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.

Karen Fricker web headshot copy

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 – “A Feast of Bones”


Theatre Lovett,
The Ark,
6th October 2013.

What does one do when faced with a long wait for a train home from a weekend of non-stop theatre and workshops with NAYD Young Critics at the Dublin Theatre Festival? Perhaps you would go do a spot of shopping, walk around the city, grab a bite to eat and relax after the weekend or, if you are me, you go see another play!
“A Feast of Bones” is an excellent piece of theatre from Theatre Lovett. A play for both children and adults like no other, it is a dark yet wonderfully funny play that is beautifully written by Frances Kay. Based on the story of Henny Penny by Walter de la Mare, this play tells the tale of the revenge of Henny Penny. Set in 1918, the play ties together the story of Henny Penny and her friends’ misguided journey to tell the King the sky was falling that led them into the jaws of the fox to the first world war, the waste of life and misery experienced by the soldiers.
We enter the world of “Le Monde Boulversé” with a song and travel through the story with many more jaunty, haunting and melodious tunes which bring a life and flair to the stage that draws the audience into the tale instantly. On this high note (pun intended!) the action begins as the ravenously hungry Mr. Renard enters the restaurant “Le Monde Boulversé”. Mr. Renard, brilliantly played by Louis Lovett, provides many belly laughs, giggles and chuckles. He combines slapstick, puns, humorous comments and audience interaction while preparing to eat his dinner.
Playing opposite him is the excellent Lisa Lambe as Henny Penny, a waitress who is as mysterious and refined as Mr. Renard seems transparent and daft. This stark contrast between the characters, coupled with the exquisite musical talents of Messrs. Nico Brown and Martin Brunsden gives an atmosphere of mystery and danger that tells us the, while we are laughing our socks off at the escapades of Mr. Renard, all is not well. The first course arrives with the information that it is best served cold, and so the play takes on a darker twist as Henny Penny serves up a generous helping of revenge to the fox Mr. Renard.
Henny Penny’s delicacy may be cold, but the play certainly is not. From the brilliant and innovative music making by Brown and Brunsden to the excellent acting of Lovett and Lambe and from the well designed, atmospheric lighting plot to the beautiful set, Theatre Lovett’s production of “A Feast of Bones” is a fantastic feast for the imagination that is a pleasure to watch.