Along the grape vine... ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Along the grape vine...

...the word is that MTC associate director Julian Meyrick has resigned. And, according to several sources, he's resigned not in sorrow but in anger, although officially he plans to spend more time with his writing. (And not a bad thing, either: as his Platform Paper Trapped by the Past demonstrates, he's a nifty theatre historian and polemicist).

TN's flapping ears haven't picked up the inside story, but all the same, this strikes me as a very bad omen. The MTC is looking more and more rudderless compared to its Armani-coutured sister state company up in Sydney. Not only has the STC cornered the glamour market, it's just launched a 2008 theatre season that looks genuinely exciting. Among the sprinkle of obligatory Broadway/West End hits are seven (count that: seven) productions of new Australian plays, including a diptych from that Keene fellow, and major new works from some of the most exciting directors in Australia: Barrie Kosky (The Trojan Women), Benedict Andrews (The War of the Roses) and Nigel Jamieson (Gallipoli). The titles alone show that the STC is grappling with the major theme of our time: war.

Compared to that, the MTC's 2008 season looks a little wan. The Australian premieres are Joanna Murray-Smith's 90 and a vehicle play for Caroline O'Connors by David Williamson, both what the French call boulevard theatre. Aside from the brilliant Benedict Andrews production of Patrick White's The Season at Sarsaparilla, an import from the STC, and a pick up from Sydney's Griffin Theatre, Tommy Murphy's adaptation of Tim Conigrave's Holding the Man, it's basically a shopping list of tried plays from overseas.

I'm looking forward to David Harrower's Blackbird and curious to see Tom Stoppard's Rock'n'Roll, but I can't say the program has me delirious with excitement. I'm not sure that I'd go as far as the prominent director who recently waved his arm towards the MTC and cried: "It's a disgrace!" But should the flagship state company, and the mainstream keystone of Melbourne theatre, look so dusty? And this at a time when Melbourne theatre culture is more electric than it has been for decades.

The program might explain Meyrick's acrimonious departure: Meyrick was, after all, a major force for new work within the institution. I can't say I feel good about it. And neither should any of us in Melbourne who care about theatre.

UPDATE: Richard Watts, who rang the MTC publicity department, tells me that the Age mentioned Meyrick's resignation last month. Missed that one, but then my eyes do glaze over when reading Robin Usher...


On Stage And Walls said...

*sigh* well, I'm glad someone has said it at last. Nice to see that Keene fellow getting a show up on his home turf.

richardwatts said...

I just asked the MTC publicist, Adam Bennett about this, Alison; he says that Meyrick announced his resignation last month. Certainly Robin Usher mentions it in The Age on Tues 18th September, although he makes no mention of any ill-will, noting only that Meyrick is leaving to take up a post-doctoral research fellowship at La Trobe University. I look forward to seeing what you can dig up!

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Richard. Rats. Though Usher's mention was the day before my birthday, so I was no doubt distracted. Still, the rest still stands...

Anonymous said...

Hey Alison, not sure who or how reliable your sources are, but mine certainly don't have Meyrick leaving the MTC in anger. I'm intrigued now.

Alison Croggon said...

One could always go to Meyrick himself, although I imagine that Julian Meyrick, understandably, wouldn't want any dudgeon publicly known or discussed. Nor the MTC, for that matter. I don't usually do gossip, but this emanates from a number of mutually independent and, yes, well-connected sources.

In any case, the real issue is the MTC's (lack of) artistic vision. Whether this is connected to Meyrick's resignation is speculation. His departure doesn't bode well for new work in the MTC, as season 2008 strongly suggests. It will be interesting to see who replaces him.

Anonymous said...

Alison, you talk about ‘the word’ that I’m leaving MTC and the circumstances of my departure. ‘Let me cut the knot of your rhetoric with my knife of frankness’ (Goldoni). The fact I’m going has been an open secret since La Trobe University offered me a post-doctoral fellowship last year. I handed in my resignation in January, and it was publicly announced at the 2008 season launch, a month ago. ‘The word’ was also printed by Robin Usher in the Age. Hard to miss.

Far from being ‘acrimonious’ my relationship with MTC is (and always has been) warm and somewhat filial. I’ve got issues. Someone’s always taking my parking spot and bran muffins appear more frequently at the canteen than good digestion warrants. But the reasons I’m off are mundane ones. I have made the best contribution I am likely to make in my current position. I do two jobs. As well as directing, I read and assess the dozens of plays that get sent to the Company in any one year, and run the writer development program, Hard Lines. Like every artist in a big organization, my day is taken up with quotidian concerns that, over time, eat up energy and imagination. It’s not rocket science: after six years it’s simply time to go.

Things hurry you along though. There is now in Melbourne theatre a culture of critical review that is at once partisan, inflated and egregious. Over the last two years especially, I have watched with dismay as the tone of local crits has increasingly muddled subjective response and dispassionate analysis. Like the judges in Australian Idol, reviewers seem less concerned to address work presented than to trial aberrant, at times bizarre sets of personal predilections. This is particularly true of blog coverage which, in its looseness and lack of protocol, ignores context, embraces personal comment, and makes frequent use of strong, vilificatory language.

In my own shows I have frequently felt slighted, dismissed, misconstrued or misrepresented. If you walk the walk then you have to listen to the talk that’s talked. But I have also seen the artists around me going from being nervous of reviews to being afraid of them. Is that what you want? For artists to be afraid of you? It’s important to understand this kind of behaviour is in the air. Public culture in Australia is one of abuse and partisan comment. This is so ubiquitous perhaps we should be surprised only that it has held off from the theatre for so long.

Alison, you mention Trapped By the Past. In this pamphlet – and also in my history of the Nimrod Theatre – I mention Australian theatre’s addiction to scapegoating behaviour. There’s got to be any enemy, a worm in the apple: parasitic artists; inefficient managers; shows nobody wants; shows too many people like; small companies; large companies; any company. Theatre is vulnerable to this kind of specious attack. You can always criticize a show – or a season – for what it isn’t. The destruction of so many small theatre companies has left the surviving larger ones responsible for every remaining priority – that’s going to be a problem in future, especially in a country that doesn’t like to pay for its arts. There are other problems looming too – aging audiences, expensive buildings, de-literacy in the culture as a whole. Are we going to ignore these and just grind axes? The result can only be to bring the whole art form into disrepute.

Now that’s something to feel acrimonious about.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Julian

Great to see you here. I can't refrain from pointing out that the thing about blogs, as opposed to print journalism, is the opportunity to do precisely what you have just done - take issue with and answer criticism in the same space in which it it occurs. And I am very glad to hear your side of things. Obviously, you are the ultimate authority on your own state of mind. I was speculating, as I frankly said, and I got it wrong. I unreservedly apologise for any personal discomfort it may have caused you.

The question of MTC programming policy, which is really the point of my post, is another thing altogether, and here I am wholly within my rights to comment on the programming. It is not "destructive" to do so. If you put work out in public, that work is up for discussion. What matters more than anything, in my view, is that there is a diversity of viewpoints. I am one viewpoint, and it is quite clear where I'm coming from. In the blogosphere and print media, there are a wide number of others. It is important that they all exist, if we are to think of ourselves as a lively culture. If we put out work in a public space, we must take the good with the bad. And I include myself in that.

More generally, I disagree with many of the things you say about blogging. The culture of review that has been "partisan, inflated and egregious" is so much more the case in the mainstream media that I wonder that you can seriously level it at blogging, which I would say for the most part permits a far more generous and curious approach to reviewing, in part because so many different responses become available. Are my reviews really less fair than some of Cameron Woodhead's? I don't think so. As for artists being afraid of me, I am very sorry if they are. It is most certainly not my intention. I'm quite friendly, really.

I agree with you about many of the problems facing theatre culture. However, I think that if people think that the way to address them is by shutting down debate or demanding only "supportive" criticism, then we might as well give up now.

The MTC is our biggest theatre institution and absorbs a great proportion of the money allotted to theatre: it must and should be discussed. I am not scapegoating, I am not being abusive: I am questioning. "This kind of behaviour" is what makes a democracy. If we don't permit it, what are we doing?

Chris Boyd said...

Who is this Stepford Wife masquerading as Julian Meyrick?

Why on earth isn't your relationship with the MTC acrimonious Julian?

I remember a brilliant young director writing dazzling essays spruiking the work of brilliant young playwrights (well, one in particular, Luke Devenish) and staging the kind of work I'd pay money to see.

Mate, what have you achieved in six years? (Or, like Byron's Manfred, is your greatest act not committing suicide?)

Of course it's the critics job -- like Tynan or GBS -- to comment on and champion what's not being done. I take your point, sometimes apples are dissed for not being pineapples, but like most commercial fruit salads, there's too much fucking melon in the mix.

Congrats on the appointment.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, Julian's got some acrimony all right.
Perhaps he's fallen into the classic trap of 'blaming the audience' and by extension 'blaming the commentariat'?
Maybe he's not leaving in dudgeon, but surely he can't be leaving satisfied.