Crrritical oxygen ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Crrritical oxygen

Pace my comments below on the air of the blogosphere, here's a reason why it matters, courtesy of a TN reader - a most interesting response from Dancehouse artistic director David Tyndall to a review published in last Saturday's Age of Jo Lloyd's Melbourne Spawned a Monster. "Now," says Mr Tyndall, "I am not responding because the review was particularly unfavourable. I've read too many reviews to allow the unfavourable ones to bother me. But, what does bother me, in this case, is the combination of unfavourable with lazy, ill-informed, insulting and utterly useless. It's this combination that has motivated my response." (And what's your point, David?)

After a forensic dissection of the review, he points to Chris Boyd's response as an example of how to "make more of an effort". Which indeed the Boyd, most vividly, does.


Michael Magnusson said...

I'm ashamed that I haven't been to a Dancehouse production this past year. It's a place where I usually find out what is going on in dance from the work they put on and the community that go there (you can often pick up amazing information by listening to the foyer talk alone)

TimT said...

Spring must be springing, da Boyd is singing.

Jana said...

What Boyd does is a sort of sex with dance, you have to note. And it's also fair to point out that, while what he does is utterly absorbing, highest-quality writing, he doesn't do it while at his newspaper job.

Although I in principle agree with much of Mr Tyndall's argument, to attack a junior reviewer, writing within the strict confines of the annual Fringe section of The Age, somewhat ad hominem, is not exactly David taking on Goliath.

I could be mean and say, you know, don't pool your show into Fringe to save on marketing costs. You may get a real review. Fortunately, I'm lovely, so instead I'll point out that, until the best outlet for publishing quality criticism is the free-for-all blogosphere, and for as long as nobody gets paid for thinking deeply about theatre, this is what Mr Tyndall will be stuck with. Attacking junior writers for doing what they're paid to do.

Chris Boyd said...

My ears are burning... so are my cheeks! Hey, Jana, a point of order... Jo Lloyd's show wasn't part of Fringe. It was commissioned (and publicised) by Dancehouse. (Which might explain why it was full!)

Agree with Michael, foyer blather is indispensible.


Alison Croggon said...

Tyndall is quite within his rights to ask reviewers in a broadsheet daily, junior or not, to get their facts straight and to be informed about what they're watching. I don't think that's ad hominem (he didn't attack the woman's character or person, just the review she wrote). All of us make mistakes here and there, admittedly, it's one of the minefields of the job; but I think what's more interesting is that Tyndall's describing a default position of performance criticism, various tics I've noticed too in theatre. Perhaps the reviewer concerned, if she is a young critic, was a little unfortunate to get in his sights, since there is little in the culture of the Age arts pages - or the print media generally - that encourages depth or accuracy. Take it from me, it's hard to write anything sensible about anything in 300 words. But I've long thought that, frustrating and difficult though that is, it's still no excuse.

Chloe Smethurst said...

As Jana pointed out, writing for the paper is certainly different from writing for the web. The limited space available for reviews is a huge problem, which is further compounded by the frequent meddling of sub-editors trying to save even more space for advertisements. Good sentences get mangled, meaning and melody are lost.
Another limiting factor is that most press reviews are written very quickly, sometimes overnight, sometimes even in the hour following the performance. They are written for a general audience, not just the arts cognoscenti.
And while I agree with Alison, that these challenges are no excuse for poor writing, I don’t think we can really compare reviews written for the daily press with reviews written for weekly or monthly publications, nor those written for the web.
Surely there is a place and a purpose for both?

Alison Croggon said...

I do daily press reviews as well blogging, so I'm alive to the difference and aware of the pressures of writing for arts pages with no space and short deadlines. Daily newspapers (as Lyn Gardner, a very fine critic, has pointed out) have severe limitations. But she still manages to say a lot in a small space.

And yes, of course there's a need for many kinds of review/response. I've commented elsewhere on the bigger problems facing arts coverages in the mass media, which are part of the whole question of quality journalism.

What strikes me is that, if one is not writing for a cognoscenti, surely there is a greater responsibility to write vividly, accurately and informedly about work?

Chris Boyd said...

I'm old enough to remember when writing for The Age was the ultimate goal for a critic rather than a work experience gig. And I look back at the thirty or forty reviews I wrote as the broadsheet's first fringe critic -- god, 15 years ago -- as some of my very best. Well best that I'd written to that point.

Given the (admittedly dulled) impact of The Age on attendances, reviewing for it carries enormous obligations. And, Chloe, I would have thought you would have, typically, 12 hours in which to write a review after a show. (Many a time in the pre hi-tech era I'd have to drive into the city to hand deliver a review and pics to security on Lonsdale Street at 5 or 6am.)

[Please read the following sentence with your worst Yorkshire accent:] "You try telling that to the kids of today... and they won't believe you."

ango said...

It is a joy to read and behold David's response to that review.

I read it in The Age on the day when it was there in front of me, and it made me want to see the show. I thought it was a predictable sort of review, but have come to expect that sort of thing anyway.

But what I do love (and thank you TN for bringing it to my attention) is that the Artistic Director has made a stand, whether this is good, bad or ugly is beside the point to me. The very fact that he is mailing his colours to the mast strikes me as a beautiful thing: let alone the fact I really thought his writing was a good piece of opinion.

This discussion is a good thing, and this venue is moving forward in leaps and bounds. Thank you David, especially as sometimes as an artist to take issue with reviewers yourself can be read as something churlish and petty.
The world does need those fighting the good fight, and Mr Tyndall is doing this - for his venue, his artists and more generally for the place of dance (arts).

Just quickly, I never knew I knew who Cameron Woodhead was especially since he would always seem to write real mean things about my shows, real catty stuff, real mean stuff, made me want to crawl away and die, and made me wonder if his words was sending audiences away...but then I bumped into an old acquintance at the theatre one night...I'm sorry, what's your name again? It's Cameron...Oh my god...and then I couldn't stop myself, I simply blurted out "Why are you such a c*nt?"

And ever since then, I look with good humour to finding this lovely little fellow in a foyer somewhere, yes, he told me straight that he didn't like that show, but then again, I called him a C*NT.

I would also like to say that getting a BOYD review, much like a CROGGON review is a great thing. Not for whether it is a good show or a bad show in their opinion, but because the quality of the engagement with the work is awesome. You actually feel like you're learning stuff about your own work. Man, reading a Chris Boyd review telling you the work sucks, but then loving every sentence in the review is a funny feeling.

Bring on journalists who do more than just describe, bring on Artistic Directors standing up for their people (in the absence of them being able to themselves) and bring on the world of weird and strange references in reviews.

Bring on the love, and if you can't do that, simply call them a C*NT!