The Year of The Circus Critic (?)

Hello 2015.  Looking good.  Looking busy. And we’re only two days in.

My abiding memory of last summer is telling myself that ‘When winter comes, I’ll have a break’.  I certainly did take a few weeks off over December, but that has now left me with a mixture of guilt and panic as I eye the collection of books mounting for review, try and cram another date into my diary, and sigh over those shows I never wrote up.

To get myself back into a work frame of mind, I tuned in earlier to the 2-part end-of-year special of Rosie Kohl’s Vaudeville Broadcasts.  Her podcast interviews with people working on the variety scene often include circus elements, however this week the focus was on the critics.

The interview was with Holli-Mae Johnson from 21st Century Burlesque, and Franco Milazzo, who is my Editor-in-Chief at This Is Cabaret, and I was thrilled when I suddenly heard my name dropped!

‘I still think, for specialist things like circus, which are incredibly technical, I think there should be professional writers about that.  One of the people I’ve encouraged to come on board [to This Is Cabaret] is a lady called Kate Kavanagh, who is an amazing journalist.  She’s qualified – she’s done courses for circus journalism, she goes all over the country, she goes all over the world to see circus.  All over Europe at least, and she has an amazing knowledge about it.  She knows the performers, she can write with an authority that I don’t think any other publication can.

I mean, I go round and see the different reviews of things like La Soirée, and it’s hilarious to see all the things they write about.  I mean, some of them are pretty much saying, ‘I’ve never seen a circus show, but…!’

Thanks Franco!

The whole broadcast is well worth a listen, as they chat about different approaches to criticism and the importance of quality control, particularly in areas of performance where there is little or no culture of informed criticism historically.  Holli-Mae recognises that in her field of burlesque, there is an increasing demand for critique, although there is still a big divide in opinion about what it is, and whether it’s necessary or not.

Similarly to within circus, it may be an uncomfortable experience for some performers who are not used to having their work evaluated through a critical lens – particularly those who haven’t trained through formal school programmes that instil a familiarity with critical responses – but Holli-Mae eagerly points out how important it is that artists can recognise that ‘a lot of thought and effort goes into writing a review just as it goes into making a performance’.  We dedicate huge amounts of our personal time and money to put ourselves into the scene or, as she succinctly phrases it, ‘We are people that actually Give A Shit!’.

One of my winter plans that seems to still be in hibernation was to investigate the possibility of sourcing funding to maintain this website and expand the services I can offer.  So to wake me up and get me back on track, I’ve returned to two shows that I saw at the end of last year and never wrote up (I take notes like a woman possessed).

The reviews of Kinesonic and Knitting Peace are going to form part of an application to be an in-house critic at IdeasTap, so have been limited to 300 words.  Which is way outside my zone of preference when you consider the range of technical elements so crucial to a circus production, but therefore an interesting challenge.  Perhaps this is the year that circus criticism can go mainstream?

Will update you in 12 months 🙂

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4 Comments

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  1. Kate, for me the bottom line is that it gets the message out there. The word count must be frustrating, but reading your last couple of posts again and again, I don’t feel I’m missing anything, and your writing still transports.

    At the risk of making your head hurt more, there wouldn’t be a possibility of still continuing with this site and writing a longer review here?

    Could you leave a huge flashing signpost on this site so your loyal audience (ahem!) could follow, and you could pick up here where you left off here if you decided to return. I think this is an incredibly exciting opportunity and they would be lucky to have you on board, but I do really love this site as it is. So either way, result! Happy New Year!

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