Last year, I was given the opportunity to see a play to review it for an arts magazine on campus. The play was decent. Nothing too rave-worthy and nothing too disparagingly bad.
It was typical and unsurprising.
In my review, I wrote about the good and the bad, and came to the conclusion that it was worth a watch if you were the kind of person who doesn’t look for professionalism in student theatre.
When my article was published, however, I was unpleasantly surprised to see entire paragraphs had been cut out of my review.
The majority of my critical points on the negative aspects of the show had been edited out. The editor told me that the negative bits were cut out because the magazine was “trying to foster a positive, inclusive community for artists to feel free to create art.”
Let me make something quite clear: giving out only positive praise doesn’t lead to good art.
Editing out the constructive thoughts of reviewers for the sake of stroking an artist’s ego is dishonest. In doing so, the writers and editors become the villains, carefully cocooning playwrights and directors in a mountain of inviting feedback and subtly discouraging them from leaving their comfort zones.
The process of creating theatre is frustrating, especially because it’s a collaborative medium. Everyone thinks differently and we all have different ways of dealing with conflict. Putting people in a room and telling them to create something they’ll be proud of doesn’t mean that those people are going to be best friends at the end of it.
Creating theatre is like having sex, conceiving a child, giving birth to it, raising it and watching it go to college in the span of two to three months. It’s co-parenting in a compound.
It’s an insult to those artists to be disingenuous with your criticism in the same way that it’s an insult to tell me that I can’t print my real opinions. Respecting the people in these productions and their work in the theatre has nothing to do with whether or not I like the production that they’ve created. But it seems that line has been blurred. Censorship of negative reviews isn’t just a problem with print and digital media.
I’ve found that my peers in the Drama Department restrain themselves from offering negative criticism of productions their friends have worked on, whether it’s in class or in conversations in the hallways of our building.
We self-censor ourselves because of a fear that we’ll insult someone. It’s a vicious cycle that discourages the urge to think critically and leaves us smiling and nodding like bobble heads.
As a result, theatre at Queen’s is bland and uneventful. Theatre has become about hiring friends to work with you rather than hiring people who are better suited for the job but who may challenge your artistic vision.
How are we to know if what works in a piece of theatre when nobody tells us otherwise? Does that mean that we have achieved perfection?
It’s impossible to create perfect art. Perfection, or the perception of it, goes against the principles of art. And perfection does not warrant progress. It encourages repetition. Why would you change something everyone liked? Why leave the soft, cozy bed when it’s so cold outside?
We must stop muting ourselves as a community simply because we’re afraid of hurting the feelings of friends.
By assuming our friends and colleagues can’t distinguish what is personal and what is critical, we are discrediting their intelligence, professionalism and ability as artists.
This stiffens the growth of art within the community.
I hope that someday I will be able to express my true thoughts on a work of theatre in something other than a whisper.
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