Tuesday, April 8, 2014

After Dark, April 8, 2014

The Music of the Night
Politesse and fluidity
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

When the Fringe movement was beginning we all thought it would be a free-for-all. But it would not just be theatre itself breaking out, but - we thought - so would the audience. We fully expected in the first years audiences would express their delight and dismay ostentatiously: boo, hiss, walk out during the play (which often meant across the stage). However, unless someone tells me otherwise, this went the way of all Canadian theatre: to a place of restrained politesse and a loving condescension to the people onstage.

I hated it.

I am a proud boo-er from way back. I do it as Mr. Regular Spectator and I do it as a reviewer. I have gotten in big trouble for it and, too, been thanked for it. No I don't lose it every second performance. The times I have expressed myself that way can be counted on the fingers of one hand. 

There is something very positive about loudly expressed discontent.

Europeans are famous for boo-ing. More and more, here, with the rise of Regie-Theatre in opera (productions driven by directors with often wild visions) we are starting to come around to it. I was delighted to hear that at the opening of Ballo in Maschera at the COC, the audience generously applauded the singers (as did most reviewers) but let the directors have it when they came to bow for their fairly outré production.

Then, last week, at a production at World Stage in Toronto, called Conte d'amour, that wondrous sound rose again. Look how one of my favourite writers, Lynn Slotkin, wrote about it: "In true Canadian fashion many rise to their feet shouting and clapping. But then something wonderful happens. One lone, loud voice boos. Twice. How refreshing." 

Later, on Twitter, Globe and Mail writer Kelly Nestruck began an exchange among several that funneled into this: 

J. Kelly Nestruck (@nestruck)
Tried to bring booing back tonight at World Stage.

Ostensibly True (@_ostensibly)
@nestruck tweets like this undermine your capacity as a critic. Children boo.

J. Kelly Nestruck (@nestruck)
@_ostensibly Adults boo, too. Not so much in contemporary Canada though (except, on occasion, at the opera). I wish they did more.

Ostensibly True (@_ostensibly)
@nestruck right. So your making a 'polite canada' joke. Your critical insights continue to amaze and inspire.

J. Kelly Nestruck (@nestruck)
@_ostensibly Oh, I don't find Canadians polite at all. More passive-aggressive.
Ostensibly True (@_ostensibly)

Ostensibly True (@_ostensibly)
@nestruck being a critic, you have a responsibility to dialogue. Your snide tweets are drive-by hacks. I 'boo' you. Happy?

J. Kelly Nestruck (@nestruck)
@_ostensibly Well, here I was thinking I was dialoguing. I'm not intending to be snide to you. 1/2

J. Kelly Nestruck (@nestruck)
@_ostensibly I've been amongst booers in France and Germany, but not in CA. I like it as a response, but it's perhaps not for critics. 2/2

Others chimed in, but this conversation is interesting. I disagree with Kelly about critics holding back, but I find his comment about our passive-aggressiveness merits a loud Bravo! (How many times have I heard a show that received a standing ovation subsequently torn to shreds in lobby comments?)

There is something very positive about loudly expressed discontent. Firstly, it stirs the complacent, secondly it rouses dissenters (there are people who profoundly love what others despise and they need to be challenged as much as the boo-ers) and thirdly, it takes a production of any sort that would otherwise just fade away in the collective consciousness and makes it a point of reference. 

Fourthly, and most importantly, boo-ing helps us in a crucial continuing conversation about the nature of theatre and the roles of audience, artist and commentator. In the best possible way - the way of all living art - it keeps definitions of what is and isn't acceptable, what is and isn't correct in the form, what the form itself is or isn't - fluid.

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