conversation, criticism, interview, Theatre

In conversation: on second thoughts, taking the time and why we care

Ingredients: director/dramaturge and co-creative director of MKA John Kachoyan, screenwriter/comedian Lou Sanz, an audio recorder, a quinoa risotto, a lot of red wine and a wheel of brie.

Part 1
John: I think that in Australia, we’re very uncomfortable with people who make work talking about work. We forget that some of the biggest names (in theatre theory and criticism), from Artaud to Brecht, were practitioners. That’s what they did. They made work first and foremost and they were the people who were best equipped to talk about this stuff. In Australia being a practitioner and an arts writer is a fraught proposition.

Lou: I think that the community is just so small here. You don’t want to piss someone off by having a conversation that might be difficult and risk not getting any coverage for your show.


Lou: As theatre-goers we’re trained to respond in either a critical or a positive way. The first question you ask is ‘what was it like?’

John: ‘What did you think?’

Lou: Yes.

John: There are plays you come out of and sometimes you just have to walk. Just have to try and get to grips with ‘what even was that?’ I want to see someone grapple. Reduction in words and reduction to sound bites and pull quotes wash away the sophistication. What the Internet allows is a chance to see someone coming to grips with things. What is your second response to it? Sure, what do you feel when you walk out of the theatre but what do you feel in the pub a few hours later? What do you feel weeks later?


Kids Killing Kids is the perfect example. I was really proud of it because it provoked really strong responses and I think it should. All those questions about what does it mean to make art: What are our obligations? How pretentious are we? How connected are we? What are the dangers in what we do and how do we process it? Well we process it by making more art. We cope with life through theatre and theatre through theatre. Maybe.

Lou: We get so caught up in this idea that there is one person whose opinion matters. It doesn’t matter how many people email you to say how much they enjoyed the show or stop you in the corridor to say how much it spoke to them or that it was piss funny. You don’t hear that. You only see that one little thing… but you know who reads reviews, right?

John: The same six hundred of us who make the theatre.

Lou: At Comedy Festival, if you like Arj Barker, you go see Arj Barker. It doesn’t matter what shit someone wrote about him.

John: But it’s interesting when you can sit down and say ‘I just know that this show isn’t for that person or for that demographic. That person famously hates this sort of thing.’

SFB: Yes, when you know them as people rather than faceless beings out to destroy you, then you can decide if you value their opinion or not.

Lou: I’ve watched a reviewer come into my show and thought ‘what are you doing here? I know what you like.’ But I can’t package up who I want to see this show either.

SFB: Well there are reviewers who are rumored to seek out the theatre they know they won’t like.

John: It’s shock jock reviewing.


Lou: John and I judged a youth film festival a couple of weeks ago and you had to go in thinking ‘they’ve made something’. Even with bigger festivals I go in reminding myself people have made something so I’m going to watch it and engage with it from that point of view. I watch it again and again (of course you can’t really do that with theatre) and I’d say to John ‘I feel okay now. I don’t like it but I know its not personal.’

John: I say to dramaturges that if you don’t get something on the first read, read it again. If there are bits that are tough or don’t make sense, they are usually the most interesting things. I’m actually very suspicious of plays I find easy to read all the way through. Sometimes they win awards but they’re not necessarily things that work as drama. Sometimes you want things to be hard because that gap needs to be filled by the performance. This meaty, knotty strange thing will be made satisfying by creatives and an audience.

Lou: You’ve got to take time to actually read something properly, to try and figure out why you responded in the way that you did.

John: I think increasingly we don’t experience scripts in the time that they were meant to be experienced in. Turn off the phone, turn off the TV, sit down and give that person the courtesy of reading their play through as a continuous experience.

SFB: That is one of the things that still differentiates live theatre from film and TV: you get their full attention. No one is going to check their phone… unless they’re a total cock.

Lou: They still do it. And they forget that phones are pads of light. They might not be bored but they have such a compulsion to check their phones that it overrides their ability to sit still.

John: I did a show with Ben Ellis at the Young Vic in the tunnels under Waterloo. It was about the student riots in 2010. We had a lot of people in the audience who were actually at the riots. A lot of sixteen, seventeen-year-olds. The first night I went apoplectic. There were all these kids filming the thing on their phones and part of your traditional theatre brain says ‘don’t film! Don’t take photos!’ The eternal usher in you takes over. But on the nights where the show wasn’t working as well, where the audience wasn’t as engaged, those young people had their phones down! It became a weird mark of pride that the phones were up! That they were filming something! Sharing something! It was a sign that this part of the audience was engaging with it on their own terms.

Thank you to Lou and John for feeding me and talking to me. I have a second (slightly drunker) instalment yet to come and yesterday I interviewed director Suzanne Chaundy so I’m looking forward to putting that up also. Stay tuned and if you have an artist you’d like me to sit down with and chat to, let me know.


One thought on “In conversation: on second thoughts, taking the time and why we care

  1. Pingback: in conversation: on where we are going, the inarticulate and what artists can bring to debate | School For Birds

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