Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Festival Post Mortem

I always knew I would write this post, but even now I find it difficult. I have been home 3 nights and there is nothing more comforting than fast ADSL, animals, my things and my solid pillar of Big Friendly. Still, for those of you who weren’t there or didn’t hear me say so, the festival was one long, tough, exhausting, often painful, occasionally inspiring, frighteningly empty affair.

I had very few people coming through the door to see Drive With Me, even though those that did seemed to love it, a lot. The combination of a great review on day 1 and then nothing until an Ovation award on day 10 didn’t help (although I am deeply grateful for both). Song And Dance got better and better, without a word or pic in CUE (to be honest I have no idea how people knew about it), and even though Pieter Bosch Botha and Richard Antrobus did a sterling publicity job on Fully Committed and people raved about it I had visions of sold-outs and extra shows because of how perfect it was for the festival. Truth is, it was a very quiet affair, with tons of parking in the streets, food and furniture always available at the Long Table, nobody at the Village Green, and people handing out comps left, right and centre. The only full show I attended was jammed full of school kids. That’s not to say there weren’t full ones. It seems shows that were there for the 2nd and 3rd time did better.

The worst part about all of this is that I am already thinking about how to do it differently next year. Please, theatre gods, if I decide to jump, look after me harder.

And now for some other news. I have decided, after much hearty discussion with friends, family and some colleagues, to stop writing review style posts here on meganshead. I am very sad about it, but I feel like it typecasts me in the industry and people then find it difficult to see me or receive me when I do theatre work of my own. Obviously, that is still more important to me, and so I think I will serve myself better if I am not seen as a theatre critic. I’ll still write, and share my opinions about everything else, including industry related stuff, but I will leave the ‘reviewing’ to those less involved, even though I am confident I did a bladdy good job. So, I will still see almost everything, and I will facebook and tweet about whether I liked it or not, but I’ll reserve this space for writing about other, varied stuff. How do you feel about that? Please send me comments to let me know.

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8 Comments

  1. I’d say continue reviewing, Megan, but only the shows you like. If you don’t like a show don’t review it. The great thing about being an adult is you don’t have to eat the vegetables you don’t like. That’s why being a critic is no job for an adult – critics ALWAYS have to eat their vegetables. I’m not being facetious and this is something I am paraphrasing from John Irving. Di Wilson lent me a Paris Review interview with him years ago. Here is the bit from that interview that has always stayed with me:

    “INTERVIEWER
    Have you ever learned anything from reading criticism about your work? Do reviews please or annoy you, or do you pay too little attention to them for that?

    IRVING
    Reviews are only important when no one knows who you are. In a perfect world all writers would be well-enough known to not need reviewers. As Thomas Mann has written: “Our receptivity to praise stands in no relationship to our vulnerability to mean disdain and spiteful abuse. No matter how stupid such abuse is, no matter how plainly impelled by private rancors, as an expression of hostility it occupies us far more deeply and lastingly than praise. Which is very foolish, since enemies are, of course, the necessary concomitant of any robust life, the very proof of its strength.” I have a friend who says that reviewers are the tickbirds of the literary rhinoceros—but he is being kind. Tickbirds perform a valuable service to the rhino and the rhino hardly notices the birds. Reviewers perform no service to the writer and are noticed too much. I like what Cocteau said about them. “Listen very carefully to the first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work that the reviewers don’t like; it may be the only thing in your work that is original and worthwhile.”

    INTERVIEWER
    And yet you review books yourself.

    IRVING
    I write only favorable reviews. A writer of fiction whose own fiction comes first is just too subjective a reader to allow himself to write a negative review. And there are already plenty of professional reviewers eager to be negative. If I get a book to review and I don’t like it, I return it; I only review the book if I love it. Hence I’ve written very few reviews, and those are really just songs of praise or rather long, retrospective reviews of all the writer’s works: of John Cheever, Kurt Vonnegut, and Günter Grass, for example. And then there is the occasional “younger” writer whom I introduce to readers, such as Jayne Anne Phillips and Craig Nova. Another thing about not writing negative reviews: grown-ups shouldn’t finish books they’re not enjoying. When you’re no longer a child, and you no longer live at home, you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. One reward of leaving school is that you don’t have to finish books you don’t like. You know, if I were a critic, I’d be angry and vicious, too; it makes poor critics angry and vicious—to have to finish all those books they’re not enjoying. What a silly job criticism is! What unnatural work it is! It is certainly not work for a grown-up.”

    Here is the complete interview if you wish to read it: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2757/the-art-of-fiction-no-93-john-irving

  2. megan

    Wow. I love it. Great advice, and from someone I adore.

  3. Marike Beyers

    I will miss your reviews. You are always so careful to include many aspects in the making play, the text, the staging, the directing, the acting… Of course this has nothing to do with what makes you feel uncomfortable with reviewing. I did come to see ‘Drive with me’ because I read your reviews and theatre articles regularly.
    thank you
    Marike

  4. megan

    Thank you Marike, I think what John Irving said was right. I shall continue to rave about what I like and will keep quiet about what I don’t.

  5. Oh, very happy to read these comments, and what an extraordinary interview.
    I love reading your reviews, and get to see so little theatre that it’s often only on the strength of a meganshead rave review that I find the momentum to rearrange several other people’s lives in order to make sure I get to not-miss something unmissable.

  6. Glad you liked Irving’s words. Keep the faith. G

  7. Astrid Stark

    So sad to hear about the Grahamstown turnout. I like John Irving’s views although I don’t entirely agree -with one of my favourite writers in the world! I am saddened to hear you feel you should not write reviews any more Megan. But I really understand on a very deep level your reasoning behind it. However I feel there are too many reviewers that tiptoe around poor productions because they don’t want to offend (not you clearly). I for one will miss your honest, balsy reviews – to me it seems as if you always worked very hard at them, trying to find the good, bad and excellent across all aspects of a production, even thought it cost you much torment to speak your mind. I don’t know about reviewing only the ones you like… somehow that does not sit quite right for me, but your situation might require it for your own sanity.

  8. megan

    Thanks Astrid, it’s complicated for me. I am not convinced our theatre industry is a generous one, and people hold grudges, as well as find it difficult to have colleagues wear different hats. I have more and more found myself in the position where people would prefer me being an actual reviewer and not a theatre maker. I thought I was ok with the balance myself, but it turns out that when I go on stage I am made doubly vulnerable and open to influences that aren’t always that healthy. I want to surround myself with the most positive vibes when I do create work, and I don’t think the split focus does me any good.

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