Students involved and interested in theatre at McGill have repeatedly told me that The Daily does not sufficiently cover campus productions, and that the coverage has too often been of poor quality. Let’s investigate both these claims in turn.
McGill has over half a dozen theatre groups, that operate either independently or through student bodies. Tuesday Night Café alone puts on four shows per year, each running eight nights, with most nights selling out their 50 tickets. That’s 1,600 tickets each year for one of the smallest theatre groups at McGill.
Despite the preponderance of theatre on campus, I don’t think the Culture section of The Daily should increase its coverage of McGill productions. Yes, it’s important for The Daily to cover issues relevant to the McGill community, as mandated by the paper’s Statement of Principles (SoP). That’s the reason theatre reviews remain a subsection of Culture. But the SoP also calls on the newspaper to cover and analyze alternative issues not adequately covered in other media sources. The editors are right to dedicate most of their space to things other than theatre.
Then what about quality? Well, the problem is twofold. Most reviews focus almost exclusively on plot and leave out the essential ingredients of a good theatre review – analysis of themes, acting, mise-en-scène, or directing. And reviews that do adequately cover the play have too often been of low quality.
Let me give you some examples. The February 2 review of the musical HAIR, put on by the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society, had just three sentences on the performance itself, all of which were tucked into the second-to-last paragraph. The review was primarily about plot and thematic context, which any reader can easily obtain online. The vast majority of the theatre reviews suffered from the same problem, be it that of Closer (November 6) or The Importance of Being Earnest (November 24).
One of the few reviews which was not a plot summary was about The Bacchae (November 20). But the tone of that review was excessively informal, especially in contrast with the professional quality of the rest of the Culture section.
Finally, consider the February 5 review of Never the Sinner, which had excellent content despite the author’s claim in the second paragraph that “nudity free theatre” is the “cultural equivalent of non-alcoholic beer.” Was that a joke? Given the past coverage of theatre in The Daily, such a comment made me want to stop reading then and there. So as far as quality of coverage goes, either the reviews are too informal, or they are simply a plot summary.
These reviews, however, do not reflect the overall quality of the Culture section – especially of its film and book reviews. If the Culture section can consistently pull off truly fantastic articles regarding other subjects, then it should be able do the same for theatre. Yet even non-McGill theatre is poorly covered, such as the review of Sky Dive (November 17). And what is most striking about the excellent coverage of theatre in Le Délit, is that the writers’ interests come through very strongly.
All this leads me to conclude the problem lies principally with the fact that too few students involved and interested in theatre at McGill are contributing to the Culture section. If you want to see better quality coverage of what interests you, then start writing.
Marc Sellès’s column appears every other Thursday. Send your Daily-related gripe to email@example.com.