Festival polemics ~ theatre notes

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Festival polemics

My response to the Craven/Usher attacks on MIAF runs in the The Age today - online here.


miles said...

Jasmine and I were lamenting the bad timing that had you trapped in london while The Age was busy trying to make Melbourne a less interesting place. Thank goodness you made it home in time!

Chris Boyd said...

I confess, Alison, I've long given up on The Age. It no longer reflects my tastes. And, recently, it no longer reflects (let alone appreciates) what's going on in the arts in Melbourne.

The battle was fought and lost in 1993/1994 when the old guard (Michael Shmith, later the broadsheet's National Cultural Correspondent) gave way to the new guard. And the new guard has been championing the derrière garde ever since. [Yeah, yeah, I know... it's really the arrière garde... but what the hey!]

For a brief period in 1993, Suzy Freeman-Greene edited the arts pages. I made a brief appearance, then, as contemporary dance writer. I lasted five weeks. MS returned.

Then, at the start of 1994, new Arts Editor Stephanie Bunbury hired me. I was the first so-called fringe critic at The Age. (My debut review was of a performance by Karen Finley!) I got to review the opera, the theatre and the dance (and so on) that had not previously rated a mention in The Age.

This second time around, I lasted all of five months... when the current incumbent Ray Gill took over.

Age readers certainly were (and probably still are) interested in theatre that wasn't just soapy schlock. A fifty-word recommendation in The Age -- and, yes, sometimes that's all the space that was available -- could literally sell-out a La Mama run.

What is most alarming, as you hint at in your op/ed piece in Saturday's Age, is that the editorial team at The Aged (as it is referred to at the Herald Sun) is now so jaded with the arts (think of Gill's columns in which he tells us he fantasises about food and eating when he is chucking a fast-as-possible lap at The Louvre or some other gallery) that it can no longer appreciate anything that requires the least mental effort or aesthetic judgement. So, now, at a time when the arts are as hot and vital as they have been in years, they are incapable of responding with enthusiasm and pride.

Thanks, Alison, for not giving up.

Blogging, I guess, is the guerrilla activity of the arts in the 21st century.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks for that perspective, Chris. Well, as you know, I have never worked for the Age, apart from editing some Good Weekend column once while its incumbent was away and months of casual subbing. Certainly not for the Arts section (my opinion piece, you would have noticed, was not in the arts section). And I too don't buy the Age any more.

One thing about being in the UK is that I buy a paper every day: it reminds me of the pleasure of the morning read through the newspaper, cup of coffee in hand, as I plough through the Guardian, or the Independent, or the Times, or the Observer, or the Telegraph...and there's the rub. Even though the British complain about their newspapers, they're still the best in the English-speaking world (and the tabloids are still the worst) and you have a choice of half a dozen papers, with half a dozen different political/social viewpoints. Here in this city we have one broadsheet, plus the Oz, plus the Herald Sun.

Blogging is, as you say, the one bright spot. Here it's possible to talk about things that don't get a look-in, to put stuff on the record. I absolutely believe in its legitimacy and possibility. For me, it's not some kind of "stepping stone" to something else: it is something. I cherish its independence (and not having my copy cut!)

Kevin Summers said...

Thankyou, Alison, for your Age piece. Following Usher's impoverished verbage I wrote a letter suggesting that Ms. Edmunds should treat his diatribe as a badge of honour, given Usher's low standing within what passes for the arts community. It didn't see the light of day. Keenly awaiting a spirited sally from that lovely, angry Ben Ellis chap.

Alison Croggon said...

Posted for Alison Richards, who emailed after having trouble posting here:

Thanks, Alison. The silence was becoming deafening - OK, it's trivial compared to what's happening in Lebanon, but the acidly antique posturing by the entrenched arts cabal at The Age is outrageous and in the case of their campaign against Edmunds and MIFA has got beyond a joke. We all know that protesting to Usher himself is a waste of effort. I do hope that the publication of your column, and its position, mean that Andrew J. has noticed that his arts staff aren't doing his paper or anyone else a favour with this carry on.

You will see letters from me and Denise Varney in The Age this morning backing you up (and no, we weren't in cahoots).

Dare we hope for a ceasefire, or even regime change? Are there enough of us out there sick enough of this to make an issue of it? It's not just about the Festival, it's about whether or not The Age really wants to keep on making itself look ridiculous on arts commentary when it has clearly made breadth and accessibility an editorial priority in its coverage of contemporary culture in other areas.



Dr Alison Richards
Hon Research Fellow
School of Creative Arts
The University of Melbourne

Meredith Lewis said...

Thanks for your impassioned article Alison. Usher's comments left me feeling rather bristly too, and I also noticed that the events I attended in last year's festival (and I got to quite a few) were extremely well attended and received. I know very little about most of the companies that have been programmed for this year's festival and this excites me. I can't wait to see what new experiences this year's festival will bring me.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks all who've posted here - I have this sudden very cheering image of a march up Spencer St, arms uplfted! Well, we all live in hope. I guess we should remember that newspapers often think controversy itself is a sign they're doing things right: the content is beside the point.

It's an ongoing problem, as you say Alison, and much wider than this particular issue. But perhaps pressing for more intelligent coverage from a variety of sources might make a difference...