Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review Squared, April 2, 2013

Writing Yourself In
by Valerie Cardinal

Last week, I touched a little bit on the issue of the writer including themselves in their reviews. This week, I’m going to dive right in. As I’ve stated in some of my previous columns, including some of your personal experience in reviews can be an effective technique to discuss a production. However, I get the feeling that some writers get caught up in that discussion and lose the plot – often, quite literally. 

Both of these examples come from one of my favourite Toronto-based theatre blogs, Mooney on Theatre. Both Wayne Leung’s review of Ching Chong Chinaman and George Perry’s critique of Gwen Powers heavily rely on their personal experiences. However, I feel that Leung succeeds where Perry falls flat. 

I will admit that I’m guilty of including a remark from my play-going buddy once in a while.

First of all, Perry’s review opens with an odd metaphor about the main character: “Gwen Powers, the character, is like a sunburn. One usually has great fun getting the burn, but the consequences are very painful. Theatre Passe Murraile Backspace isn’t a beach, but it is where Gwen burns two men.” Although a little clumsy, I do have to say that I enjoy that image. 

Perry adequately comments on Sofia Banzhaf’s performance as Gwen Powers and gives us a summary of the plot. Then, he starts talking about “Stan, my partner for the night.” I will admit that I’m guilty of including a remark from my play-going buddy once in a while. After all, the best way to nail down exactly what you think of a production is to talk about it with someone else who was there. A comment here and there is effective, but Perry devotes nearly the rest of his review to what Stan thought of the show. 

“Jeff is a wonderful character that both Stan and I loved.” I’m not quite sure why I should care about Stan. If Stan has such great opinions about theatre, why isn’t he writing this review? Then, things get a little creepy. About Banzhaf, again, Perry writes: “If you have an inactive libido, she can cure that, too. Stan and I tip our geezer hats to you, Miss Banzhaf.” Considering that Banzhaf is playing a high school student, albeit one who seduces her teacher, this comes off as a little icky. 

In contrast, Leung brings in his experiences in a way that relates to the production as well as contributes to the review. Leung opens his review with two paragraphs about his childhood as a Chinese Canadian in the suburbs of Ottawa in the ‘80s. As Ching Chong Chinaman centers on an Americanized suburban Asian family, this is very relevant information. This sets up Leung’s expertise in reviewing the show as well as validating his comment at the end that he didn’t connect with the production as much as he thought he would. 

Bringing yourself into a review can be a tricky thing; readers didn’t click on this article to read all about you, after all. There are some times when it can be beneficial, especially when the writer has a specific background that pertains to the productions. Using your play-going buddy to speak for you instead, however, is a tactic that should be used sparingly.  

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I specifically ask my writers to include the opinions of their guests.

    It was one of the key models that MoT was built on. I haven't written much lately, but if you look at any of my reviews they will include things about what my "show-partner" thought.

    My writers have a set of three questions they are supposed to ask their guests after the show so that they can incorporate (with attribution) the opinions of those people.

    The idea is that everyone's experience in the theatre is different, and at Mooney on Theatre we all write experiential, about how things were for us, without trying to guess how they will be for someone else. Including a second person means that there's more information for the reader to draw on.

    It's important to note too that while some of our writers have extensive theatre backgrounds, others come to us with no theatre background, and that mix is something I like. And some are somewhere in between.

    I find it fascinating when I go to a show and it's as though my 'show-partner' has seen a completely different show that me. It's rare, but it's pretty amazing when it happens.

    Anyway, all this blathering really just to say, it's really important to me that our writers write themselves into the review, because everything about themselves will colour how they see the show, and for MoT that's important information to acknowledge and convey.

    I should also mention that I by no means am trying to say that I think it is a huge success every time. Sometimes reviews work, sometimes they don't. We all work hard, but with the limited resources available, there's a limit to what we can do.

    Oh to have a budget and time. *drool* ;)

    Thanks for this article BTW, nicely done.


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