Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A question for copy editors.

Here's a line from The Globe's Kamal Al-Solaylee's interview with the National Arts Centre's new English theatre artistic director Peter Hinton:
"A new artistic director should be an opportunity for a theatre to look at itself, to re-examine what it's doing," says Hinton as he takes a bite from his grilled portobello-mushroom sandwich at a trendy Ottawa brasserie, across the street from the drab NAC building.
Okay, so when I read this I laughed, because I was picturing Hinton speaking as he took a bite out of a sandwich. Ha, ha, I thought. I should make fun of this on my blog.
But then I thought, hold the phone. Don't I do that all the time in my articles? "Quote," he said, taking a sip of his soy latte. Is that really any different?
Perhaps you just shouldn't read newspaper articles too closely.
You know why blogging is less fun now than it was when I was student? I can't make fun of journalists anymore, because I know full well that there are plenty of examples of hasty or sloppy writing of mine sitting in Infomart, waiting to be mocked.

A series of concerns about Peter Hinton

My impression of Peter Hinton on reading this article is that perhaps he's not cut out to be A-D.
First, he says he wants to cut down on co-productions with regional theatres across the country. This will either increase the costs of running the NAC English theatre or require him to cut back on production values. Plus, part of what makes the NAC the National Arts Centre and not the Ottawa Arts Centre is its co-productions. It's a good way to bring artists from across the country to the capital. Heck, co-productions are even in the theatre's current mandate. (The Canadian Theatre Review has a fine interview with Marti Maraden, Hinton's predecessor, about the benefits and drawbacks of co-productions.)
Later in the article, Hinton says he wants Canadian playwrights to not feel limited to writing plays with small casts. Excellent, but co-productions are one way to make thos large casts affordable...
There are other bits in the interview that make Hinton sound like he's thinking as an artist and a director, rather than as an artistic director. To wit:
"Often you'll see an artistic director writing in his program that a season is about a general idea. What I decided for the NAC is instead of looking at it as a reflective thing, is to make it an active thing. What are the questions that need to be explored? And then building a season around these questions. . . . What's a national theatre? What role should art play in our culture or society? Why do we still go to the theatre?"
Although Hinton will not commit to any specifics, he can reveal that "every play in the season next year will be a Canadian play and will explore these issues. Every play will be about artists," not in the sense of backstage drama but in "questioning the vitality of art speaking to an audience. To invite the audience into this dialogue. I want to talk to the people that [NAC subscription] telemarketers talk to and say we want to be entertained and not to think."
Oh god, not a WHOLE SEASON about artists. Gah. "Why do we still go to the theatre?" is such a defensive question, a sign of a lack of artistic self-confidence. Whenever I see a play about "Why theatre?", that's when I worry: This is dead.
And that bit about the people telling NAC telemarketers that they want to be entertained and not to think? No one has ever actually said that! How insulting and condescending. Defensive directors complain about how people don't want to think, they just want to be entertained... You don't have to kowtow to audiences, but you must respect them and should never feel superior to them.
Finally, I don't even know what to say about Hinton's plan to have "a season of 'Jacobeathan' -- Jacobean, Elizabethan, Renaissance plays, a repertoire that personally fascinates him." Is that serious? What an alienating, self-indulgent idea. No offense to the Jacobeathans.
Sounds to me as if the NAC English theatre is going to become Hinton's financially-disastrous vanity project. But I'm willing and hoping to be proved wrong. The board of directors, every artist's favourite bogeyman, will probably rein him in.

1 comment:

jessicaruano said...

Nice entry. Too bad I discovered it three years later. So what's your consensus? Has Peter Hinton had a positive or negative (or hazy) impact on the NAC English Theatre? I'm still trying to figure that out myself.


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