The Factory Theatre in Toronto, Ontario will be asking the media to come five days after opening night to watch their performance of The Art of Building a Bunker. J. Kelly Nestruck, theatre critic for The Globe and Mail in Canada, confronted the co-artistic director of the Factory, Nina Lee Aquino, on their decision.
The core of Nestruck’s argument is that critics are an essential component of the theatre community and the public relies on hearing immediate responses from reliable media sources before they spend money on tickets. Aquino responded, “‘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.‘” Nestruck was outraged by the disinvitation and asked Aquino if she ever considered not allowing critics to come at all. She responded, “‘No, there was never any intention to bar critics– that doesn’t make sense. We are in the business of being judged as artists… That’s why we still have a media night. We’re not banning or excluding anybody.'”
Should an audience’s first response be influenced by an outside eye– a seemingly more educated eye? More importantly, who judges whose opinion is THE one to be revered and honored? Who knows best? The seasoned critic for the NYT or a twelve year old who’s seeing a broadway show for the first time? I’d probably rather listen to the twelve year old.
Criticism is very important in the theatre and it should be valued in order for the theatre to continue to grow and change based on what audiences want. I can get on board with that. However, the Factory raises an interesting point: What is an audience’s pure, unadulterated reaction to a piece of theatre? How might your takeaway change if it belongs to you and only you? Pre-conceived notions can kill experiences before they even begin. BUT the public has every right to generate opinions about the quality of work that their community is generating.
Is it in our job descriptions as artists to be judged? Certainly, we must receive feedback. We have to listen to what people are saying about our work in order to avoid plummeting into our own orbits of self-absorption. But what are the grounds for criticism? And who should control when and how feedback is being given? As long as people are talking about theatre and generating hype about performance art, I couldn’t care less who it’s coming from or when they’re sharing it.