28.12.07

Writing about bad theater

I have always avoided writing about bad theater. There are few reasons for that. Firstly, I usually know beforehand what performances I might like and what not based on the previous experience, selection of material etc. (I also believe that once in a while you should see performances you know you probably will not like just to keep the option of getting surprised open or get validation to your suspicions). Secondly, the process of writing about something you did not enjoy is very tiresome and painful as you have to force yourself to do it, since there is no motivation to write (situation is different with performances you hated, that being just as strong of an emotion as love, I am talking about theater that leaves you indifferent). And thirdly, do I want to admit or not, in a small country like Estonia there´s always temptation to let things be (“it wasn´t that bad” or “everyone knows it´s bad anyway” are repeating self-persuasion phrases). All that might as well be one of the main reasons I like to visit theater festivals so much: most of the time you have no previous experience with the artists´ work, festivals tend to have performances that at least make you argue against them and on rare occasions of whatever-theater there´s no conscience torturing you.


Hence not writing about bad theater can find some sufficiently solid reasoning but what about watching bad theater? To quote the leader of Needcompany Jan Lauwers (through the blog of Andrew Haydon): “Seeing work that doesn’t change my definition of theater is a waste of time.” A rather arrogant statement I myself have been known to mumble after seeing some unfortunate theater. But if we understand the “definition of theater” as acquired taste, the tables turn: taste is a process of constant change (part of a life-long learning if you must) and therefore if you deny it from developing by seeing theater you usually wouldn´t you might suddenly become someone others refer to as a person who is left behind and has conservative taste. Because most brilliant ideas-methods-forms start off incompetently and leave you in a need for a good roar. Most directors have started with productions like that and that honestly is the only way to do it and I´d like to believe that feedback by critics play a part in any artist´s evolution.


Obviously not all bad theater is a beginning of something great, some just lack the energy, motivation and purpose a good performance must have. But they should still be seen because a) it keeps you on a ground showing the bigger picture and b) how else would you know what is good. It is much easier to explain why you like something than things that leave you indifferent and so I suggest any critic to think about what theater he or she does not like and why. I´ll be honest, opening my Office Writer this morning I had every intention to do just that but for some reason I have successfully postponed it by arguing over wider topic. But I will, that is my new years resolution: to define what is whatever-theater to me.

3 comments:

friend said...

it rises a bit bigger question - why critic writes about the theater at all? for who? why do you have to enjoy the piece? should critic take the position to judge about the piece and spread it over the media? this is interesting question...

Ott Karulin said...

I do not really bother myself with the question why and to whom I write anymore. I write because this is how I process the emotions I get watching theater, hence I write to myself and to people like me. I do not feel I am a judge nor an advertiser.

Sean said...

Interesting. I rather enjoy eviscerating a really bad performance, sometime awfulness provides good entertainment. I know this is mean and awful, but it is also true.

Mediocre plays in particular leave me unable to say much (or more accurately, I’m not motivated to say much, the joy is gone). So I would find it much easier to write about good stuff, but again sometimes differentiating between good and really moving, rare and exceptional performances is hard (apart from saying, rare, exceptional and moving).