Wrapping the wraps ~ theatre notes

Monday, January 01, 2007

Wrapping the wraps

My, we're a reflective bunch; it's a regular hall of mirrors out there in cyberland, where us "non-professional critics" (!) have been busy exercising the grey matter. Over at The Morning After, Mr Boyd - reviewer for such non-professional organisations as the Financial Review and Herald Sun - has been doing the end of year thing continuously, it seems, since mid-December, and has not only meditated on opera and dance, but has listed the shows that he ought to have reviewed and didn't. Oh, and as literary editor of The Big Issue, books as well. Meanwhile, 3RRR arts broadcaster and Man About Town Richard Watts hasn't only thought about theatre; he's pondered the visual arts, cinema and arts politics as well.

If you're hungry for more theatre highlights, head over to The Rest is Just Commentary, where tyro reviewer Avi blogs her high and low points of the year. And on his Melbourne Film Blog, Paul Martin does his top 20 and bottom 10 of a year's packed cinematic experience. I think that pretty much covers everything, aside from scuba diving and architecture.

Over in the sunny realm of Professional Critics, the Age has not one, but two overviews of the theatrical year, which is something, and possibly something good. One is by my favourite mainstream idjit, Cameron Woodhead. Woodhead's overview is particularly maddening: it's not just differences of taste operating here, folks (we even agree on a few highlights). It's the bullshit terms of reference.

"Avant garde" and "visual theatre" are phrases Woodhead applies to everything outside his limited theatrical vocabulary: so the remarkably written Eldorado and the remarkably turgid (and remarkably unvisual) It Just Stopped get lumped in the same basket. (Depressingly, it looks suspiciously like the same catch-all basket Len Radic memorably labelled as "non-naturalistic".) Woodhead's bouquet for "best original work" of 2006 is the bouncy, off-Broadway-bound musical Virgins - not that I want to dump on that show, but - what??

It makes you grateful for Martin Ball's bland but sober take on 2006. Which is a bit sad, really.

PS: In the comments here, Paul Martin points to Leslie Cannold's opinion piece on blogs in the Age, which of course paints the cliche blog picture (racist, sexist, illiterate, homophobic ranting). Like, we've all been to MySpace... More astoundingly, she claims that well-written blogs - stuffed with "well-packaged pseudo-knowledge" - are a bit of a problem. "Currently," says Cannold, "traditional editorial practices are one of the only ways we've got to achieve reasonable levels of accuracy, veracity, and good clean copy." And balanced coverage too, I suppose. Cor. If only it were true. Arts bloggers, of course, scoff as one.

PPS: Also, check out Encore Theatre Magazine's great wrap of English theatre in '06.


Paul Martin said...

Happy New Year, Alison. I imagine you may have been just up the road from us last night watching the fireworks over the bay. Zoe and I both started spontaneously and simultaneously crying without any verbal communication at the stroke of midnight, because someone wasn't there, and would never be there again. We were there with Zoe's twin sister, her husband and our children who all had a great time. But it's nice to mentally have that year behind us.

It may amuse you to check out this link to The Age (I initially thought your Age link was to this article). Leslie Cannold has some pretty boring and blinkered things to say about blogs vs conventional media. I felt like posting in response, but don't have the time. You may wish to follow up on it.

Thanks for the link once again. When I pull my finger out, I'll post some useful blog links on my site. I enjoy the overlapping synergies of theatre and cinema, and the opportunity to get exposure to a different medium.

Alison Croggon said...

I wasn't so far away, Paul. It was a nice night. But it must have been very difficult for you.

The blog vs msm thing is getting a bit tired - at least if you read the Guardian and US sites which have been fussing over all this for some time.

I suppose it's something that the Age has noticed that something is going on. I thought Tim Sterne's take on this question of authority was pretty funny and on the mark.

Yes, yes, we know that millions of blog are written by spelling-challenged teens or wingnuts from the outer edges of the political galaxy. So? Readers work things out for themselves. Boring is boring, in broadsheets or anywhere else.

Paul Martin said...

Alison, it was difficult for a few moments. But we're OK.

The idea that an editor ensures quality... laughable. And that they have the 'mix', 'packaging' and 'priority'... the same, laughable. How many times have I seen garbage online (on say The Age site) and felt frustrated that unmitigated garbage cannot be responded to like a blog? (Don't answer, you wouldn't know. But you could, because this is a blog).

"Be honest enough to admit that some are semi-literate rants by myopic, racist, sexist and/or homophobic cretins with tickets on themselves and barrows to push." Oh my gosh! This sounds awfully like Andrew Bolt, Laurie Oakes and any number of mainstream commentators.

"But like most others, I am defenceless in the face of well-written views on topics about which I am curious but largely uninformed. Editorial oversight is one of the processes that prevents the publication of well-packaged pseudo-knowledge — much of the time, anyway." What about the "War on Terror"? Where was the media? Jumping on the propaganda band-wagon, abnegating their journalistic responsibilities. The internet provided the most objective sources of factually accurate information free from editorial intervention.

And on and on, you get the picture. This article by Cannold seems like an obligation she had to provide a piece, but with little sincerity or merit. Perhaps a bit of editorial brown-nosing?

Alison Croggon said...

Let's face it, it's a real problem when blogs are well-written and intelligent. I mean, what then for the poor dumb reader? What sinister agendas are bloggers pushing under their time-rich (yeah, right) delusory polish? Maybe their shareholders and advertisers are telling them what to say. Maybe their "contacts" who take them out for drinkies and send them nice little promotional packages are swaying their interpretations. Maybe they have mates in high places. Mind you, a journalist is only as good as his/her contact book: but it seems that when you're a blogger, that becomes something else.

"Well-packaged pseudo-knowledge" was one of those snide phrases that really gave me the shits. The thin ice many journalists skate on used to amaze me when I was a working journalist. But they have "editors" so that absolves everything? The hypocrisy is amazing.

There are good journalists in the msm; there are good bloggers out in the wilds of cyberspace. And there are piss poor wankers as well, in every medium. As always, it's up to the reader to work out which is which.

Chris Boyd said...

I'm glad you're indefatigable Alison. All those Age articles just made me feel tired and frustrated.

It would have been nice to be able to comment on Leslie Cannold's article, get a bit of to and fro happening with her, direct. Dr Cannold's complaint that we don't know whose opinion to trust (lazy paraphrasing, I know) is, surely, no different from when we pick up a book about a subject we know little about. John Allen's book on Opus Dei made the organisation sound like a perfectly rational and reasonable little club. It took some serious digging (and finding a brilliantly argued king-hit review) to confirm that the book was more apology than apologia.

She also ignores the filtering that routinely occurs in sites like this one. There's a very good reason why this blog and Superfluities are Top Ten Theatre Blogs... avid, critical reading. I always thought the best job in academia was Reader. :)

As for the John Bailey preview of arts in 2007. Gosh... where do they find them? On the positive side, most other Age commentators would have written "good riddance" about the demise of Danceworks... they certainly would not have put it on a par with the resignation of Graeme Murphy.

In my mind, the egregiously ill-informed part of Woodhead's overview was this comment in the bizarrely non sequitur final par:

This is especially true in a year when the centre of gravity seems to have shifted decisively to Sydney in terms of establishment theatre.

Firstly, it happened three or four years ago. It's was less pronounced in 2006. Why mention missing out on History Boys? What about Declan Donnellan's Othello &c. &c. before it?

There was no way in the world Kosky's extravaganza was gonna tour. It had scores of NIDA kids in it.

Chris Boyd said...

D'oh. Hit the wrong button. Wasn't finished. Guess you'll just have to accept my draft as was... Without the connective tissue I was gonna add.

Anyway, with Sydney's Company B off the boil and the Malthouse firing here, the theatre scenes are a bit more balanced than they have been.

It's always hard to compare scenes. Apart from the obvious STC & MTC match up -- which the STC wins in a devastating round one KO -- the scenes operate on entirely different models.

In Melbourne, great little companies produce plays. In Sydney, great little venues curate offerings from... well... god knows where!

One final moan/prediction. When the Aged finally gets off its fart arse (interesting typo that one, might leave it in!) and institutes a theatre/arts blog -- which the Sydney Morning Herald did last year -- we're gonna have to endure the patronising bilge about them "legitimising" the internet.

The bastards say: just fuck right off. (Excuse me.)

Alison Croggon said...

We like profane language here, it adds to our street cred and misleading glamour...

Good point too on the Sydney/Melbourne thing. Sydney is a bit of a vacuum for me, as I never get there. A pity, I love visiting but I can't remember the last time I went. As Jeremy Eccles complained once, this is a Melbourne-centric blog. That's because I live here.

Yeah, can't wait to be "legitimised". I guess it's like a brand on the arse.

Chris Boyd said...

I was thinking, Alison, your bullshit had a real frisson... cos you're more judicious? sparing? in your use and abuse of profanity.

If I can misquote Kramer: Serenity now, profanity later.

Paul Martin said...

At the risk of sounding repetitive, to put it succinctly, every criticism Leslie Cannold had of blogging I thought was equally attributable to mainstream media.

Perhaps we're giving her too much credit (and oxygen). I think the article was just an obligatory article with little sincerity. Perhaps even deliberately provocative.

Alison Croggon said...

Well, I do think the new media/ old media opposition is a bit of a straw man. It's much more complex than that and to my mind much more interesting. Anyone claiming that blogs are going to blow old media away isn't on planet earth; on the other hand, Cannold does say that they may revitalise newspapers, as they are shown up as out of touch. We shall see. I certainly don't believe that a job on the Age guarantees authority and gravitas, though people often seem to think it does. I think that's earned by the work one does. But all the same, sometimes I wish I had a sub (Chris steps in for me now and again...) Anyway, interesting times.

Paul Martin said...

Ironically, The Age also has an article online today about RSS:

"RSS" is one of the coolest things you've never heard of when it comes to the internet.

It goes on to say that newspapers are starting to use feeds, but then there's not a word on what The Age is doing about it. Personally, I use RSS feeds to deliver ABC news to my personalised Google home page. It'd be nice to get The Age feeds.