Partly as a consequence of my natural inclination to sloth, and a partly due to the precarity of certain financial realities in my otherwise cushy life, I’ve had a habit, in this space, of failing to address various criticisms or counter-arguments as they’ve arisen. There was, moreover, a period of time when my absence from blogging was largely due to my preoccupation with creative labours; these labours have since dried up like so many shriveled pricks. The play I’ve been working on for well over two years now (!) is not going well, and hasn’t been for some time.
Since quitting this theatre racket altogether and going off somewhere to build cabinets for a living is not really in the cards for me, handy-man-wise, and since one must, so to speak, use it or lose it, and since I’ve now used two penis-related metaphors in so many paragraphs, I return belatedly to discursive writing to flex the old muscle (damn damn damn…) and address some of the riff-raff (I love you all so very much).
Given the massive and probably somewhat brand-destroying lacuna between my last blog post and this one, and given the fact that I’ve spent some of the past hour washing my dishes and sort of muttering softly under my breath about god only knows, I’ve decided to take this occasion as an excuse to get back to blogging.
One of the realities of writing about theatre in the blogosphere is that generally speaking, most of the people doing it have political affinities which are remarkably similar to my own, and while this experience can at times be veritably cockle-warming and sort of affirming, emotionally, it doesn’t always yield the most exciting or useful debates when it comes to politics and theatre. One of the characterizing features of theatre-thinking in this country is that it is dishearteningly echo-chamber-like, especially online. Yeah, we get the odd Twitter conversation about Factory Theatre’s decision to delay the invite to critics, or Kelly Nestruck’s recent (and interesting) article about Equity – but these are concerns about particularities; what’s missing (or at least marginalized), it seems to me, is any kind of fundamental disagreement about what, how, or why theatre is, or ought to be.
I don’t pretend to offer a total paradigm-shift here. But I’ve been thinking a lot about, specifically, the influence of the Internet and the proliferation of a post-New Left vocabulary on theatre artists (at least in Canada), and how these otherwise mostly positive forces might be having a negative effect on not only our artistic practice, but on our ability to talk sensibly about systemic and cultural deficiencies in Canadian theatre.
A warning: this is going to be long, and circuitous. I’m nothing if not verbose. Bear with me – I promise I’m going somewhere with this.
Can I possibly be correct in assuming that I can write a piece about the state of art criticism today without seriously fearing for the future of my career? As in, should I be prepared for a cut-away to a cigar-chomping & mysteriously Brooklyn-accented Richard Ouzounian slamming the screen of his laptop shut & shouting “Offord’ll never work in this town again!”? Like, what is this? Hollywood of the ’40s?
Except that it’s a real fear & not to be considered lightly (although, it does seem to say a lot about me as a writer that I tend to begin all my posts with some variation of bashful apology). I don’t want to overstate the power of critics in the theatre community – I’m generally distrustful of those who do – but credit given where credit due & all that. The negotiations of the weird relationship between artist & critic have always been murky & at worst openly hostile. Where terms are good, the artist risks accusations of “selling-out,” & the critic of favouritism. But if the worth or merit of a play can be discussed in critical terms, surely what’s good for the goose is good for the whatever, no? After all, though I’ve taken issue with particular modes of criticism & feel little compunction in calling out individuals by name, I can’t possibly be accused of “attacking” anyone, exactly, can I? I have no interest in writing broadsides, & the code-of-conduct to which I enjoin my blog’s comment-section (to little avail, unfortunately) is the same for my posts: snark is fine. Who doesn’t like a good snarkfest? But rudeness, vindictiveness, & general derision: not for me, thanks. I leave that stuff to the pros.
The impetus for this post comes from Michael Wheeler (Artistic Director of the politically minded Praxis Theatre Company), whose new project is called SpiderWebShow, described as “A theatrical space where Canada, the Internet and performance minds intersect” (the absent Oxford comma is, I assure you, thoroughly sic). Both Mr. Wheeler & Praxis are rare creatures of at least the Torontonian theatre scene that I know, in that they are interested not just in the creation of performances, but in seriously pursuing the “Why” of theatre in Canada. Practitioners too often leave these questions to academics – Holger Syme, for example – & adopt a sort of “See No Evil” attitude which ultimately manifests in the work. Not to say the work is bad, per se; merely that a lot of times it seems disconnected from a public discourse about theatrical teleology. Even in the way plays are marketed (& reviewed) they adopt the qualities of commercial products, of things which are bought & sold but not necessarily important, vital, or immediate.