Friday, October 5, 2007

Play reviews, artistes and quacks

There was a time when a play review would give a reader fair, all round peeks in the production. Probably the newspaper editors no longer find theatre arts worthy of their talented scribes, hence their contentment with shallow pieces from an array of quacks masquerading as critics/reviewers.

There is no denying that theatre artistes need the services of the print media. True, too, that placing a decent advertiser’s announcement is beyond most production budgets, leaving any chances of coverage to an editor’s whims. To many a desperate artiste, therefore, any coverage would be better than none. But then, but what value can possibly be added to a production by a three-paragraph “review” written in bland style by a wannabe scribe. None, I think. Unless an artiste thinks that a month’s mental and physical exertion by way of rehearsals can be sold off like a second-hand pair of shorts at the local market.

There is need for producers to interact closely with media editors to put their case for enlightened coverage. This means that producers themselves must of necessity be skillful and coherent enough to navigate their way in the corporate environment. Leaving things to fate will invariably invite shoddy treatment from a business that is forever cutting corners to beat deadlines. Some ‘reviews’ do really look like hurried copy-paste jobs to fill up blank space. A mention in the press may well excite a publicity-starved producer but its potential to disappoint an audience may well render it a valueless service. The theatre group will likely spend the ensuing days absorbing vilification from irate patrons while the scribe, the real con-artiste, will probably be ordering for another keg of malt, barley and hops. The not-so-creative fellow is not to blame for he does only that which is within his competence. Or lack of it.

It is infuriating to see some third-rate stringer fumbling with words to cobble a review of work they have neither read nor seen, profiling actors they have only heard of and generally committing acts of plagiarism.

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