In Brief: A Response to Julian Meyrick’s The Retreat of Our National Drama

by Jane

While I have been vocal about my thoughts on Currency House’s Platform Paper #39: The Retreat of Our National Drama, by Julian Meyrick, I haven’t written on these thoughts outside of twitter. I have now briefly commented on a new article about the paper in The Conversation, which I am republishing here. I should have also mentioned statistical work I did with Alison Croggon in 2013 was cited in the paper, which Croggon revisited in this response to Meyrick. My response to Angels in America was also cited.

I was one of those who criticised Meyrick’s data, quite simply because it was incorrect, and I felt it irresponsible of Currency House to have not edited and vetted his work thoroughly. As someone who works in statistical analysis of artistic programming (I have worked with AusStage, but not directly with their database; and have used the database to support research for various clients, including the Australia Council), I was highly disappointed that no one involved thought to check the validity of AusStage’s database. All researchers should know that tertiary sources of information (of which AusStage is) need to be validated through primary sources. It was clear on my reading the Paper that this had not happened.

This was the issue: an academic, writing for a serious publication, did not feel it necessary to perform research in a proper manner. There were egregious errors. To say Belvoir – where some of the most glaring mistakes were made – produced no “New-Australia” work in 2013 was simply wrong, and ignores the very real work of the playwrights who had premieres with the company that year: Nakkiah Lui (This Heaven), Lally Katz (Stories I Want To Tell You In Person), Kit Brookman (Small and Tired), and Tom Holloway (Forget Me Not).

For Meyrick and subsequent editors at Currency House to have not noticed the discrepancy in the data saying the company produced no new work that year made me concerned, furthermore, on from what perspective they were viewing theatre in this country. It is baffling and concerning that no one involved has a strong enough knowledge of Belvoir’s work to have picked this up.

Everyone is done a disservice by the suggestion this data was dismissed because it was disliked. The trouble is not how to lie with statistics, but how to use them correctly.

If Meyrick does not like quantitative data, I suggest he stays away from it. The fact of the matter is his paper didn’t rely on the data he attempted to present, he didn’t rest his larger arguments on it, and didn’t refer back to the figures throughout the rest of the text.  I was mostly confused why these figures were published at all. He, and Currency House, would have been better served if Meyrick had argued where his strengths lie.