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The Critic as Audience Member with Signy Lynch and Michelle MacArthur

October 26th 2020, 12:30-2:30pm EST

The Critic as Audience Member: Towards More Inclusive and Democratic Models of Theatre Criticism in Canada with Signy Lynch and Michelle MacArthur

In February 2020, Ojibwe/South Asian artist Yolanda Bonnell asked that reviews for the Toronto production of her show bug be written only by Indigenous, Black, or critics of Colour (IBPOC), citing both the cultural specificity of the work and the systemic racism embedded in “current colonial reviewing practices” (“Why playwright Yolanda”).

Bonnell’s controversial request, though not without historical precedent, articulated a shared feeling among many IBPOC artists in Canada and abroad that members of the largely white mainstream critical establishment are often ill-equipped to write about their work. It also drew attention to the lack of IBPOC voices within the critical establishment, something that our recent survey of theatre reviewers in Canada confirmed. Our CSAR presentation began with the debate generated by bug to examine the figure of the critic as audience member in the context of Canadian theatre. Drawing on findings from our ongoing, SSHRC-funded national study of theatre criticism in Canada, we asked to what extent the digital age is empowering both critics and audience members from equity-seeking groups to intervene in public discourse. We then examined data from IBPOC artists themselves to outline the urgent changes needed in re-envisioning theatre criticism as something that could be “socially engaged, culturally responsive, and inclusive” (Shaffeeullah 35). As we presented our findings, we highlighted the methodological questions with which we have engaged in our attempt to centre IBPOC voices in the research.

Presented over Zoom.

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