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Rants, Raves and Occasional Reviews: "Sound and fury signifying nothing"

VANCOUVER, B.C. - A brief debate on the effect of blogs  on  professional theatre criticism was begun in January on the Immediate Theatre website.  Although this thread fizzled out after a few postings it got me thinking about the broader issue of professional expertise versus the ever increasing accessibility of information for the general public. This is an issue that will grow more and more important as advances in technology continue to modify human ecology.

So I pose the question and hope to provoke further discussion:  do reviews or opinion piece postings by non-theatre professionals  add any value to the discourse on drama and theatre or are these musings just background chatter, muddling the waters; “tale(s) told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?"

Moving from the general to the particular: What are my credentials for writing this column and what is my purpose for doing so?  I am neither published playwright, dramaturge, producer, director, actor, designer, stage manager  nor technician. I have no academic credentials, at least not in drama or theatre, nor am I a professional journalist.

Yet in many ways I have the best credential of all. I am  a “bum”. No, not one of those sad, desperate people, hanging around outside the theatre hoping for a handout, but one of those people that companies want when they refer to getting “bums in seats”.  I actually pay to see plays. Yes, I chose to spend my hard earned cash on supporting live theatre. I see as much as I can, my main limitation being time. Vancouver has come of age as a theatre city. These days there are usually more productions on than I have time to see.

In order for new theatre companies to survive and for our new young writers, actors and technicians to thrive in their profession, people have to want to see plays. I find it heartbreaking to watch an excellent production and be one of a handful of people in the audience. So we need to get “bums in seats” and therefore opinions and feedback from such “bums” need a forum to be heard.

Sometimes when I suggest that a particular play is worth seeing I will get comments like “ I don’t know much about plays”, or “I wish I knew what makes a play good”. Others say they wish they know more about lighting or sound or set design.  I tell them that they don’t have to be experts to enjoy the theatre experience but as they see more plays, so they will learn more about why certain plays appeal to them more than others.

My objective for this column is to increase the accessibility of theatre and show that one does not have to be an expert to appreciate the skill that goes into creating and mounting a show.  Maybe, as for art there is “good” and “bad” theatre. However my expectations are very simple. I want to be entertained, completely drawn into the play so I don’t get bored or fall asleep!. As well I want to be left with something to think and talk about when it is over, whether it’s a philosophical, ethical or socio-political issue, an outstanding performance, a memorable set, gorgeous costumes, intricate choreography or outstanding sound and light design. However, the best production cant counteract the effect of a poor script. So I consider theatre to be “good” if I enjoy it and “bad” if I don’t.

I hope this column will engender some discussion through this blog. If you want to send private comments you can reach me at gill_lockitch@yahoo.ca