Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: review

What Audiences Want

I know this has been a recurring theme in my work and writing. I asked the question more boldly when I was young. The Return of the Rhino Woman asked it directly, with me as performer refusing to come out of the dressing room until the audience declared their interest and commitment to the performance. I have been posing it differently since then, and more subtly, but I really do want to know this more, and better.

A result of wanting to know this has been me switching from writing about theatre I see, here, in my deeply personal and uncensored way, to writing about theatre in a more official review style for Weekend Special. My writing there has a much broader audience, especially since it isn’t only people who know me and my blog. I believe the WS readers are mostly Capetonians who want to find out about good theatre in the city, and productions who can use positive words and phrases for publicity. But is it? Are they?

I went to see The Cenotaph of Dan Wa Moriri on Monday night and wrote about it immediately when I got home. It was a most beautiful piece of theatre by an incredible performer. I loved everything about it. All I wanted was to do the piece justice and to make people want to see it. My review went live on Wednesday morning and I can see it has been read a fair number of times. But has it made a difference? Have people read my review and gone to see the show?

If you are reading this, and you read my review, did you go? Have you made a plan to see it? Please let me know.

Rose tinted theatre glasses

After a self-questioning week, I’ve thought a lot about theatre, theatre reviewing, and the problems that both face. I’ve got some pretty radical ideas about how these little worlds play out, and I’ve decided that however dependent they are on each other they are also responsible for each others’ downfall. Let me explain.

A couple of months back I had a confidential chat with someone who sees a ton of theatre and writes about everything he sees. I must point out that he is independent, not writing for money or for a boss. He also puts out press releases and operates as a platform to generate publicity. I see him at every opening night I’m at. (He goes to them all, I’m sure. I only go to the ones I am invited to). This man confessed to not being able to write a review in which he said that the production (or even aspects of it) were bad. He just couldn’t manage the bad publicity this would create and he doesn’t want to be responsible for any production’s lack of success. So he writes good stuff about whatever he sees. I think that this is bullshit. The whole point about reading someone’s opinion, a review, a crit, is to get a sense of whether that person thought the thing was good or bad, or even in between. I tried in vain to make my point. As far as he was concerned, there is so little theatre and the theatre-going audience is so small they should be encouraged to see everything.

I left the discussion fuming. I could not possibly recommend that others see something that is, in my opinion, rubbish. And that comes with its own price. I am known as harsh, a bitch, and even somebody who hates everything she sees. Which of course is totally untrue; in general I like much more than I don’t, and mostly there will be aspects of a production that I like and stuff that I don’t.

I am often astounded by what I call “Emperor’s new clothes” reviews. These are reviews where it feels like the critic has been star struck or is in awe of one or other famous star, the director, the management, or even the writer. It’s as if there is no possibility that the production could be anything other than amazing and so therefore, it is. Two productions (one which I saw and one which I didn’t) got rave reviews across the board for these kinds of reasons. The production I saw was horrible, and the one everybody secretly spoke about sounded like hell and boredom combined. Because it feels like everybody in this town is too shit scared to own up and write that a production was bad, performers and directors believe that their mediocre, or unoriginal or boring work is good enough, and then they attack anyone brave enough to say anything against it. When I write an honest, harsh review about something I don’t like, and justify it, I am the baddie, not the production.

This is so dangerous because people believe what they read. Our industry is a fragile one, and I want to be sure people know what they are getting. I hate the idea of the ordinary somebody going so see something that has been given glowing reviews, and they sit there thinking, is it me? Am I dof? Am I the only one who thinks this is boring/bad/ridiculous?

If reviewers and critics aren’t owning up and telling the hard truth then what’s the point of them at all? Might as well just print the self-promoting press release. Oh, wait, somebody actually did that in Grahamstown, and passed off chunks of the press release as their very own review. They saw in the show everything the press release said about the show. Now the actors think they’re conveying it. Those in the audience who aren’t seeing it either feel like idiots or bitches. And they all follow the first arsehole who stands.

It makes me depressed. And sad. And gek. There is a good part to this though. Whenever I say I loved something, or even liked something, or even part of something, whoever reads what I wrote will know that I mean it.

 

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.

 

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