November 4, 2011
Burning Bridges aka Reviewing Theatre
Over the past five years, I've called myself an actor. I've been ridiculously lucky enough to perform with Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Shakespeare in the Ruins, Sarasvati Productions, and Echo Theatre - among others.
More importantly and impressively, I`ve been able to perform with my own company, Theatre by the River. We`ve produced some of the most socially relevant, artistically provocative shows to see the light of day in Winnipeg. I`m immensely proud of what we`ve accomplished and what I`ve been able to do.
But you can`t make a living as an actor in Winnipeg. You really can`t - not unless you`re prepared to travel elsewhere. Or you`re some kind of golden god. Or you have a sugar daddy or momma. The reality is you (hopefully) land a few weeks of work a year, then between shows you work wherever you can get a job. I've poured coffee, been a legislative assistant, built fences, rejigged locks and stacked boxes for eight hours a day (among other things). As I get older - and my financial plans get more ambitious - I can`t live that life anymore.
So I`ve quit. I`m not taking theatre gigs anymore. I`ve enrolled in Red River College`s Creative Communications program to take my `career` in a new direction. But I still want to maintain some connection to theatre.
SO I`ve been tempted to write reviews. Reviewers have an amazing influence over what kind of theatre gets produced (or at least celebrated) in Winnipeg. Reviewing would give me an outlet to not only influence the Winnipeg theatre scene, it would let me do what theatre has always let me do; try to artistically unravel the question "why are we here?"
The problem is that, as a reviewer, I would be in an awesome position of power. Reviews can make or break a show, particularly a small independent show that doesn`t have guaranteed subscribers or operating funds. And the Winnipeg independent theatre scene is populated by my friends - people I love. Sooner or later, as a reviewer I will be required to say what I think about their shows, which isn`t always good things. Mom`s old axiom ``If you can`t say anything nice`` goes out the window when you`re a reviewer.
So I`m hesitant. I really want to stay in touch with theatre while not actually being a performer. And I think there is room for an actor turned reviewer in Winnipeg. But I also don`t want to burn bridges with my friends. I`m putting together an evening of discussion between theatre reviewers and producers - partly because I think a chat would be healthy, but mostly because I want to bounce my thoughts off some qualified minds. Stay tuned for details.
Do you have any thoughts on this? What would you ask a theatre reviewer? What would you ask a local artistic director? Do you even care what reviewers have to say?