Playhouse Musings

Playhouse Musings

As we draw the final curtain

As I sit here with the bright blue light of my computer screen, birds chirping outside my kitchen window and the gentle buzz of my alarm nudging my leg reminding me that it is 6 o’clock am. I feel an enormous sense of sadness. A sense of sadness wrapped in relief, bound by anger, entwined with tiredness, but most of all, most of all, I feel sorry. Not for myself, but for everyone else.

You are probably wondering why this has been published, well in short it is our swan song, our “thanks and good night”, our final curtain…if you will. Many things throughout Playhouse Musings’ short but strong lifespan, have almost led directly to this very moment.

Let me explain things…

Over the near two years of Playhouse Musings’ existence (previously known as The Theatre Monkeys), we have come across all kinds of obstacles. Obstacles that you just couldn’t plan for and some, for the most part, you could. Every time we thought “hey I have an idea, it would be great for the am-dram community” or “erm…what do you think about this idea”, we have always gone ahead and almost leapt first and asked questions later. This has not always worked. For example we introduced “The Musey Awards”, something that we thought was a lovely way to say well done to all, and to show recognition to those companies, performers, stage crew etc. that left a lasting impression on us. The response was overwhelmingly positive but, well, we met some resistance, with words like “who do you think you are” and “you are sucking the joy out of people’s hobbies”, and many more personal jibes. Now, if you are one that opposed it, or even made comment on social media, direct email (albeit name Anonymous) then just have a think about what it is and what part you have played in the destruction of someone else’s hobby. That right, I am talking about ourselves, this website. It is, or should I say, WAS, a hobby of ours and you have added to the meltdown of its walls.

Now, over the last day, since publishing another company’s review, we have received what can only be described as very personal, angry and hate filled emails, social media comments and comments on the website itself, adding fuel to this already brewing fire we have burning. At it is at this point I would like to address some of these comments. In no particular order…

“What are your professional credentials…?” Why do you need them? For what purpose may I ask? We are not professional, we do this voluntarily. Well, if you must know, as a whole team we have, university degrees, many many years within theatre from front of house to acting to orchestra to director, coaching and teaching drama, dance and music, a passion for the arts, a passion for theatre, a passion for truth, a love of writing, a love of entertainment (whether good or bad) and most of all, a voice. If I turned it around I’d asked you, what are your professional credentials to be able to walk upon that stage and call yourself an actor, or even a performer? That’s right, we don’t ask, we accept that anyone can call themselves a performer and step upon a stage. We have written articles and thought pieces on the debate about amateur versus professional published on the website. Stating that we as reviewers should spend time in a company to see how much hard work goes in to putting on a show is a bit of a moot point really. Where do you think our love and passion for the theatre comes from? Some of us are in multiple companies. Which leads to my next point…people saying “how can you be impartial if you are reviewing a company that you have been associated with or have friends in?” Well, because this is what we strive for. It is a style of writing taking a stance away from the personal and into the art form. My friends understand feedback and take it for what it is, and knowing me, they are aware that I will tell them honestly. If you really look at the big picture, take NODA or any celebratory award company for theatre. The reviewers are often involved currently or in the past with theatre companies. This is where the interest and passion comes from. “Surely the review will be skewed positively or negatively depending on the reviewer’s involvement with the company” Nope, thankfully we can separate thought from feeling.

As one person said “you write for a living”, no we don’t. We make no money from this at all, and take time out of our own busy lives to watch your production and then re-live it to write about it later. We have full time jobs, families, other hobbies and yet still have an interest in coming to see your show, sit through it and then write about it, with little to no thanks, no financial gain…more a large loss; travel, programme, ticket all per show, 56 shows in 2016!

“Much deserved praise…”. In whose opinion is this praise deserved? Clearly not all the audience, and as a reviewer, we are part of said audience. Surrounding yourself with “yes” people will not help anyone, luckily we have had the voice and ability to call out the praise and give it where it is due, and on the opposing side, not give it if it is not justifiable.

“Spelling and grammar”. This is one of my favourite ones of all time. We all make mistakes, we are only human. If you take a minute to read the “our promise” section it clearly says that we are only human and there may be some errors. If you try to correct someone’s ‘work’, make sure yours is perfect itself, otherwise your point become moot. Go ahead, have a read through what has been written, missed commas, punctuation missing and spelling that were all made by…human error. See, it is easy to do. Touche…or rather Touché!

The one thing that is always hard to swallow is that of personal attacks. As a reviewer, we come under some fire when an audience member or a disgruntled thespian wants to throw their parts out of the pram and make themselves feel better by having a go, but there is a line people. That line is very thin and is almost always crossed, not by us or any reviewer, but by the unsubstantiated backlash of what has been said. “Monster”, “what rock did you crawl out from under” amongst others have been fired at us recently. This type of verbal abuse is not good and can lead to some very deep water for the comment maker to tread. To add to this, it isn’t just us that have been at the receiving end of unhappy customers. Other reviewers in the East Midlands have been hurt by personal attacks and that is not on; constructive feedback is welcomed I am sure, but attacking someone’s job, personal appearance and backgrounds surely can’t make you feel great…can it?

Don’t claim to say that having honest feedback, whether good or bad will destroy the heart of the am-dram community…it won’t! The heart of theatre is a fickle one, especially when reviews are considered. If it is all singing praises, then it is welcomed, shared and sometimes thanked…but whoa…if it is taken badly, or the reviewer didn’t like something, then hell fire and brimstone shall fall upon you from some quarters. This is far from true for the majority of companies; most like what we do and actively seek it, inviting us to see new shows and new companies. People say they like honesty and I have seen it first hand with people actually making an effort to come and find me, or send me a message about what I have said. In a poll of all companies we had reviewed thus far, every single one of the 35 companies opted to continue to be part of this growing network of the East Midlands am-dram, through reviews and feedback. Therefore despite the few, but very cutting remarks, again overwhelmingly the response has been positive. No evidence here of destroying the heart of the am-dram community.

Terminology: When writing reviews, one has to consider many things, from names of cast, songs (if not in programme) to language of moves, sounds and dance. Sometimes we don’t know them and a google search won’t help. So we have to try our best to describe them, to give you, the reader, an idea of what we mean. I have done it many times…I personally have not received formal dance training and therefore struggle to bring to the forefront of my mind the name of the move that the person back left was doing when the people front right were singing, as the lights dimmed to a slight haze followed by the orchestra quietening down all culminating to an intensity driven by passion. See I described something there without using the correct terms, but you still knew what I meant!

When saying something took a while to publish, that can be for many reasons. It was hard to write, there was just so much to say; or it was a hard thing to watch and therefore even harder to write about; or simply that the software updates itself, and things get missed. As this is our hobby, it fits in around a work and home life. Just try to consider the possibilities and be thankful that someone took the time out to say something about whatever you did!

When Playhouse Musings first started way back when, we used anonymity or pseudonyms, not in order to hide who we were, but to try to make the reviews be just that without any persona attached to them. However it did not work out well…so in response to feedback, we adapted, changed and used our real names. So it is interesting to then receive the more cutting comments from people who are clearly out to start something, they always hide behind a fake email address and never give their real born names.

Still with me?…

One of my personal favourites is the comment “but I have spoken to the audience, and they enjoyed it” of course you did. You sat down straight after curtain down, with the entire audience and got a resounding “we loved it” from every member did you? Please, think before you say things that quite frankly make little to no sense, or that conjures up such an impossible image your point withers away like an unwatered flower.

To address the small quips and jibes given at the end of a moan, you know those little one liners to drive in the point being made? Well, “hope you parents are proud” in response…yes they are thank you. Proud because I personally fight for what I believe in, I am considerate and thoughtful and above all else, honest. So I thank you for thinking about my parents.

Overall, we all have to face the truth. Throughout our time as a review company we have taken on feedback, made changes and adapted, of course we welcomed this. Sometimes it is a hard pill to swallow, but let me just give you this piece of advice. We all need to be aware that we are in fact, not as good as we think we are!

Now that I have covered, I think the majority of the moans from years past, it has now come to that point in the passage where the truth is revealed…

We here at Playhouse Musings will be shutting the doors, closing the curtain and turning off the house lights for the last time later today.

We are sick to the back teeth with the barrage, the feeling of dread that falls over our heads when writing a not so “wonderful, loved every minute” review. We have had two excellent reviewers stop doing what they loved during our time because of this. It should not be like that. It is not what we set out to do, nor is it the majority that has made us feel this way. It is, for the most part, the few that have placed the final straw that has broken the camel’s back. This brings me full circle and explains my sadness. My vision in setting up this company was to bring vitality, honesty and feedback to the am-dram community. The reality has been so much more; rather than just reviewing Derby based companies we have a reach additionally to Stoke-on-Trent, Nottingham, Long Eaton, Sheffield, Chesterfield, Mansfield and Burton-on-Trent (and invitations to review much further afield). We have a truly global following of people interested in the performances of am-dram in the East Midlands, people in Europe, USA and Saudi Arabia to name a few, which we never envisaged, and even a few professional theatre companies. We have had nearly 37,000 hits on the website (nearly 1,000 in one day) and promote all and every am-dram performance we are aware of, through this network on the website, Twitter and Facebook. I can remember being excited when we got to 5,000 hits! We have had such genuine support from so many people for the work we have done, it has touched me and I will always remember this. We have even starting talks with local theatre based publications to have our reviews published. Being a reviewer, people say you need a thick skin, I do. Had I not, I do not feel I could have come so far, however there comes a time where unfortunately the energy it takes to respond to the negative few, makes this simply not enjoyable anymore and my passion cannot carry me though. It is truly with a heavy heart that I sign off.

What I will say is this, if you are a reviewer, and are in fact still reading this, then please go to the smaller, less well known theatre companies as they really do have some cracking productions and performers.

I now gracefully take my bow, with a smile and a tear and await the fallout from this piece. However, you can all have your say too, and I shall accept it. But please remember, it will be lost forever once I close the door and put the lock on Playhouse Musings. I apologise to all of those companies that have invited us to come along and review, but quite frankly, I cannot do it anymore. What was once a love of theatre has been beaten down by fickle hatred, spawned from the minds of the less secure.

I bid you all a good and pleasant day.

Duncan

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