Taking It To The Next Level

My career as a theatre critic started in university when I chanced upon Kent Ridge Common, an online student-run publication, which offered ample opportunities to review shows.

Two years later, I signed up for a module on theatre criticism offered by the theatre studies department at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Being equipped with certain theoretical frameworks, challenged to write reviews for different media, and having to read them aloud to approximately thirty people really forced me to consider my voice as a critic, who my reader was, and what my functions are.

The course led me to convert this website to solely focus on the arts and to sign up as a citizen reviewer for Centre 42 from 2014 till today.

In the past five years, I have gained more confidence and am increasingly aware of my artistic tastes and the sort of critic that I want to be. Having practised this craft for half a decade, it is time to take it further—it is time to be a professional independent theatre critic.

What Does This Mean?

The fundamental change would be to strive to turn this craft into a source of revenue amongst other artistic pursuits. Your support will enable me to broaden my coverage to include more long-form interviews and profiles, dance reviews, and even book reviews.

My reviews will always be public and free for all to read. Your support will determine the breadth and depth of my coverage, and supporters will receive bonus content.

Editorially, I will be stricter on developing a house style. I will take my cue from Mr Hart by referring to New Hart’s Rules. I will depart from a few of his recommendations purely out of personal preference.

In terms of work flow, I will try to publish my review within a week of watching the show. I have no intention of being the first, for there are many others who are adept at that. Rather, I shall follow the footsteps of Mr Kenneth Tynan and “write for posterity” as much as it is meant for the present.

Why Does It Matter?

Arts criticism is part of the arts ecology. Artists aim to inspire, provoke, comfort, or entertain their audience. Criticism is thus an articulated response to the work. It is the opening salvo; the first hand in the air.

With arts funding in Singapore still largely reliant on state funding, the perennial question is, What do the people want or need? Artists and authorities have been justifying their aims in response to this question without answering a more fundamental one: Who constitutes “the people?”

Hence, my reviews seek to be a platform from which theatre-goers can respond to and articulate their opinions. After all, in an incredibly realistic country such as Singapore, for someone to invest time and money into something counts a lot.

I also seek to document these debates as one indicator of what the people want.

How Can I Support You?

Regardless of who you are, there are several ways that you can support me. All the details can be found on this page.

Apart from doing this as a regular gig, the ultimate goal is to be able to commission other writers on a regular basis and pay them at market rates. While much have been said about the need for arts criticism, proper opportunities are very few and far between.

But beyond financial or in-kind support, an equally important contribution is to really respond to my reviews. Tell me your opinions about the show. Even if it is a response to a particular point I made, it is very helpful for all involved.

I look forward to having you on this new journey with me.

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Revamp

Initially, I created this blog as a portfolio of all the writing that I have done and to note down some reflections on my writing experience. However, I realised that it has been dormant for quite a while as I have not had the chance to really sit down and write a poem or a story. After much consideration, the only way to keep this blog alive is to expand its scope.

Incidentally, while discussing possible career paths with my theatre professor, he mentioned that I should take my interest in the arts beyond reviewing plays—I should start an arts blog. I should invest myself in the arts scene by reflecting on what is happening as well as to comment on it. Hopefully, this will facilitate a livelier discussion about the arts.

This post thus marks the beginning of my maiden attempt at being a somewhat active arts blogger.  I will also take this opportunity to explore other areas of the arts that I am interested in as well.  To start things off, I shall transfer a review of Yo, Carmen by María Pagés Compañía from my personal blog to this one.

If you have any thoughts in response to my reviews or the content of this blog, please leave a comment. If you have more to say, feel free to email me at isaactan90@gmail.com. I will feature it as a guest post and will  respond to it in the following post. This will allow everyone to keep track of the debate and weigh in with their thoughts.

Lastly, please share this blog with anyone that is interested in the arts as it will go a long way to sustain this endeavour.

Updates

After what seemed like an eternity, my fifth semester as an undergraduate is finally over and the holidays are here! Regrettably, my plan to be consistent in writing a journal failed miserably  – I did not write a single word more after my first entry. It is easy to say that I was too busy to keep a journal but a more accurate description would be that I was too distracted  and my occasional inability to keep it brief often deters me from even starting.

However, something great happened in the middle of my semester! Two of my poems are published in Eastlit which came as a wonderful birthday surprise for me. One of them is written in a voice of a gypsy while the other talks about unfulfilled meetings. You can read them here if you are interested. I appreciate any feedback and comments that you may have! Incidentally, I did have a slightly different version of the poem, Meetings Unmet. You can read the edited version at the bottom of this post. Do tell me which version you prefer.

So what lies ahead during this ridiculously short holiday? In terms of writing, I shall edit a couple of my poems. I also plan to write an article about teamwork on Medium and I will blog my experiences here about trying to write on this new-ish platform and see how it compares with maintaining a blog. I hope to  blog more often on my personal blog too! So here’s wishing my readers Happy Holidays and hopefully my next post won’t merely be just wishing you all a Merry Christmas.

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Meetings Unmet

“Let’s meet up soon!” So you say

with a smile framed by a

colon and bracket closing.

That smile shining with optimism

like a camera’s flash –

illuminating shadows of fond pasts.

But with all flashes,

the promise lingers only an instant.

An instance of politeness?

Of pity? Of custom?

Those four words – a stock phrase,

finalising all conversations, are

steel frames of a pendulum.

And I, the steel ball, thrashes from

euphoria to dejection in an

unspoken hope of it coming true.

Words are feeble straws I

grasp to feed the petering

flame of our conversations –

fleeting and customary greetings

on certain occasions. With a

reactionary crackle, the flame

lives an instance;

enjoys a moment’s brilliance…

Silence –

Only to be broken by remnants of

those four words.  In a jar, I collect

the ashes and wish that an urn

it is not .