While local baristas are preparing for the onslaught of PSLs headed their way, the Ottawa theatre community is gearing up for another year jam-packed with performances. Yes, September is already in full swing which can only mean the launch of new seasonal programming at numerous venues across the city (NAC, GCTC, La Nouvelle Scene, OLT, Gladstone…just to name a few). So, what’s in store for your friendly neighbourhood theatre critics here at the NOC? This Dark Day Monday we’re going to be giving you a little preview of what’s on our 2017-2018 itinerary.

As you may already be aware (or not, in which case here is the original post), this month we are entering into a collaboration with the Great Canadian Theatre Company which we are calling a ‘Critical Residency’. Artistic Director Eric Coates graciously reached out to us earlier this year and pitched this project which, both parties agree, would not only be mutually beneficial but also, in turn, benefit the development of the theatre community at large. Through the in-kind donation of space, office/administrative resources, and artistic resources (i.e. access to rehearsals through Embedded Criticism project- see below) the GCTC will give the NOC an opportunity to operate from a place which is much more central to community and will ultimately allow us to better implement some of our initiatives like Youth Criticism and Writer Outreach, both of which I will go into a little more detail later on. What I’ve compiled here is a list of our upcoming events and a brief summary of what you can expect from them.

Workshops and Youth/Student Criticism

This collaboration with the GCTC, in fact, has already begun to bear fruit. Teaming up with the Hive program (run by Catherine Ballachey) this year, the NOC will be hosting a workshop dedicated to theatre criticism and what it means to be a theatre critic in the age of social media and the internet. Geared towards students aged 13-20, this workshop is designed to teach the basic mechanics of analyzing performance as well as writing a review. It will also incorporate different mediums of technology (i.e. video blogging, podcasts, doodling, etc) as various ways to engage in criticism and also how it can be used to promote your work. Completed work from the workshop will be posted on the NOC website with the permission of its author. We will be looking at the production of You Are Happy playing at the GCTC September 21 to October 8. The workshop will take place on September 27th, interested participants should download the Q&A form and email it, completed, to artistliasion@gctc.ca.

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A doodle review by OUAK student Savva (age 7) about Janet Irwin’s 2015 production of “Up to Low”

As always, we are very excited to work with the students at Once Upon a Kingdom Theatre Company where we first developed our schema for theatre criticism workshops for youth. This company will be super busy this month while they host two other theatre companies from the USA and Russia (respectively) for the third iteration of their Children’s Theatre Exchange Program. For one night only, September 16th, you can catch these three companies come together and perform a collaborative work which is to be followed by Piano Theatre’s (based out of Nizhny Novgorod boarding school for deaf children in Russia) Wings for Clowns. The NOC will be there to support these young artists on this incredible endeavour and we look forward to co-hosting a theatre criticism panel with them at the 2018 Ottawa Children’s Festival where the students will have a critical discussion(open to the public) about a particular performance.

Critics’ Salons

We ran our first ever Critics’ Salon at TACTICs back in April and we couldn’t be more happy with how it went. In essence, we’re trying to create and run a theatre book club (and we agree- it could use a better name, so please send us any suggestions) where a small-ish group of people congregate immediately after a performance to have an intellectual discussion about what it is we just saw. This is not to be confused with the traditional post-show talk-back. It’s meant to be casual, it’s meant to be low-commitment and the ultimate goal is for people to open themselves up to meaningful and thoughtful conversation about theatre in a safe and open atmosphere. The other additional bonus is that people who regularly attend these Salons would meet some new people who they then might feel comfortable enough to approach at a completely different event. In any case, the inaugural event centered around girls! girls! girls! was a great success and most, if not all, of the participants voiced a desire for more of these events to be run throughout the year(maybe it was the free chips….?). Who are we to deprive the people of what they want?

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Truth be told, there aren’t any Salons formally scheduled as of yet , but the plan is to run one every couple months. What I can say for sure is that the next Salon should happen some time in October, though you will have to stay tuned for more event details. We will be running our first Critics’ Salon of the 2017-2018 season on Friday September 22nd in collaboration with the GCTC, TACTICs, and the NOC as part of the brand new Green Room series running throughout the year. We would also like to get a better idea of the number of participants before we lock down any specific dates as we have had a few individuals ask to be notified about when the next Salon is happening. If you are interested in attending the next Critics’ Salon, please contact us at newottawacritics613@gmail.com with ‘Sign me up for the Critics’ Salon’ in the subject line. We also have a ‘Critics’ Salon’ dedicated page in the works, but (again) we are on the hunt for a catchier name.

Embedded Criticism

Part of our collaboration with the GCTC includes producing content from an embedded critic’s perspective. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘embedded critic/criticism’, former collaborator Wes Babcock has laid it out nicely for us in his article “The End? Of Art”. Basically, what it means is that we will be producing work from within the GCTC about the GCTC and the way they function as an arts organization. We want to know things like what goes into picking an entire season and how the team makes that happen; how the GCTC plans its community outreach tactics; and,of course, how a production runs once it’s ‘moved in’ to the space. In order to better address these questions the GCTC will provide us access to some meetings (that includes Board, Artistic/Production, and Marketing meetings), access to interviews with staff and artists, access to the first read through and some rehearsals of select productions (in compliance with the individual companies), and a more in-depth look at the daily functions of the GCTC as a community organization by allowing us to work directly in their space. We also hope to feature articles written by the GCTC staff and other resident artists themselves, so look for that to come in our “Community Voices” section! You can see our past work with embedded criticism here(Fresh Meat Weekend Inventive) and here(Angel Square produced by the GCTC).

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Gabbie Lazarovitz’s (pictured) article “What If?” featured as the very first piece for our Community Voices series!

We understand and recognize that there are certain conflicts of interest that do arise in undertaking a project like this (not to mention working out of the same theatre space), but it is my personal goal to explore these conflicts and the situations in which they occur. Why do they happen and how can we get around them in a quest for more productive conversation? Does the critic always need to be separated from the artist? Why and why not? I am interested in these conversations because they could provide valuable insight as to how the theatre critic is to adapt to the ever changing landscape in journalism and legacy media.

Outreach

It’s fairly common knowledge that jobs for professional theatre critics are slim pickings, but that’s no reason not to develop our future arts writers! We hope that through our Youth/Student criticism workshops and Critics’ Salons we can inspire some more people to cover the local theatre scene whether that’s through written reviews, weekly podcasts, or Youtube reaction videos. Moreover, we’re looking to reach out to theatre students and drama classes for young avid theatre goers who might be interested in working with an editor to publish their writing on a semi-regular basis.

However, you don’t have to be a student to write for us! We’ve got plans in the works to partner up with another local blog in order to ‘cross-pollinate’ resources and potential contributors. Again, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out more details (and the big reveal) in another episode. We’d also like to reach out to different community centres and organizations and put calls out for writers. We want to add even more voices to our team and now more than ever is it important to have a diversified perspective. If you’re interested in contributing to the NOC, please visit our call page here.

While this is, by no means, an extensive list of all the things we want to accomplish this year within the Critical Residency, it should give you a better idea of our scope for the project. Our goal is to learn how to operate more efficiently as a publishing organization and how we can better serve our community as theatre critics. We want to explore how critics who have, up until this point, remained so far removed from their subject matter can now become community builders in their own right. Not by any stretch did we meet our fundraising goals (though we have a small and dedicated group of Patreon subscribers) nor is the GCTC funding this project in any way (excluding the aforementioned in kind donations)- we walk into this project as lovers of theatre who are dedicated to the craft of criticism. We can only hope you join us for this journey that’s sure to be exciting, awkward, and, most importantly, historic for the Ottawa theatre scene.

Become a subscriber today for as low as $1/month. Subscribers get early access to select content, exclusive raffles, discounts on workshops and more! Support local theatre criticism! www.patreon.com/newottawacritics.

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