Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Shock

In a shocking turn of events today I discovered the very real possibility that what I was trying to do here on my blog was not only not appreciated, but that there were people (friends and colleagues included) who, although they haven’t said anything, feel that me being directly involved in theatre, knowing many of the people I write theatre stuff about and even being good friends with a lot of them, is a conflict of interest and that I shouldn’t be doing it.

I am the first one to acknowledge that meganshead has had its moments of being controversial, out there, outspoken and even a trend bucker. There has been stuff that I have loved that others have hated and visa versa, although I have always felt that I said why. I have taken my share of flack from those who disagree. I have even been threatened, hurt and accused of horrible things, all of which I have handled, sometimes with more grace than others.

I feel like I need to remind people that this blog is independent and unsponsored, and I do not make any money from it at all. In fact, if it weren’t for the hours and cash put in by Big Friendly there wouldn’t be this blog. I go and see stuff on my own time and write about things on my own time, although I do get offered comps and, more and more I get invited to opening nights. I also want to remind people why I started meganshead and why I have persevered with it for almost four years. I felt that there was a serious lack in both the number and quality of reviews for theatre in Cape Town, and also that they came out so long after a show had opened. It seemed that I became part of the publicity of productions, and that on the whole this was seen as a good thing, regardless of how I felt about the show. That’s the risk of having anyone write anything about theatre.

But up until today I thought that this was a tacit agreement. I now see that there are people who really think I shouldn’t be doing what I do. And I’d love to throw open the debate. Are you a friend? Do you just read my blog? Do you have an opinion about this? Do you think I can write honestly about stuff even if it includes my friends’ work? Is it a problem that I too am involved in the industry? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions, and be honest. I need to decide how to move forward.

 

Previous

Putting the fest to bed

Next

Beautiful, versatile improv work

12 Comments

  1. 1. Love reading your blog.

    2. Your blog enables a bit of debate between audiences, random readers, theatre professionals, and those of us somewhere in between. That rocks.

    3. Blogging is in totally murky water between public and personal domains.

    4. I’d characterise Meganshead as unambiguously personal, and fiercely so. The design screams personal. The lack of advertising screams personal. The tone, the register, the subject matter – all personal. You do rants about MTN, sharing about home and family and pets and loves as much as theatre. Personal. Definitely.

    5. If the blog were wholly devoted to reviewing, and presented in some sort of sponsored, impersonal, professional-reviewer way, then maybe (MAYBE – not even sure) that might start to raise some of those issues: are you declaring your interests etc etc. But you don’t present yourself as anything other than your passionate, committed, opinionated self.

    6. You totally declare your interests. Your utter honesty is one of the most captivating aspects of the blog. You tell us when you want to love something but just can’t. You tell us when you want to hate something but it swept you away with it.

    7. Your comments are enabled. That means the floor is open for debate – and you welcome it and take it in good humour, even the crazy flamers.

    8. You welcome other contributors whose views totally contradict yours.

    9. Obviously, necessarily, your blog is going to be limited by your tastes and interests. But it’s a personal blog and that’s how it goes.

    10. See 1 above.

    Your involvement in the industry is what gives you the depth of understanding and views that you express here. If Joe Layperson wants to blog about theatre, that’s fine too. Personally, I find it always a bit distasteful that critics are usually non-creative folk with a taste for opinionating on the work of others. I vote write on.

  2. BigFriendly

    I admit to being a bit biased, but I think some facts and figures are required here.
    This site gets:
    1. an average of 2700 visits a month.
    2. of which 2000 are unique visitors.
    3. resulting in 4000 page views.
    4. visitors are mainly from ZA, but UK and US and even Botswana trends quite high.

    People are quite happy when reviews or opinions expressed here are glowing and feed their self perception and/or ego. Positive comments are used on posters and press releases.

    But by god do the trolls come out from under the bridge when there is anything negative, no matter how constructive.

    I vote, nay I insist, write on.

  3. Simon Cooper

    OK, so Megan is a friend of mine and vice-versa. My wife and I run Kalk Bay Theatre and have a large interest in good reviews on the work we present. We don’t always get good reviews and some of the bad reviews are written by Megan on this blog. This does not affect our frindship – why should it, Megan is entitled to a view. I quote from her post dated July 10 called “Putting the Fest to bed” – “I loved disagreeing with Simon Cooper about virtually every show we saw”. She exaggerates a little because there were some shows we both liked but yes our tastes are diverse. But again, so what ? The fact that Megan writes, performs and directs, i.e works in theatre is frankly irrelevant. What is relevant is whether Megan’s views are her honest views and not slanted to help her friends or diss her competitors – if anyone wants to suggest that she doesn’t write honestly or does diss her competitors to her advantage, a visit to a therapist is called for, quickly !!
    Go look at the post she wrote about a show at KBT and her bad mood – then read the comments I wrote. I stand by that sentiment and I also tried to use the interest that that post created to get favourable comments out there. But you know what i still drink red wine with Megan and have her as a house guest at the Fest.
    The fact that Megan [and now some others who have followed suit in getting reviews out quickly] writes about a show within 24 hours is exactly what we want and if there could be a return to seeing reveiws in the mainstream press within 24/48 hours of their critic seeing the show, I would be delighted. And let me stress, those reviews should be an unbiased and honest expression of the critic’s view of the piece. If our plays take flack, so be it, we and the performers must deal with it. That’s life and it ain’t always fair.
    So I say “Sail on, Oh Ship of State!” – do not be deterred by those who rail against you. They do think straight !!

  4. Jaqueline Dommisse

    I am a friend and I want to separate our friendship from your professional opinion. I really would prefer it if you didn’t write about my work again. This is personal. I do want to hear what you think of my work, however harsh or critical, over a glass of wine or a cup of tea… just between friends.I’m not tough enough to take public criticism from those I love. I thought I was. I’m not.

    But I do not think you should stop blogging about theatre. You fulfill a valuable role as an independent voice.

    If people don’t want you to write about their work, thay can ask you not to and I know you will respect that. Meganshead fills a space abandoned by print media – newspaper arts pages are shrinking and disappearing and we do all need reviews, they help to market our work.

    You are also very, very funny as a performer and a writer and I love reading your opinions on theatre and cricket and cats and whatever… and absolutely love the video vignettes.

    My favourite part of Meganshead is when you’re out of your head: Moira, Melissa, Maritjie, Michael and my a absolute best: Margeaux and her bitchy Bordeaux and rant about audience behaviour.

  5. Simon Cooper

    Dear Jaqueline
    I respect your views but I don’t think that you can ask a friend such as Megan not to write about your work if part of what she does / is, is a commentator on theatre.
    Megan, I know, is sensitive to this sort of thing. I think perhaps it is time I put something in the public domain that proves this. In my previous comment I mentioned a bad [very bad] review that Megan wrote about a show at KBT. Now I realise that this is not “my work” in the sense that you say that but please believe when I say that I am as nervous as any performer on opening night and that we, inter alia, invest personally and emotionally in productions at KBT. When Megan got home and before she wrote the review in question, I got an email from her saying something along these lines “listen I detested that show and if I write about it, it’s going to be bad. I don’t want to hurt you or KBT. What say you ?” Our response was that we did not like censorship and to ask her not to write a bad review would amount to at least passive censorship so she she should write what she wanted to about the show. Was it painful for us ? Yes Did it affect the show adversely ? Difficult to tell as others loved it and we used that to publicise the show, inter laia on Megan’s Head. Should she have withheld comment ? No never.
    If a function of Megan’s Head is to review or comment on theatre in Cape Town, then that should be all inclusive of whatever Megan goes to see.
    So sorry I don’t think you can ask what you do of Megan.

  6. alfred rietmann

    Ag please. Megan must write what she wants to write, for goodness sake. If you are going to put your work out there then you must expect it to be ignored, praized or critisized. Fact of (artists) life. Please, Megan, write on.

  7. whenever i used to watch barry ronge movie reviews when he did them on some tv show [so long ago i can’t remember] i knew how to use them – if barry hated it, there was a good chance i would love it, if he loved it i had to be careful… does that mean barry ronge writes/speaks bad reviews? not at all.. it just means that i know what i like and was able to discern that generally from what he liked and didn’t it was likely the opposite – my point being that you don’t have to like or agree with someone’s review for it to be a good review

    my first point to megan on this blog is that it is a flippin blog which means write what you want period. altho don’t write about periods because people don’t like to hear that kind of stuff.

    there was a part of me that followed megan’s blogs about grahamstown thinking, ‘waitasecond who has megan got writing her blogs, she is praising the majority of these shows and isn’t she supposed to be this huge theatre hater bitch?’ [according to people who have responded pretty nastily on this blog at times and called her reviewing to question] and yet she gave megan reviews – gushed over the ones she loved and slammed the ones she hated – i wasn’t at grahamstown but if i had been i definitely know of a bunch of shows i would have loved to have checked out based on megan’s reviews…

    and a bunch of other stuff but mostly echoing lisa and simon and big friendly [especially the ‘i insist’ part at the end] – carry on megan, i am sure a lot of people find it helpful, far away in a distant land i find them at the very least amusing and interesting and worth reading…

  8. Cindy Harris

    Most theatre practitioners know that in the long term ‘word-of-mouth’ is the most powerful medium regardless of the critics. I think that to have both in one source, i.e. Megan as experienced practitioner / reviewer airing her views on her own personal site is of value.
    Particularly given the lack of informed arts writers in South Africa.
    The big proviso is whether a critic, reviewer, friend, person in the street is able to substantiate and / or contextualise their position. Which Megan does especially well from the little I’ve read. For example the recent review of ‘Death of a Colonialist’ where she runs against the tide of opinion in her opening statement then says ‘Here’s why.’ and reveals her thinking in the process opening up the nature of directing and staging.
    In other words Megan can back it up and by the way educates the average audience. Does it matter where the writing appears if the checks and balances are well contained within the article…

  9. ugli bob

    I would say it’s fairly unanimous that you should keep writing about theatre, Megan – yours is a voice that is a huge asset to the theatrical scene, and we all appreciate your thoughts and insights, musings, questions, and challenges…be they positive or negative (and even if they’re the latter, they’re still positive, really). It always upsets me when you get so personally attacked for your opinions on work.

    That said, I think the fascinating thing about Meganshead, and blogging in general, is that it spans that curious gulf of personal reflection and professional criticism. And very often those two get muddy, and I guess the temptation is, when faced with an adverse reaction, to go – well, it’s just a blog; or, when it starts bordering on the personal – well, it’s theatre criticism/reviewing. And that’s maybe more something to debate, not the good/bad review angle. There were two interesting reviews on Meganshead from NAF where these appeared – one on the side of the performers, and the other on the side of the reviewer, and for a moment in both it was – oooh, this is fascinating: worlds have collided, and how will this play out.

    I suppose it has something to do with the profession of reviewing – Meganshead is becoming more and more well known known, and it’s great to see you as part of Artsblog. The fact that people invite you to openings, or give you comps, is a sign that they want to know your reviewing opinion. (And I’m not for a moment suggesting that you have to only write good reviews – it’s a simple transaction: if you invite the media, as a theatre maker/manager you have to accept what that person says professionally.) Here the lines are very clear. And maybe the more personal angles are for when you pay to go see a show and it has an impact on you and here it leans towards the personal blog. I dunno if that’s clear – what do you think?

    As for theatre makers, I think we should reserve the right to invite who we want to see our work. For a host of reasons, not something as simple as ooh, we only want good reviews. Making and presenting work is a very personal, deep, and fragile thing, and more often than not all we want is the work to stand on its own, and it to be viewed as critically as it can be. As a case in point, we’ve been hounded by a certain critic over the last few years who just simply doesn’t get our work, is seemingly hellbent on vilifying it, and somehow comes to everything we do…and we always ask: why? Why does he do that? He seems to have a personal axe to grind, and so why should we invite him when he’s already made up his mind about the show before it begins, and uses us as personal target practice? (We make life hell for our publicist…)

    But these be just thoughts, ramblings, wonderings and wanderings. More to the point – keep on writing! Keep on vlogging! Am always keen to see/read/hear what you have to say…

  10. megan

    Ooh Ugli
    Now I’m dying to know what the two interesting meganshead reviews were and what you are referring to. Thanks for the well thought out feedback. I share your feelings that there are areas of murk. That means I have to be doubly vigilant that what I say comes from a place of total integrity.

  11. Jaqueline Dommisse

    @ Rob Murray: in the murky space of blogging vs formal review one thing theatre makers should also be aware of in digital media is its half-life which is like, forever.

    The nature of electronic media means that we can’t sweep it under the carpet and never refer to it again, like we used to be able to do with a bad review in print media. A bad press review might have affected a current run, but not necessarily the future of the show. We could assume people would forget yesterday’s news, now they can Google it in perpetuity. If we’re trying to sell our show on, producers / festivals/ funders may trip up on supporting work that has been negatively framed not just next week but even several years from now.

    Megan’s Head has tremendous reach (see Big Friendly’s stats above) and this year was repeated on Artsblog and syndicated further. That’s powerful and I’m a little wary of that power in relation to trying to market my own work. We had a raving bad review on Artslink for I AM HERE last year… ugly, personal, and attacking and in a lot of parts inaccurate, but with very little other comment online or in newspapers at first, that one stayed on top of the search lists for ages. I don’t know if it did us harm in the long term, the show won awards and sold on to festivals here and abroad, but it certainly didn’t help.

  12. Hi Jacqui,
    I realise I may be entering this discussion only after much of the dust has settled. I note your concern about the longevity of the electronic media: I read the so-called review of I AM HERE and agree it was a nasty piece. But your concerns about your on-line reputation being forever tarnished are misplaced. As someone who is concerned with marketing your own work, don’t allow the ubiquity of electronic media to intimidate and disempower you. There are many strategies and tools you can use to mediate the way you are perceived in cyberspace before resorting to shooting the messenger (which in the case of the I AM HERE crit may prove to be the better option, I concede). Here’s an article you may find interesting: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/the-growing-business-of-online-reputation-management/
    With love and respect
    Adrian

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén