When Your Opinions Are Social Jewellery
Friday Ephemera

Those Critical Faculties

Come, let us dip a toe in the world of woke theatre criticism. From the pages of Intermission magazine, where the Toronto Star’s theatre critics, Aisling Murphy and Karen Fricker, applaud each other, and thereby themselves, for seeing an indigenous play and submitting to conditions on what they may say about it:

We both responded really positively to the show. But the reason we’re not writing a traditional review is because [playwright and director] Kim Harvey did not invite reviews of this Toronto premiere production of Kamloopa. This follows on from the world premiere production in 2018 in Vancouver in which she invited Indigenous women to write love letters to the show but did not invite traditional reviews.

You see, for Ms Harvey, our unflinching and very indigenous creative person, “staging theatre productions is a form of Indigenous ceremony,” and is therefore, conveniently, exempt from customary feedback, i.e., reviews of a kind that paying customers might have found useful, had they been available. And so, reviewers of pallor, should they be permitted, must first attend a circle, in which they will be told, in advance, how artful and profound the work in question is, and what they should say about it. After all, it’s so much easier on the ego, and any teetering vanity, if no acknowledgement of any shortcoming is permitted.

Despite not being brown and magical beings themselves, Ms Murphy and Ms Fricker are keen to show their approval of, and deference to, this artistic innovation:

Here, white critics were invited, but with the caveat of listening and bearing witness to Kim’s artistic philosophies first: to me, that felt not only fair but really rich. 

Bearing witness, you say. To artistic philosophies. Because you can’t just turn up with tickets in the hope of entertainment.

Given their alleged importance, the particulars of these philosophies remain oddly mysterious. It isn’t clear what arcane knowledge would have to be bestowed upon white people in order for them to determine whether the play is actually any good. Yet we are left to assume that some creative vastness, again unspecified, couldn’t possibly be squeezed into “traditional reviews.” At least when those reviews are written by white people. 

Says Ms Murphy,

I think for me, hearing Kim lay out so concretely her mandates was a big moment, as someone not just writing my own reviews, but curating what gets reviewed and how for Intermission… I really appreciated the circle as a chance to examine my own ethics and mandates in dialogue with Kim’s, and other artists’, and how those thoughts manifest in the form of theatre reviewing.

Ms Fricker is not to be outdone:

Some of our critical colleagues have responded negatively to their requests and invitations – or in some cases, have not responded to those invitations at all. This may be because they understand themselves to be committed to certain traditions of Western theatre criticism in which, for example, a critic would avoid contact with an artist before a show if they were intending to write a review because this would compromise objectivity (or so the thinking goes). It seems to me, though, that Kim and Yolanda are challenging the very foundations of that tradition and inviting us to see its connections to Western, patriarchal colonial histories.  

But of course. And so, if you’re a critic and you don’t appreciate being given lengthy preconditions regarding what it is you will think and write, and how approving you must be, and if you don’t appreciate racial vetoes on who may or may not offer feedback, then by implication you’re a tool of patriarchy and Western colonialism. A bad person. Unlike our enlightened, more progressive duo.

Untroubled by irony, Ms Fricker goes on to mourn the ongoing, quite rapid decline of her profession and of the wider newsprint industry, before surrendering to the impulse for further gushing:

But the thing is, as you say, these Indigenous matriarchs are actively, generously offering alternatives. They’re offering teaching and leadership and possible futures for interactions between artists and cultural responders. 

Cultural responders. The fourth emergency service.

Alas, the “teaching and leadership” session on how to pre-emptively approve of indigenous theatre - there being, it seems, no permissible alternative – was, like similar events, “sparsely attended.” 

And for that to be rejected or ignored…. that’s deeply problematic because it’s yet another form of disrespect to Indigenous woman at a time when all those of us who are fortunate to live and work on this land need to be offering Indigenous people – especially Indigenous woman – respect, support, and love. 

What you’re hearing, dear reader, is the sound of racial prostration. It’s the way of the woke.

Should you live in Canada and wish to see Kamloopa, you can buy tickets here, before swooning with approval.

Via Jonathan Kay.

Heavens, a button. I wonder what it does.