Does Age Matter?

There has been a question in my mind ever since starting this blog, essentially since I began to offer my view upon Theatre and the things that surround it. It relates to the very reason why I set up this blog, and why I stand firm that by doing this, I am offering something different to a critical world of theatre which is dominated by the older, white middle-class men.

If we look at some of the most influential theatre critics, who hold positions within the strongest publications you can start to see what I mean: Henry Hitchings, Benedict Nightingale, Charles Spencer, Michael Billington… anyone seem a theme building amongst these men?

With this comes my question:

Am I too young to be offering critical responses to Theatre?

Or in a wider context:

Does age matter when being a critic?

While I might state the above list of critics are ‘older’, I speak this in terms of my own age, and of the general average age of critics within higher ranked publications. However, with the questions I pose comes a whole barrage of ideas and thoughts related to them.

The likes of Charles Spencer and Michael Billington has been on the scene of critically accessing our nations theatre for years, decades is even more precise. Maybe they are set in their ways of what theatre should be like, or the way in which they engage with theatre after so many years. Yet they also have such a depth of understanding, they have years and thousands of productions hidden away in their memory to recall at any moment. Their understanding of theatre is great, immense even.

Having only been in this world for a matter of 21 years, and the best part of those naive to the likes of theatre, I have some catching up to do to gain an understanding of such knowledge that the likes of Billington holds. But is this a negative point? Does my young mind seeing only a fraction of the number that the above men have seen make me any more or less wise?

Theatre is an experience. That alone can not be argued. So does age need to come into it? Surely it does not matter if I don’t have many years behind me – not if I can feel and experience theatre. We go, and sit, in rows of seats angled towards this stage. The lights go dark, and to counter this, the lights reveal a world on the stage. It’s an odd phenomenon, but we do it because we love to immerse ourselves into a world parallel with ours, or even beyond ours. We then sit, watch and experience.

I would argue that as I sit there watching theatre I experience just as everyone else experiences theatre. I go through the emotions which the production is offering me. I gain goosebumps out of excitement, and feel the hair on the back of my neck stand to attention. Equally I can sit there staring into space out of boredom for a production lost on me. But above all of this, I am experiencing. I still have that gut instinct when it comes to theatre. I feel something inside of me, moving me, excelling in excitement when I watch a piece of theatre which completely shakes my mindset.

Surely these experiences that I feel, are the same ones that the theatre critics feel when they see the theatre which they rate in 5 star stardom. I may not have the same catalogue of productions to draw parallels between when writing about theatre, but what I have is instinct – this gut instinct of seeing something which throws me into excitement.

So does age matter if we can feel and experience theatre and know when it is good, or likewise bad? No, and Yes.

At times I have stated, and will continue to state that I am naive to theatre. Compared to the critics of the papers, I am but a child in a toy shop, spoilt and overwhelmed by the choice of theatre. My lack of understanding that doesn’t run years and years worth of productions can be seen in a negative manner. How can I compare productions if I’ve seen a handful?

I think it goes back to having a passion for theatre, and knowing when something truly excites me.

Having an eye for theatre helps too, something which I proclaim to have. I often spot the smaller things in productions, my review of Phedre for instance I mentioned hand movements, subtle yet powerful. This eye for detail means I will often focus in on points compared to just generalising a whole play.

So why yes to age matters? It goes back to not being able to compare the work to anything. To not having lived through the generations of change within theatre. Remembering productions that for me now, I can only read about, whilst these critics such as Billington have witnessed. Productions such as Peter Brooks, The Mahabharata which are so famous today, sadly I can only read about.

It is a matter of living through the development and change within theatre, and being able to witness these things.

Currently we are seeing a boom of digitisation in theatre, where I am being brought up among technology interweaved into theatre. The likes of Katie Mitchell and Punchdrunk are the theatre makers of my generation that in years to come I can say, “I was there, I witnessed this change” – In years to come I will be able to compare the productions of today with the productions of the future. I’ll be able to carve the patterns of movements within the form of theatre, track the development and witness the change. Eventually I will be the older critic.

Now, however, I am young.

With being young comes an enthusiasm to soak in as much theatre as possible. To completely immerse myself in the realms of theatre and survive off this alone. I have a passion, that has not dwindled over time. I might not be the master of my craft yet, but I have the years ahead of me to be shaped into a person of tomorrows theatre. If that is through critically assessing plays and the developments of theatre, or through performing and creating theatre itself. Either way, for now, I am young, and bringing whoever may listen A Younger Theatre.

So does age matter? Only if you let it.

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5 Responses to Does Age Matter?

  1. kcjacinto89 says:

    AGE NEVER MATTERS..

    it is what you say that matters.

    OLDER PEOPLE JUST CAN’T ACCEPT THAT YOUNGER PEOPLE ARE SAYING THE RIGHT THINGS SOMETIMES…

    HAPPENS ALL THE TIME.THEY MAY CONTRADICT WHAT YOU SAY, BUT YOU HAVE TO STAY FIRM ON YOUR WORD.

    AND STILL SHOW FULL RESPECT, SO THEY CAN’T SAY YOU ARE LOSING YOUR HEAD!

  2. Tom Atkins says:

    I think that experience can matter and generally that comes with age. But I’d be very interested in critical thinking from all age groups. Why shouldn’t a review of say Peter Pan at Kensington Gardens have a review from the Billingtons of the world alongside a review from a 7 year old in the audience, or a parent? The latter two are the target audiences so why shouldn’t we hear from them? Well with this blog and many others blogging reviews, that’s absolutely starting to happen and more weight will come with that in time, providing the blogs keep going and keep getting that experience.

  3. TheTTCritic says:

    Despite my title (very soon requiring retirement) and my blog which is not dissimilar to this one, I personally wouldn’t trade the erudite Michael Billingtons of this world for anything. Their experience brings a level of criticism I can only hope one day to attain. That’s not to say I don’t value the diversity of the blogosphere. I certainly do, but it brings a different quality to the table. Repeating pretty much exactly what Tom said above, surely when considering taking a child to Peter Pan you’d much rather hear what a child thought. Surely that holds greater value to a person in that position than a worldly wise opinion. Some of the older critics are jaded when it comes to musicals (although not all and not just musicals either) and offer critiques that will never represent what the average audience will see. They’re usually still valuable opinions but have to be taken in context. Age does matter but only, in my opinion, in evaluating from what angle the critic is writing. It’s all about perspectives, the more of them the better to my mind.

    TTC

  4. Matt Trueman says:

    Not age, but authority. The two are easily conflated as authority comes with experience, which comes with age – albeit not exclusively. I wrote something similar here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2009/apr/02/theatre-critics-de-jongh

    Thought it might be of interest to you.

  5. Nick Maher says:

    Benedict Nightingale and Michael Billington are both more than twice as old as Henry Hitchings. So, yes, all the people you mention are white and middle-class, and maybe that’s a problem… but then again look at the audience at most theatres!

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