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30 September 2006

There are obvious good things about being a theatre critic (you get to see all the shows, for example) and obvious bad things about being a theatre critic (you have to see all the shows, for example).  But then there are the good and bad things that you don't think about when you take the job.

One of the very good things is that you get to meet and interview fascinating people.  I used to be very nervous before doing interviews, but I think I'm getting over it now.  I've discovered that if you just let people talk about themselves, it generally goes fine.  Only one interview that I've done did I feel bad about because the subject answered questions. Period--and I didn't have enough of them. But even that didn't negatively impact the feature article I was writing.

But this week was the most fun I've had so far.  I interviewed Australian director Jade McCutcheon, who is directing what sounds like a fascinating play, Australian playwright Stephen Sewell's Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America, which "presents a compelling and disturbing view of the creeping erosion of democratic rights under the current U.S. administration."  It's only the second production of this work to be done in the United States (the first was done in Reno). Unfortunately I won't be able to review this play, but hope to see it in its second week, when I return from Walt's sister's wedding.

jade.jpg (9157 bytes)But over and above the play itself, McCutcheon is one of the most fascinating people I have ever met.  This is a lady who has done just about everything in this life, from graduating high school at 16, getting a degree in social work by 18 and working with the poor in Melbourne (where she says she was attacked, beat up, held at knifepoint).  She was a world class champion athlete, worked repairing automobiles, taught physical education, traveled with a theatre group from Holland for 2 years, tended bar, and is now a university professor teaching drama.  She has studied shamanism, aboriginal spiritualism, and Native American spiritualism, and incorporates that sense of "self" into her drama classes.

(I haven't finished transcribing her interview, so I'm sure I've forgotten a lot and may have some facts wrong as I type this entry, but it doesn't matter--she's done it all--and it will be accurate in the feature I'm writing.)

She has lived in every city in Australia and when she didn't mention having lived in Perth, I called her on it (naturally) and she laughed and told me about a trip she took with her then-boyfriend, a police officer, across the country along the Nullarbor Plain from Melbourne to Perth, riding in a motorcycle with a side car.  The side car fell off, she says, in a town with a population of 10 and in order to get enough power to weld it back on again, they had to shut down the electricity to everybody in the town.  The machine fell apart when they reached Perth and she had to get a job tending bar to get enough money for parts to repair it.

By the time our interview ended, I wasn't so much interested in writing a spotlight piece on her play as I was in writing a book about McCutcheon herself!

I went home on a real high.

And then the afternoon newspaper came. I turned to everybody's favorite page:  the letters to the editor.  "Give Credit where it's due, please," was the headline on a long letter.

...I was surprised that a reviewer of Ms. Sykes' experience didn't realize...

...Ms. Sykes missed an opportunity to give recognition...

Oops.  I'd been slammed.  There was the down side of being a critic.  Criticism by the public.  In this particular instance, the writer (who happens to be a member of the company performing) was criticizing me for writing, in a recent review, "I wondered how it was going to go when I saw that there were only four people in the orchestra..., but somehow the orchestral arrangement was so well done that you almost didn’t miss the full orchestra."

I don't generate letters to the editor often.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  (Am I really doing my job if nobody gets angry with me?) The last complaint letter I got was in June of 2005 for a show to which I had given a rave review, with one slight complaint about the costume/make up of one of the characters.  This drew a very lengthy complaint letter to the editor from someone else in the cast.  (In the end, I had the feeling that, if anything, the letter had really done harm to the show, because it made it sound like I hadn't liked the show when, in fact, I had liked it very much.)

While I could argue the merits of the costume/make-up letter and justify my reasons for what I said in my review, as well as understanding the sentiments of the letter writer, this time I'm on solid ground.  This writer said that there were actually 14 people in the orchestra and that I should have taken time to check with somebody about their names (since I had listed the names of four of the musicians in my review).  However, the program for the show lists only four members of the orchestra and my review expressed surprise that the arrangement was good enough that you didn't miss the extra musicians.

I've been around musicians a lot.  I gave birth to some of them, in fact.  And my friend Steve is always raving about how his keyboard is able to create the sound of a string orchestra or a brass ensemble.  I know what an electronic keyboard can do.  Why would I bother to run around and make sure that there were really only four people in the orchestra, when the program clearly indicated only four names.

(It is also important to point out that the orchestra sits in the basement directly under the stage, covered by a grill, and is never visible to the audience.)

But maybe that's in the job description and I never read it:   "Check with the people in a theatre company to make sure that the facts they print in their program are really accurate."

I never realized that mind-reading was part of the job.



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Peggy has (another) new camera.  This is
one of her test photos.


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