Theatre, Meet the Critics

We’ve been told enough times already that “NSDF is a unique opportunity” for everyone involved, whether an actor, director, producer, writer, designer, technician or tea lady, to hone their skills, meet new people and discover more about their discipline. There’s another unique opportunity, however, which we can easily overlook, and that is to create a genuine conversation between the people who make theatre and the people who write about it.

As Jake Orr described on these very pages earlier in the week, Dialogue is a project which has, over the course of about a year, tried to bring artists and writers together in a room to talk about their practice. Questions of ethics surrounding criticism, the usefulness of reviews and star ratings have all been considered in the discussions I’ve attended, with artists asking critics why they write and critics asking artists why they make theatre.

An opportunity like this at NSDF feels foolish to miss. The Noises Off office is exactly seven seconds away from the bar (I have just timed it) and there really ought to be more traffic between the two rooms. There are few other theatrical settings where you can write a review, file it and go and chat to the makers straight after, which may or may not make you want to change what you’ve said. Or where, as a theatre-maker, you can chat to a critic as they write about you.

This set-up also allows us to ask questions about the ethics of theatre-writing. Is it okay, for example, to go to the bar and chat to the company before writing the review? Or to bump into a company member one night and review their show later in the week? How does this affect the way we write about The Thing in question? Does this satisfy the readers’ “need” for “objectivity”?

My feeling is that these questions become less problematic in a context like this, which encourages experimentation with form and asks us to question the assumptions we already hold. We are all, for the most part, seeing the same shows, and so as writers may not have the same amount of responsibility to a readership as we ordinarily would in the “real world”. The responsibility might have shifted somewhat to focus more on the artists and give them more credit, so that – if anything – it could be deemed the responsible thing to do to talk to a company before writing about their show. Or not. But it’s worth a try.

Either way, I’ll see you in the bar.

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