What are community voices, anyway? This is a new section of NOC devoted to giving space to people who normally live in the background of the conversation around art making and art criticism a dedicated place to speak.
The community is a sound designer sick of people not appreciating their work, because people don’t know what to listen for. It’s a person who wants to talk about the thought process that went into making the gobos and selecting gels for their last lighting design. It’s a person seen as Joe-Audience, who wants to talk about the things that they experience as a theatre go-er that make them important and individual. It’s a person who never sees bodies like theirs, or stories about them, on stage, and wants to reflect on that. Its an artist who doesn’t do theatre, but has insight or expertise on the creative or critical process of making theatre. It’s a person who has never been to the theatre and wants to talk about why. It’s a person I am too blind to see who is standing right in front of me. You are the community. You are more nuanced than I can begin to guess, regardless of what ‘role’ you play. We want to see you, and hear you.
In short, this is a space for you. More voices make the conversation brighter.
So let’s consider this a call. Send your critical thoughts and insightful commentary to firstname.lastname@example.org. Pitch us an idea. Let’s make art out of our creative processes together.
Now, I want to talk about why exactly I (and also the NOC) think this is important. (And feel free to correct me here, that’s the point):
There is this idea in the discourse on creativity that there is nothing new under the sun, only novel combinations of what has come before. I’m not going to debate the truth or merit of this, but simply point out that it suggests that the more perspectives you have reflecting on art and the artistic process, the more likely it is that you yourself will come up with a novel combination of ideas. And by extension, you might also increase the odds of presenting those ideas in a compelling way. I think that it is worth accepting these implications, even if the statement itself isn’t perfect, because the process they suggest works for me (not to mention validates the existence of the NOC project, from my perspective).
A big part of the reason we are building the New Ottawa Critics is to make a space where dialogue about every part of the creative process of theatre is brought into the light, and talked about. We believe this discussion will help make the work that is produced in this city better, even if only because the artists engaged in the creative process will spend more time thinking about the why their decisions the next time they sit down (or stand up) to make work. If you read critiques of your own work, you’re better informed as to how your creative decisions have impacted your audience.
But even more, if you read critiques of work by other artists, you can use that for insight on your own process as well. Isn’t it true that part of the reason we go see new plays is for ideas about what to do, and not do, in our own work? I’m not talking about plagiarism, but rather the natural linking buildup of ideas brought about by engaging with art. Reading criticism can also be a part of that “creative research” that you’re doing. So can writing it. And here, by criticism, I mean any engagement with any aspect of the creative process that attempts to articulate how that process is working for you and informing your life and art.
By providing a space for people inside the community who normally live in the background (directors, technicians, costume designers, stage managers, I’m looking at you) to present their perspectives on the creative and critical processes, the discussion gets deeper on a completely different level. Some of the things that make the best artists so great is their ability to understand all the facets of design, know the people who can make it happen, and know the language to speak to make it all happen. I’m not proposing an intro to theatre course where we learn “the stage manager keeps the prompt book in order.” I’m proposing an ongoing discussion and learning experience surrounding the technical elements of lighting design, dramaturgy, and all the things that often get overlooked in the creative process when we reach the “end” of performance.
We also have a distinct lack of minority voices participating in the discussion surrounding theatre in our city. Those people’s perspectives are some of the most valuable for this project to include, because they sit at the margins of erasure in the discussion. I’ve been talking to them throughout this piece, but not by name. This is marginalization. BIPOC individuals are making art and theatre in this community, and I think that our community as a whole becomes stronger the more thoroughly they participate in the discussion and practice surrounding the art we’re all making. Our community is shaped by the voices that speak within it, so we need to have space for a diversity of voices (and thus a diversity of criticism) to speak and influence our collective direction.
Of course, all of that leaves aside the most important factor of this whole thing. That is that you are a source of valuable perspective and insight that I cannot possibly begin to understand on my own. As an artist and a critic seeking to understand art-making as deeply as possible, I need you to share it with me. And because I value an understanding of what’s going on inside your head, I need to make a space where you can show me.
The reason for this space is that I can’t make up a multiplicity of voices; I only have my own. And there are things that I don’t know that I don’t know that I need you to talk about so that we can build our community together in a way that makes it better.
So that’s the call, and that’s the why. Ball’s in your court, internet.