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Five years of Foyer Talk

It surprised me to learn that I’ve now been blogging for five years. What started as a little spark from a conversation about the tendency of Canberra critics to make every effort to discourage artists has become a nice little part of my life.
Since I started Foyer Talk, The Canberra Critic has come and (it seems) gone, and the anonymous Guy Who Watches Canberra Theatre has started writing very encouragingly about his experiences. The venerable clique, Canberra Critics Circle, have started their own blog, which is a vastly more comprehensive dossier of theatre productions in Canberra than my own. And both the Crimes and WIN News have curtailed their involvement with theatre criticism.
And for me, Foyer Talk has become a most enjoyable journey. I have explored what really makes me respond in theatre and cinema auditoria, and I think this has improved my writing. I’ve done this well beyond our energetic little theatre community here in Canberra as well. People often respond positively, occasionally negatively, and in the last twelve months in particular I’ve engaged in some great discussions following my posts.
And the highlights of the last five years? There have been many, but the best definitely include:

  • Floating, with its amazing, engaging playfulness and remarkable story.
  • Ngapartji Ngapartji, which really draws us towards a truly national theatre
  • Another contribution to our national story, Faces in the Street, which really grounded some of the less palatable aspects of the Australian identity.
  • An exploration of my own identity and the influences upon my cultural adherences, in the brilliant The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • One I have not stopped raving about, Animal Farm
  • A Korean version of Hamlet
  • Rep’s wonderful production of I Hate Hamlet (a statement I could never make!)
  • And of course The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, the one that kicked off this little blog five years ago today.
  • So I hope there are a few of you out there who enjoy reading my abuses rants posts as much as I enjoy being at the theatre and writing about it. I certainly intend to do it for another five years. I just hope blogging stays as popular as it is now!

     
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    Posted by on Saturday, 13 July 2013 in blog

     

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    A new theatre blogger is about in Canberra!

    So I was scrolling through Facethingy for something interesting this morning, and lo and behold, I was successful. That doesn’t happen often!

    I came across a link to a new blog about theatre in Canberra. Again, anonymous, and seemingly a little critical of Canberra’s slightly longer-standing anonymous critic, Max, who’s had a six-month head start and has ruffled a few feathers. This blogger, who goes by the title That Guy Who Watches Canberra Theatre is rather more modest and wants to increase conversation about theatre in Canberra, which I appreciate rather more than Max‘s claim that whatever s/he thinks is Gospel. Well, I congratulate That Guy on that, and wish him all the best. I also look forward to offering the odd pingback where we happen to post about the same show.

    My one little hesitation is that I’m not fond of the anonymous critic idea generally. It has some merit, since it allows the critic to be completely candid about people s/he might otherwise just pay lip service to, but it also encourages that most useless form of criticism, the attack. Max has been known to tear artists down under the rather bemusing motto of being “objective, honest and accurate” (objectivity is of course impossible in a critic, who by definition must take a position; and an accuracy of opinion is hardly something to distinguish any individual critic from any other (for all anyone knows every critic’s expression of his/her opinion has always been accurate); though I value the honesty). Max is rarely as aggressive as the worst of the critics at the Crimes (a significant achievement!). So while I can understand why a critic might want to remain anonymous, and don’t really object, I just don’t see enough value in anonymity. If opinions are personal, they should be owned by a person and not paraded about as gospel.

    I’m aware I’m sitting in a glass house here; I haven’t always focused on what I like, which was my intention for this blog when I started it four years ago. But nonetheless, I stand behind my opinions and own them. My real name is all over this blog and everything that links to it, and anyone can click through or search for my Facebook or Twitter accounts to hurl abuse right back at me. There are photos of my face so that if you don’t know me and you object to something I write you can approach me the next time you see me in a theatre foyer and punch it. Even my phone number is here, freely available for you! Anyone can post a dissenting point of view in response to my posts, and know who they’re having a conversation with. When I review for Australian Stage, I need to be more forthcoming, and I don’t get the privilege of simply not writing about shows I really don’t like. On my blog, though, I can just speak my mind about what I do like and save my vitriol for Andrew Lloyd Webber, who truly deserves it for his criminal aversion to character and plot.

    At times, I’ve found myself and people I’ve worked with desperately discouraged by the Crimes’ most viscous and disreputable reviewers, and though their reviews aren’t anonymous, I fear the same level of vitriol could develop as a result of Max and That Guy‘s anonymity. It doesn’t really help, and this kind of critic potentially leads great artists to quit and exit the field based on one irrelevant person’s opinion before they’ve created their greatest work or found what they’re really good at. I prefer the philosophy of pointing out what I value and hoping the artist does more of that. I certainly hope that no artist I’ve been critical of sees my opinion as being more important than anyone else’s.

    The two posts currently up on That Guy‘s blog are reasonably balanced and positive, so I guess time will tell whether the anonymity will be a blessing or a curse. I just hope it doesn’t become a haven for discouraging the wonderful artists who make up Canberra’s theatre community. Overall, it’s just great to have another blog about Canberra theatre around, and I’m looking forward to a greater diversity of opinions being expressed (especially because That Guy‘s no great fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber). Have a look at his review of Free Rain’s Cats here.

     
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    Posted by on Sunday, 22 July 2012 in blog, Canberra Theatre, news, Theatre

     

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    Renaming my blog

    The few people who read this blog may have noticed some changes. I recently moved it from Blogger to WordPress (which was a great move, by the way), and I’ve overhauled its categories and tags. That’s all pretty superficial though. The real change has been longer and more gradual, and represents an evolution in what this blog really is.

    I started this blog four years ago following a series of conversations with Canberra theatre folk who were particularly disappointed with the quality of theatre criticism in Canberra. My intention was to do what most Canberra critics didn’t do: write nice things about good theatre. Of course there were a few critics at the Crimes and other media outlets who tried to be constructive, but most just berated performers, writers and directors and like many others I found myself on the receiving end of their overwhelming efforts at comprehensive discouragement. I wanted to be an encouraging voice.

    So much for my good intentions.

    I have tried to be positive in this context, and there have been plenty of times when I just haven’t written about a production because I found it actually lived down to the critics’ expectations[1]. But things change. I started writing for Australian Stage, and unlike a blog post where I can just be myself and say what I liked, in that context I have to be more objective. I also started writing about films, which I love just as much as theatre; and sometimes television can be just as cathartic a dramatic experience, so I started writing the odd post about television. And when my day job started flying me interstate every month or so, I started writing about shows outside Canberra.

    And in the course of all these changes I also discovered that writing blog posts about what I liked had a really positive impact on my own writing. I knew more instinctively how to build characters and structure narratives because when I wrote about other people’s shows, I reinforced the positive responses in my mind. The very act of writing a blog has become something like a journal of my post-tertiary education.

    And that’s why I don’t care that so few people read it.

    But since my blog has become such a cathartic procedure in my development as a playwright, I’m starting to think I should be more deliberate about that. Although I’ve put up a page offering samples of my script, I haven’t written about the process of submitting those scripts to competitions in the hope that someone somewhere with the power to do something about it will do what needs to be done to get the damn thing staged. I should. And from now on, I will.

    And that leads me to the request I started writing this post for. If you’ve read this far into my blathering about nothing much really you may have realised that ‘Foyer Talk’ is not a name that sums up what this blog has evolved into. I wasn’t even happy with it when I named it four years ago. I see blogs all over with much cleverer names, and someone called Trevar should definitely have a clever name for his blog.

    So, I’m asking you; can you think of a better name for my blog? It needs something that captures the blog it’s evolved into. I’ve thought of “Caterpillar Dreaming”, but that’s über naff and not very clever at all. I also thought of “e-merging playwright” but that’s even naffer than the other, so I’m useless at this. It sometimes takes me months to name a play, so I’m in no hurry with this process, but I would love your help.

    And if you happen to come up with the cleverest and not-at-all-naff name, I might just reward you by taking you to the theatre with me[2]. Or punish you by taking you to the theatre with me, if that’s the way you want to look at it. Either way, you’ll get something for nothing.


    [1] NB there are other reasons why I might not write about a show, including my rule that I don’t write if I can’t do it within a few days of seeing the show, so don’t assume that if you’ve seen me at your show and I didn’t write about it that I didn’t like it! Or, if you know it was bad, maybe you can assume that!

    [2] As long as you live in Canberra. If not, you’ll have to come visit me in Canberra. Unless you happen to live in an interstate capital where I visit occasionally. Or Singapore, where I’m going in October. Terms and conditions apply. I don’t know what they are, but I will figure that out when we come to it. Just suggest a name or two!

     
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    Posted by on Friday, 6 July 2012 in blog, news

     

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