Sydneycentrism ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Ms Alison has a bad cold. I will spare you the details. In the snotty gloom that is my reality at the moment, inspiration is sadly lacking. To divert myself, I decided to do some legwork.

The burning question: is the common perception that Sydney arts are oddly favoured in the Australian - our only national newspaper - fair or unfair? To shed some light on this crucial issue, I totted up all the reviews from today back to May 15 - listed online here - and distributed them between our capital cities.

The results of this rough survey were certainly interesting. Firstly, if you want national attention for your play, exhibition, opera or concert, you don't want to live in Darwin. There were precisely no reviews from the Northern Territory.

The score went like this: Sydney, 10; Melbourne, 6; Brisbane, 4; Perth, 4; Adelaide, 4.

It gets more interesting when you consider how many of the events reviewed are touring, ie, how many will have lives beyond the city in which they originate. (The reviewed shows that are not touring are, we surmise, considered important on their own singular merit.) So: of the 10 arts events reviewed in Sydney, one (the Australian Chamber Orchestra) was embarking on a national tour. That's 10 per cent. So it seems that 90 per cent of the Sydney shows are considered worthy of national interest. OK.

Brisbane and Perth both get reviews of one touring event out of four, so 75 per cent of their shows are considered to be of national interest. None of the four events reviewed from Adelaide were tours, so that's 100 per cent (go Adelaide!)

But poor old Melbourne. Of the six events reviewed, three were tours. OK, three and a half, because the Melbourne Opera's Carmen is touring to Warrnambool. Here in the sticks, we only manage a national interest strike rate of 41.6 per cent.

Face it, Melbourne: since May 15, we have been precisely 48.4 per cent less interesting than Sydney. And we're 58.4 per cent less interesting than Adelaide. But at least we're 100 per cent more interesting than Darwin.

PS: I forgot about Canberra, our official "capital city": it seems I was not alone. No reviews from there either. It would be very interesting if some patient soul tracked all reviews for the past year, to see if the trends here are justly indicative of coverage (from my casual observation, which made me start counting in the first place, I wouldn't be surprised). In any case, I thought it might be handy to have relative population sizes, to put these figures in some perspective. For example: Melbourne's population is 85 per cent that of Sydney. Our arts coverage in the Australian is 60 per cent that of Sydney's. Is that an indication of a lack of cultural activity here? I don't think so...

Population sizes:

Sydney 4,293,105
Melbourne 3,684,461
Brisbane 1,820,375
Perth 1,507,949
Adelaide 1,138,833
Canberra 374,766
Darwin 113,955


Nicholas Pickard said...

Alison... it's really interesting that you have brought this up... That awful SAMAG conference that I went to at the Australia Council in April had Deborah Jones, an ex Australian arts editor, as chair.

One of the things she was talking about was how hard it was to find appropriate reviewers outside the centres of Sydney and Melbourne.

She used the examples of Adelaide and Perth - where the situation arises that the only qualified critic usually works in the office next to the conductor/composer/director at the same conservatorium/university/school etc etc...

She mentioned that that was why it was so hard to have better coverage of those states.

I hadn't even considered, while listening to this, that Melbourne actually is the poor cousin of us all (Except dear Darwin of course)... not for want of population or critics or whatever reasons they may have had.

I suspect the reason may well be simply that the headquarters are down the road from me at 2 Holt Street Strawberry Hills NSW.

Born Dancin' said...

I think if you factored in the number of reviewable shows in each city, weighting the average or something, Melbourne would come off even worse.

Then again, the touring qualifier might have to take into account the way some shows will only be mounted *if* they can secure touring partners in other cities - at least, that's the case in Melbourne. Is it so up north? If that's not such an issue, then it would explain why Melbourne has more reviews of touring works.

And interesting comment about the dearth of reviewers in some cities - Melbourne's artistic output certainly isn't matched by a correspondingly healthy critical diversity.

Alison Croggon said...

Any perceived lack of reviewers is wholly at the feet of arts editors/newspaper management: the editors are the ones responsible for nurturing talent: at least, every time I've read a famous theatre critic, they've talked about what they owed the editors who trained and encouraged them. And the proprietors are those who pay critics so little that it's hardly a desirable career path. So that complaint coming from that quarter is a little rich, really.

One thing that might weight the tours to Melbourne (maybe) might be the "regional" thing, opening here on the way to Sydney. If so, Melburnians might get a little huffy at being thought a region of Sydney! But I think Nicholas's explanation, being the most obvious, is probably the right one.

Anonymous said...

I find that there is an increasing trend toward interviews and promtional pieces for an event rather than a review.

Anonymous said...

Your article only confirms my Arts PR experience in Melb in where a piece in the Australian let alone a review was almost rare enough to compare with the mythical Aztec Gold!

Oh and then I moved to a regional area. Regional arts I dare say fare even worse than Darwin - were it statistically possible to be less than zero!.

Nicholas Pickard said...

Bring on the blog, I say.