[Thought I might as well share this here. The original discussion thread is here, and my piece below was a contribution/response to some specific points raised by a playwright for my consideration--augmented with some clarificatory notes from my private correspondence with another commenter. I hope it helps answer questions about why and how I do what I do... What, you haven't checked out the thread? It's now 68 comments-strong, and by the likes of Anton Juan, Rody Vera, Nick Pichay, Frances Makil Ignacio, Arlo de Guzman, Jamie Wilson, etc., all reacting in some way to my original tweet: “naisip ko lang, bakit pag praise tinatanggap, pag puna hindi? di ba dapat pareho invalid yun kung di kapani-paniwala ang nagsabi? (smile).” Props to Facebook for the space and the means for this valuable back-and-forth.]
lemme answer some points you raised, from someone who covers theater. akin lang 'to, my own perspective, and i don't intend to speak for the rest:
frankly, and with no disrespect meant to anyone in the theater world--i don't consider myself part of the theater community. i see myself as a journalist covering theater, that's it. i am from the outside looking in. and whenever i write a review of a play, it is, in effect, my report of what i had experienced while watching the play. i try to describe what i saw and what i felt, and why i think i felt that way from what i had seen.
that means that i am, in fact, a member of the audience. i suppose with one difference: i am a bit more informed about theater--not because i am smarter, but because i have chosen to spend more time, effort, money, etc. watching plays and covering the industry. the sheer number of plays i watch, the private research i do, the effort i put in to try to understand and see in perspective everything that i'm able to watch--even if i'm half-alert lang, that should make me a bit more informed than the average theater-goer who goes for a more select repertoire of plays. i try to watch all--simply because i like to and i enjoy it. actually, just to mention lang: this is not part of my job at the paper. my job is simply to edit. that's my main job. i wasn't assigned to cover theater. i took it on my own because watching plays isn't at all work for me--i enjoy it without reservation. it's a privilege. walang chorva yan.
having said that, i keep to certain limitations: because i don't see myself as a theater practitioner and more an outsider covering the field, i limit my coverage to what's ultimately presented in front of me. to be specific: i am not, and don't see myself as, part of the the process that playwrights, directors and actors go through backstage. on a couple of occasions, i've been invited by two directors to attend their final rehearsals and asked to "critique" the work/offer improvements. i declined at both times, because i felt it wasn't my place to get involved in the process.
as an audience member, generally when i watch a play i have not had the chance to read the text (unless it's previously published/staged and the text is available commercially), or learn the process it's gone through before it eventually reached the stage. i can only judge what's ultimately, finally presented on stage before me. of course, if i am discerning enough, i should be able to understand what the material is talking about, to appreciate the quality of the text, to see how stagecraft is able to bring it alive before my eyes, etc.
but again, everything based on a product being presented to me already functionally whole, and whose evolution i wasn't privy to. that means that the way you as a playwright/director look at your work, and the way i look at it, would certainly vary. ideally, i suppose, a one-on-one correspondence between what the playwright and director are trying to say and what an informed audience member actually gets would be most welcome.
but we all know that seldom, if ever, happens. when an artist releases his work to the public, it's no longer his: the people who will look at it will invest their own viewpoints, perspectives, biases, temperament, etc. into it, and take away from it whatever suits their state of being at that moment. that's art. so i think it might be wishing for the moon for an artist to wish that the public will get him or her every time, fully and down to the last nuance.
while the reviewer/critic has a responsibility to the artists he covers, he has a bigger responsibility to a bigger audience: his readers. in my case, i write for a general-circulation paper. my audience consists of people like me--people who read, who try to be updated, who are reasonably intelligent and open-minded--but who are not part of the backstage, offstage life of theater. we don't know the process, we only get to see the final product. i can't write academic criticisms because the paper wouldn't publish them. i can't write jargonese because readers wouldn't read me--or worse, would berate me for it (i once used the word hortatory in a film review and got flak for it). what i can write are my opinions about what i see--sabi nga ni ebert, what is a review but an opinion? and he's won a pulitzer for his. yun lang.
in fact, my proximity to theater has also afforded me the chance to know more about the lives of theater artists. di maiwasan, kasi paminsan-minsan you overhear ang mga kwentuhan or naikukwento din. masayang pag-usapan, but in the end, as a journalist reviewing the plays i see, wala silang kinalaman sa napapanood ko sa entablado. that's why i've never posted theater gossip on my blog, or written about the private lives of theater people, etc. dahil, in the end, they have nothing to do with what i see onstage. and what i see onstage being presented is the only thing i'm concerned about.
the word 'critic' has always carried a lot of baggage such that, in the beginning, i never used it on myself. ibang mga tao ang unang gumamit niyan to describe what i was doing. i was content to say i was writing about plays. the long antagonistic relationship between critics and artists was something na i thought needn't necessarily be where i would end at, for two reasons.
one, i come from a position of friendship and support. i like the theater, i wish it to succeed, i have enormous respect for the people in it. that's precisely why i devote a big amount of my time covering it (inquirer does not pay at all for my pamasahe going to plays, or tickets whenever i need to buy, or pay me for the reviews i publish--kasama na yun sa basic sweldo ko) and getting more people to be interested in it via my blog.
two: i want to be as fair and objective as possible. that's the main reason why i don't want to get involved in the backstage/offstage process and become, in effect, an insider, a practitioner just like you. i'd like to believe i can honor your and your peers' work by keeping myself at a certain distance. quite a number have taken this the wrong way, but i also consciously don't hang out with theater folk, even if, in an ideal world, i'm thinking the closest friends i have would be artists from there too---given the shared likes and interests. if i weren't covering theater, i'd probably be an all-out groupie sa teatro. totoo yan!
but because i'm covering you guys, i just feel it's the proper thing to do, na wag ako maging intimately involved. training namin yan sa dyaryo--you are not part of the beat you cover. friendly, but not familiar--because the detachment and distance will (hopefully) help me see things in a clearer, fairer manner.
let me clarify this further: akshuli, i've no problem with going backstage to observe the process--rehearsals, script discussions, etc., how you guys put the play together. what am wary about is being asked for my input during that process--and thus ending up somehow having a vested interest in it, too. because that would eventually pose a conflict-of-interest question for me when i'd need to review the play once it's up on stage.
i don't know if i'm just being finicky--medyo conscious lang ako about these delicate dividing lines. like, if i can help it, i'd rather not write the advance feature on a play na lang, just to separate the 'publicizing' part from the 'reviewing' part, since i'm more inclined to review it din naman. i'd let somebody else do the advancer while i reserve the option to review the prod--unless it involves, say, the opportunity for a face-to-face with david henry hwang na minsan lang andito, so sige, ako na magvo-volunteer for both. haha, marupok din ako that way.
in the same way, i fear that if i get intimately involved in a play's evolution via being asked to help shape it with my inputs/ideas/suggestions as the play is being developed, it wouldn't be proper na for me to review it afterwards since kasama na din ako sa pagbuo niya. and since my greater inclination nga is to review, then i'd avoid na lang the appearance of conflict of interest.
but, yes--going backstage to observe SILENTLY, see for myself how you guys are going about your craft--i'd love to do that. i'm still being a journalist that way.
so, sa pagkahaba-habang sinabi ko dito (sorry about that), it all comes down to this. your process is your own. it's not the place of someone like me to be part of it. i'm happy enough to be at the receiving end of your creative efforts. believe me, i may pan a work, i may find something objectionable with it, but in the grand scheme of things, i'm always grateful enough na me naipapalabas, me nagagawa at me napapanood.
ang responsibility ko naman is to equip myself constantly to be able to consider a work fairly, as it is presented. from that vantage point, i can't guarantee i will see the playwright/director's intention with 100-percent accuracy, all the time. all i can promise is, with everything at my disposal sa puntong yun, bubuksan ko ang isip ko sa kung anuman ang gustong pumasok. i know i will never satisfy everyone; me magagalit at magagalit sa opinyon ko, but wala ako magagawa sa ganun--in the same way that artists would have to resign themselves to the fact that their works will be received in as many different ways as there are viewers. ganun siguro talaga. we have more in common than we think. :)
ang haba na nito! thanks for reading.
PLUS: Rody Vera took my credenda of sorts and made of it a “counter-monologue.” Here.