I've been silent for a few weeks for personal reasons, not because of a loss of love with the theatre or the people it is my pleasure to work with. My Mother's funeral was this week. Her house is nearly sold, my executor role nearly sorted, and the end of seven years of getting to know more about Alzheimer's than I wanted to. (By the way, can I recommend Contented Dementia by Oliver James as a most helpful book for anyone supporting a loved one with Alzheimer's or supporting a colleague who is trying to work out how best to deal with someone with this horrid disease. It talks of red and green memories, and understanding that is the key to helping.)
I am sometimes driven to write in order to vent a bit of anger, and I'm on Facebook and enjoy a daily look at who's saying what, and the occasional longer trawl through. It's a very public medium and I learn a lot – sometimes more than I really want to.
Recently I came across a series of rants and raves following one person's visit to see a new show in preview. He was wondering how to tell someone involved in the show that he didn't enjoy it. His medium of expression? To broadcast his dislike to his 575 Facebook friends. Some of them in turn responded with their own vitriol or unhappy feelings, meaning this message was broadcast further outwards to their own hundreds and thousands of friends.
We all have opinions we sometimes wish to vent, but most of his, and most of my, friends are in the business and I believe we have a responsibility to support any creative team and company as they move through rehearsals, previews, re-writes and changes to get to the press night. Even then I think we have a duty to be very careful how our criticism is delivered because, like the official critics, people do take notice of what we say.
If I rant about seeing a show I don't like on Facebook, or here through this blog, it's going to be read by other friends and colleagues who know me, and know I blow hot and cold about shows. But it's also going to be read by potential ticket buyers, who might think twice (although with my track record I suggest any show I warn people off should be a sure fire one to get a ticket to). And, most importantly, my carefully written phrases of damnation or feint praise will be read by those involved with the show. It cannot do them any good, whether they agree or not, to have my stuff heaped on their shoulders.
I'm often asked to see new work at first reading, or in a showcase evening. This work is fragile and in need of care and attention. It is sometimes not easy to give supportive criticism. There will be some work which I just don't like. It is still a pleasure to try and help the writers and those involved see the next steps for their writing. It is great to do this with another person so we complement each other in our comments and thoughts. Some of those on Facebook that I read this week should clearly be kept away from this process.
To quote Thumper in Bambi, and the fantastic 'quest secretary', Jean-Marie, from Buxton and Oxford QuestFest: "If you can't say something nice, don't say nuthin' at all." Unless of course you are engaged as a public critic, attending after press night, and ready to share your personal opinion with your public.
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