Factory Theatre vs the critics

For the second consecutive year, Factory Theatre is in the news.  Last year it was the controversy around its leadership.   That’s ancient history now.

This time it’s an announcement, that critics aren’t invited until the show has already been on for a few days.  While the antagonism may be unintentional, what’s done is done. Here’s the text i saw quoted online:

Factory Theatre, with the unanimous support from this season’s partners, is attempting to redefine what “opening night” means by considering what the artists want from it, and what the audience deserves from it, not just what tradition dictates it should be.

Beginning with The Art of Building a Bunker, we have decided to offer working members of the media complimentary tickets to a media night on October 21 (three performances after opening night) and for the length of the run as long as tickets are available.

We wish to support and celebrate the work of our theatre creators by giving general audiences the first chance to respond to our shows and to be at the forefront of the conversation.  Members of the media are also a part of this conversation, but it is that larger conversation we are striving to facilitate.

This is an experiment.  It might fail, but it might serve the production, the artists, the community, and the conversation it inspires exactly the way we imagined.

We are seeking a new narrative.  It’s time for change.
Welcome to Factory’s 45th Anniversary Season!
Sincerely yours,
Factory’s 2014-2015 Season Partners

Perhaps the critics resent this.  Is this part of the broader transformation of media that’s seeing newspapers and critics drifting towards the slowly circling vortex in the sink?  Music criticism in this city has already been reduced almost to zero.

I suppose free publicity can be helpful.  With this announcement Factory Theatre is once more at the centre of a controversy.  I am more than a bit fascinated by the response, to be honest.   If you google “factory theatre no critics” you’ll quickly find at least two articles suggesting that this pathway is a bad idea, including one from Glenn Sumi in NOW, who made these observations

  There’s also the feeling that with Twitter and Facebook, everyone’s a critic.

But if the 1300 people I follow on Twitter are a good sample, very few Tweeters say anything very critical or substantive about something they’ve just seen (unless we’re talking about TV or blockbusters). There’s lots of cheerleading and selfies and, at worst, silence. Canadians, ya know: so polite.

I too noticed this.  I went to Stratford, and wrote a couple of substantial reviews – of Crazy for You, and of Mother Courage—and saw the brilliant way Stratford uses social media, riding tweets from happy customers, which now serve as a new kind of critical conversation.  Of course it’s not really much of a conversation, is it..? I can’t deny that I felt a bit jealous.  I’m not saying I’m irrelevant, but I do see that the terrain is changing.

Factory Theatre may have miscalculated in not expecting a push back from the critics.  Sumi thinks that the experiment sounds “arrogant”, with the reminder “Whatever happened to the expression:’Even bad press is better than no press‘ “?

No, the paperless office hasn’t happened, but “the press”?  The theatre-going public –that literate, aging crowd– still reads newspapers.  But are the press as important as they think they are?

We shall see.

This entry was posted in Popular music & culture, Theatre & musicals. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Factory Theatre vs the critics

  1. I must say i have been wondering about the new role / importance of critics in this digital age. When i see what one or two powerful people have done in the past to a career or production- in large part by stating a mere personal opinion, ( and a newspaper-selling controversial one, often) it is evident that lot of damage can ensue. The closure of Lord of the Rings was one such case in point. So what if it did not have a hummable hit song? We went with family members and loved it – were blown away by the staging and breadth of the production. Tragic, after all that expense and thought, and artistry , that the London and Toronto critics closed it. Exactly. who are these critics anyway? I most of the time disagree with the Globe film reviews (- 4 Stars for the revolting Wolf of Wall Street?- ) and some local theatre companies are yet to receive one decent review from certain writers. But friends and less critical people will go, and quite probably enjoy themselves. Newspaper reviews have always been manipulated and excerpts taken to form positive remarks…so nothing in that respect has changed. Brave new world – one aspect at least where the power and influence of the commercial media has lessened!

    • barczablog says:

      I may sound like someone speaking out of two sides of his mouth: while i completely agree you may say “but aren’t you a critic too?” I address this in detail on the page where i state my values (click on “Steal this thought(?)” for more). Criticism has value when we can help a viewer unpack something complex. I was proud to interview Tatiana Jennings for example and then to review her take on Richard III. But we must respect the damage we can do, to the self-esteem of the performers (especially singers, who may have good and bad days), as they’re so vulnerable out there. I jokingly call myself Pollyanna, because i strive only to stay positive, believing that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

      Do we really NEED criticism? It’s a part of the broad conversation around any art-form. I am not sure how necessary we/they are. One thing of which i am certain, namely that we don’t need negative criticism. But my opinion –like any other– has to be taken with a grain of salt. Why believe me? or anyone for that matter…(?)

      But above all THANK YOU for your words.

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