Remember when I said I was going to post every Friday, my column from the local rag, the Sunshine Coast Daily? Yeah? No. That hasn’t happened and you haven’t asked for it! But here’s my column from last week (Friday August 8 2014), which they actually printed without editing very much. Mostly, this column, somewhere between submitting and printing, has become a dead easy “What’s On?” list of things to see on the Sunshine Coast and often I’ll begin it with a comment on the state of the local arts scene. But I always wanted to throw into this space some of the harder questions too. Like, what is it we’re all doing? And, why are we doing it? And, what’s the use of reviewing what we’re doing if we continue to do just exactly what we’ve always been doing? #justasking
What makes this much more interesting than the fact that I felt the need to write it in the first place, is the way it was presented on the page, beneath a photo I didn’t submit, beside a “review” that no one saw coming because the other columnist on the page tends to write exclusively about his own theatre company and their productions. Isn’t media manipulation a funny thing? Separated, and published over different weeks, a parallel would not have even been drawn, but due to savvy editing and fascinating timing (could be a full moon thing), I came under fire on social media for presenting an opinion with which some people didn’t agree.
As I’ve explained to concerned friends and family over the weekend, I’m a blogger, I’m a writer, I’m a reviewer, and because I’m confident enough to put myself out there, it’s no surprise (and certainly not the end of the world!), when somebody has a problem with something I’ve said. I know they’d like to think they are all-powerful and all-knowing, with a convincing enough argument to band together a legion of fans in a vitriolic thread (for what purpose, I don’t know), but you know what? I’ve come to realise the trolls and haters who comment without thinking first are just little wizards of oz, hiding their insecure, trembling, self righteous little selves behind a great big curtain called a keyboard. Sam and I agree (What? I know! Surprise!), I must still be so naive! Because it genuinely surprises me every time to see somebody’s true colours online. Do they actually think they’re anonymous on Facebook?! Do they genuinely not realise that everyone knows everyone on Facebook?! OOPS! HA! I used to worry more about them and their opinions, and I do – of course I do – feel the awful sting of a snide remark or cruel comment. Who doesn’t? But then, and I thank you Brisbane community for helping me to move on after some interesting learning experiences, including Jekyll & Hyde and The Truth About Kookaburras, I take a breath and look at how wonderful every day is. Other than travelling the world (and we’re working on it!), we actually have everything we have set out to get. And we do love giving back. It makes me wonder what sort of lives the haters have. I learned very early, at school, that kids with less confidence would say whatever it took to make themselves feel better (but did they really feel better? Really?)… It’s actually laughable. I actually can’t believe some of the things people feel comfortable saying on social media. I wonder why they don’t say them to my face? I see them often enough! The Sunshine Coast is not a big pond! Isn’t it funny to really see someone for who they are? Luckily, I’m blessed with actual friends, and a supportive family and husband who are able to point out to me if I ever forget it –
Now let’s get some things straight, just in case you’ve been following the wrong Facebook threads.
Sam and I have only ever been supportive of local community theatre but the truth is, we are in the game now for slightly different reasons. In addition to “having fun” and being social, we want to continue to produce professional productions. We’re so proud of our original pieces, and of our recent success at Noosa Long Weekend Festival. It’s true, we expect a higher standard from everybody involved in our productions and THAT’S WHY WE PAY THEM. This is the fundamental difference between what we do and what is accomplished by the haters involved in their amateur groups. There is always going to be merit in treading the boards for free and for fun – it’s how we learned a heap of basic skills and developed enormous confidence too – but we decided a few years ago to try to make it pay, and now that it does so we’ll continue to focus on doing more of the same. You can argue that the quality of the productions are the same as your amateur efforts but in actual fact they’re usually not. How do I know? Because I’ve seen what you’ve been doing. And in the past there have been times when you’ve asked for feedback and I’ve offered it. Whether or not you’ve taken it on board, or even used it as a starting point to simply reconsider or reflect on what it is you’re doing, has been up to you. And we’ve certainly seen you improve…or not.
To see that I’m right, you should really get out more. Go see “good” theatre. Go see MORE theatre so you start to see for yourself what “good” looks like. You never have to take my word for it! Quite simply, Sam and I set our own standards and with a production budget we can afford to see that we reach them. We have a core ensemble – and it’s a true ensemble – and we will always welcome into that awesome little team, people with a professional approach to match our own. If you’re a performer (or stage manager or designer or techie) aspiring to greater heights, let us know. You don’t have to work for free anymore on the Sunshine Coast! Hooray! On the other hand, if you’re happy to do so, if you’re totally okay with the way you’re currently presenting on stage (and off), go ahead and keep supporting your local community group and having a ball! Cheers!
So. Sam is still the President of the Sunshine Coast Theatre Alliance, I’m still writing the column for the paper, we are both on the Noosa Long Weekend Festival board and programming committee, I’m on the Matilda Committee, and we are still directing, coaching, consulting, emceeing, promoting and supporting many local artists and events for free. We actually do far more for free, still, than for dollars. And that’s okay too, although we are more selective now about the people and charities we choose to support. We can only do so much. But we truly value community theatre so we continue to support it. We’ve always walked the talk. I thought that much was pretty obvious but I guess when some-unenlightened-body gets a bee in their bonnet they forget the big picture. It actually infuriates me momentarily, to see and hear criticism from those who purport to know us or to know better. But, sure, you’re entitled to your opinion too. Just maybe think twice before putting it online.
SCD Arts Friday August 8 2014
We know the Sunshine Coast has talent, and some of us can even recognise excellence when we see it on stage, however; I miss the days of legitimate local theatre reviews, which we used to enjoy via this publication, thanks to an arrangement with Ian Austin, professional playwright and critic. Those of us involved in theatre at the time remember our early Saturday morning race to buy the Sunshine Coast Daily for Mr Austin’s insightful write-ups of local productions. Not only did the reviews provide valuable feedback from a respected theatrical identity, they gave potential audience members valid reasons to consider which productions they might be interested in supporting.
It’s all very well for each community theatre group to promote their own production, or for enthusiastic cross-promotion to continue happening – after all, we should be supporting each other’s endeavours – but to blatantly mislead the public and the talent about the standard of a local show when one has recently attended no other local shows with which to compare it is outrageous and irresponsible.
To my understanding, a review is certainly one’s personal response to a production, but it should also offer some truth in terms of what audiences may expect to experience at a show. This requires broad knowledge, an open mind and the acceptance that honesty does not necessarily initiate or nurture friendships.
Amongst my peers, the theatre reviewers feel a degree of responsibility to the creatives, but also to audiences. Over the last five years I have attended, on average, 1-2 professional theatrical productions a week, and during festival time that number increases. What kind of reviewer would I be if I proclaimed every production just as excellent as the next? Or a mediocre production the most impressive? I don’t presume to help box office sell tickets – that’s what marketing collateral is for – but I do appreciate the opportunity to offer people a fair assessment of a show, allowing them to make up their own minds as to whether or not they might enjoy it.
It’s an unfortunate fact that theatre reviewing in this country is not valued enough by the industry, nor by the publications who seek content (both in print and online) to provide any remuneration for the job. Perhaps if it were a paid position, and genuine feedback was taken on board by those who insist on putting productions together, our audiences could reasonably expect a greater degree of excellence on local stages and attend the theatre more often, which in turn would help to sell tickets and keep our local theatre thriving. I wonder what the theatre companies, venues, councils and arts funding bodies might think of that? What do you think?
Next up, Sunshine Coast Theatre Alliance is hosting the largest theatre festival on the South East Queensland Drama circuit. This means, starting this Friday, we’ll be at The Lind, Nambour, for 10 days of workshops, forums, debates and one-act plays. We have a record number of youth entries across the final weekend of the festival and some new and familiar faces competing in the open section, which takes place this weekend.
Forum Panellists are Mahana Currie, Robyn Ernst (BYTE), Ian Mackellar (Noosa Long Weekend Festival) and Ian Williams, discussing Sunshine Coast Theatre – Past, Present, Future. The debate will see Mark Darin (MIX FM), Joy Marshall and Marina de Jager argue the merits of musical theatre with Gail Denver, Errol Morrison and Frank Wilkie. These events cost just $5 to attend and give you the chance to mix with the local makers and lovers of live theatre.
We welcome special guest adjudicator, Margi Brown Ash, Director of Hedonism’s Second Album, which opens on Thursday night at La Boite.
For SCTF14 details and bookings check out livetheatre.com.au