsal room to understand that, but I do think you need to have an ongoing conversation with an artist or with a company.