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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CRITICS OR JOURNALISM HACKS? (article first published : 2002-03-4)

Dear all in the entertainment business in KZN!!

Having worked in professional theatre for 11 years, I believe I have some right to speak out on behalf of performers in Durban when I say that I strongly believe our city is crying out for qualified theatre critics. We are dealing with people who have no training in our field. They enjoy a huge following as their readers have little choice when it comes to whose word to take on which is worthy of support and which isn't.

We are tempted to coast along, subjecting ourselves to the likes of ex sports journalists and amateurs, when they are readily dishing out 8 and 9 ratings to material on the circuit which ranges across the genres, from drama to supper theatre. We all believe these men are unqualified to comment on our craft, but we take it (praise and criticism), hoping each time that the standard 8 or 9 (or, at worst, lukewarm 7) rating finds its way onto our particular review.

Then something happens that forces one to see the wood from the trees. My and Brendan Jury's show Under My Skin at the Royal Hotel's Backstage gets "panned out of the water" by Billy Suter and Mike Tarr. They admit they are dealing with two of the city's most accomplished and experienced artists, and yet they tear to shreds the stylisation and musical techniques in our work.

I ask you, what does an ex soccer writer know about interpretation of LYRICS

On the other hand, Caroline Smart, experienced and respected theatre personality, writes"...Under My Skin is a winner and well worth seeing...more than once!". Sure, Caroline had some notes for us and we took them in good spirit but she recognised the skill and work involved in our portrayal of Sinatra's style and music.

Hilda Grobler, respected arts critic and playwright writes "...Songs like.... are performed with panache - and obvious pleasure." Under My Skin is a winner!"

These two women have, I believe, real credentials when it comes to the responsibility of putting pen to paper in an industry that needs nurturing and constructive critique from qualified people.

Who do you want to assess your artistry? An aerobics instructor, or a trained theatre person? I have written to Independent Newspapers, urging them to get themselves some qualified critics. Why don't you do the same? You wouldn't want to read my reports on the latest Sharks game, if you were a rugby fanatic and you wouldn't want to have your appendix removed by Ollie le Roux, now would you? Do we want to carry on getting our comfortable (and sometimes unjustly uncomfortable) ratings from dubious sources and indeed, should good writing even need the crutch of these "out of ten" ratings in the first place?

I can safely say that any independent production I mount (which may be never again!) will not include on the invited guest list any of these people (amongst others): B.Suter, M. Tarr .

Yours in truth and ART, Tim Wells




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