A Conversation With Karen Fricker

Karen Fricker, theatre academic and critic talks about her career, her views on current events and the future of theatre.

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Tell us a little about what you do.
I am an assistant professor of Dramatic Arts at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. The focus of my research is on the ways in which globalization is affecting contemporary theatre and performance. Before I became an academic I worked as a theatre critic and arts magazine editor, and maintain a keen interest in theatre criticism and how it’s changing in the digital age.

 

How did you find your way into your field? Was it something you always had an interest in?
My mom sent me and my sister to a summertime drama programme at our local university when I was 12 and I have been hooked ever since.I studied English and Drama at university and didn’t find my way to criticism until after graduation, as I slowly realized that what I most loved about theatre – going to seeing shows and thinking and talking about then afterwards – could be something you do for a living.

 

What are your thoughts on the role of the critic in today’s society? How do you see it changing?
The received wisdom about criticism today is that thanks to the internet, everyone’s a critic. In fact everyone has always been a critic, inasmuch as the capacity to respond to the arts thoughtfully is part of what makes us human. But the rise of digital technologies means that pretty much anyone with a computer and internet access can broadcast their viewpoints. At the same time, and for related reasons, the number of paying jobs for professional critics is in decline, and some media outlets now privilege consumer/citizen reviews over expert ones. This is perceived by many with stakes in professional criticism as a situation of dire crisis. I prefer to see it as one of transition – expert voices will never be silenced. But just how they’re going to make themselves heard above the cacophony of online conversation is something that’s still playing itself out. It’s an exciting time.

 

What has your favourite theatre moment of the last 12 months been?
Ooh, I love that question. The most beautiful and moving performance I saw in 2014 was the contemporary circus piece Acrobates by the French company Le Montfort. I wrote about it extensively on my blog (www.karenfricker.wordpress.com) so I’ll not go on about it here — but I will say that contemporary circus is extremely vibrant at the moment and that maybe if Ireland gets really lucky, Willie White will program Acrobates in the Dublin Theatre Festival. That’s a hint, Willie.

 

What do you think of the current state of Irish theatre?
From 1997-2007 I lived in Dublin and was in the thick of things in the Irish performing arts, but now I only make it back twice a year so it’s hard for me to comment comprehensively. If I can say what work I most regret having missed in the years since I left it’s that of Anu Productions — their immersive Monto Cycle has been acknowledged as a major achievement. I am very sorry I never got a chance to see those productions.

 

If you had to pick one change to make to Irish theatre, what would it be?
Improved government funding.

 

You have worked a lot with young people, as an assistant professor in Brock University and on projects such as NAYD’s annual Young Critics programme. What are your thoughts on the future of theatre having worked with some of the practitioners, critics, academics and audiences of the present and future?
Working with young people is a great privilege, because through their eyes I see theatre as a space of limitless possibility and creativity. It’s impossible to get jaded! At the moment I am particularly interested to see what the next big thing after the post-dramatic (others may already know – please tell me!) and how digital criticism is going to continue to change my particular area of focus.

 

What advice would you give to a person considering pursing a similar career to yours?
Total, utter cliché but – follow your gut, follow your passion. If you feel like there’s something that needs to be said or done and you can’t figure out why no one is saying or doing it, that’s your cue. Do it yourself, say it yourself.

 

Thanks to Karen Fricker for sharing her thoughts.

Review – Hamlet

Just Friends Theatre Collective

Smock Alley

12/12/14Hamlet

This production directed by Aisling Smith with Just Friends Theatre Company, was the second Hamlet I have seen this year and it couldn’t have been more different from the first. Where Ostermier’s porduction with Berlin’s Schaubuhne was a loud, large scale production that tried to shock the audience at every turn, Smith’s Hamlet was a relaxed, engaging and accessible piece. The costuming and setting was unusual with modern dress being worn and the various levels of the Boy’s School space being used to great effect. However, apart from these and the paring back of the script, this was a show that was primarily concerned with telling the audience the enduring story of Hamlet.

For the most part, the performances were very competent, with Rory Doherty finding the balance between Hamlet’s mask of madness and his determination to discover and act upon the true facts of his father’s death, Michael Mullen and Lauren McGarry playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as a young couple and engaging performances from a host of other characters, especially Horatio and Marcellus played by Colm Kenny-Vaughan and Jimmy Kavanagh.

In terms of design, there were some beautiful moments of lighting by Paraic McLean, particularly the final tableau and the lighting of the ghost. Unfortunately due to the placing of the ghost in an archway behind the audience only certain portions of the audience could fully see the striking image. The sound design was unfortunately not as effective as it drowned out certain lines and did not add much to the piece overall.

In terms of direction, the production was overall very good, with only one scene that jarred with the rest of the play. The death of Polonius verged on pantomimic in its execution and detracted somewhat from the drama of the moment. More precision and subtlety would have made this scene much more effective.

Overall, this production of Hamlet was an entertaining and engaging evening’s theatre and I am interested to see more work from Just Friends Theatre Collective.

#LoveTheatreDay

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As any theatre lovers on twitter probably know, it’s Love Theatre Day (or perhaps more properly #LoveTheatreDay!). Today is a day in which we appreciate theatre in all of its forms, promote theatre, explore the industry and reach out to new and old audiences and practitioners alike. I’ll be spending the day in Modernism lectures learning about Dadaism and Surrealism, presenting a performance based on a dream and watching my classmates performances, attending a committee run of a DU Players show that I am operating, working on an essay on gender and power in A Doll’s House and Medea, and writing a review of the Abbey Theatre’s Production of Sive (Which I will post here in the near future, so keep an eye out for that!).

What about you? Are you seeing any performances, working on any productions or getting involved in theatre in any way today? Whatever you are doing, you can follow all of the #LoveTheatreDay events and goings on by following the three hashtags: #BackStage, #AskATheatre, and #Showtime. I’d love to know how you are spending the day or what you think of the initiative so please comment below and share your thoughts!