When you spill out of the theatre into the foyer after a live performance and you stick around to chat, you’re usually hit with a number of questions from fellow theatregoers: What did you think of the show? Wasn’t [insert actor here] incredible? Have you ever seen a set like that before?
Amongst all those questions, I’m often asked another one: Isn’t reviewing this a conflict of interest for you?
It’s a question a lot of our reviewers get. As reviewers and theatre makers, people wonder if we can truly give an unbiased opinion when we might come into the theatre to review and be faced with our friends and colleagues from other projects. Plus, we’re presenting our shows in the same market as the ones we’re reviewing - surely that means we’d vote shows down to make our shows look better?
The first time I was asked this question at an opening night, it took me aback. To be honest, I’d never really thought about it being a conflict of interest, because I’ve never seen theatre as a competition. When I go to the theatre and see other artists doing well, I want to write them great reviews and get more people into their shows. There’s no sliding scale for the arts - if someone is doing well in the arts it doesn’t take away from my individual success as an artist.
The unique standpoint that Theatre Travels has is that we are one of the only publications in Australia that operates on a peer-reviewed system. When you read a Theatre Travels review, you know that you’re getting an opinion from someone who’s in the same business and knows what to look for - we notice all of the little things that went into making this production what it is when it hits the stage. If you were renovating your house, you might ask a designer what table should go in your dining room. If you were going out to dinner and didn’t know where to eat, you might ask your chef friend to recommend a great restaurant. Why not do the same with theatre and ask a theatre maker which show you should go see?
Most importantly, it is important to remember the uniqueness of the industry that we review for. As directors ourselves, we can only learn from going to see the work created by other directors. If they do a wonderful job with a piece and I critically engage with it, truly giving it the thought and time that the hard work by that director deserves, I only stand to learn from that experience. I cannot take their job - after opening night the job of the director is generally, mostly finished. I cannot walk away strategising as to how I will take this opportunity when it next comes around - most theatre companies will not touch the same show as one another in the same city for many many years. I can only learn. I can only evaluate. I can only challenge myself to find solutions to things that didn’t work for me in the piece, and to take note and grow as a practitioner from exposure to those things that really did work from me.
Ultimately, I can extend my own craft through a deepened understanding of what I do and do not like to see on stage, what does and does not work for me on stage, and what I would like to put or not put on stage.
As theatremakers ourselves, we’re not in the business of tearing people down. And as a production company, that extends even further - we know that there are SO many people in this country who are talented, who are passionate and who are dedicated to making their life in the Arts. We also know that for many shows there are just not enough audiences to make it a reality for too many of those supremely talented individuals and companies. As such, we see our site as being a platform that always tries to celebrate everything that we can in a production and that tries to remind audiences that the best show is the show that you go to the theatre to see. Period. Getting out there and exposing yourself to live theatre is always going to be a good idea, even if the show isn’t the best you’ve ever seen. It’s exciting to each and every one of us to see other artists creating brilliant works. It makes for a rich culture and great conversation. It makes for a dynamic industry in which to work. It makes for exciting projects being suggested too that leave us hungry to participate in the next production.