In early 2010, I moved to Calgary and was eager to experience what I had heard was a vibrant and varied performing arts scene. I was thrilled to see that there were so many productions going on in the city. But I was equally frustrated that I couldn’t find quality critical information on these performances to help me decide which ones I should see and which ones I should skip.
Sure, the media in Calgary covers the theater, but like many reviews in many cities, I found these pieces leaned more towards cheerleading than critique and, for me, this was not helpful. I’m sure I missed several performances that I would have loved and I know I saw several that I wasn’t crazy about due to inferior information. So, if you want something done right as they say……..and that’s how Applause!Meter was born. Since then I went on to become the theater critic for Calgary’s #1 morning station, CBC Radio’s Calgary Eyeopener program – http://www.cbc.ca/eyeopener/columnists/theater/ and with my critic colleagues, established the annual Calgary Critics’ Awards honouring the best theater of each season.
Now, working as a theater critic for Houston Press, I find myself getting to know a totally new group of theaters and artists. Being the new critic in town always comes with challenges, but thus far I have been quite impressed with the energy and breadth of the theater community here and I’m looking forward to critiquing the work and becoming part of Houston’s reviewing fabric.
But who am I, you ask? Fair enough. Apart from being a print and broadcast journalist, former member of the Canadian Theater Critics Association and present member of the American Theatre Critics Association, I’m a theater junkie and have been for as long as I can remember. The dramatic arts have been a part of my educational/recreational and even professional endeavors for as long as I can remember. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I think I would curl up in a ball and die if I wasn’t able to get out and enjoy live theater on a very regular basis
While my passion is intense, I don’t think my love of the theater is necessarily all that unique. I adore the lack of falsehood. What happens on stage happens without the aid of post-production fiddling. Then there’s the feeling of community, of going out in public and collectively experiencing the moment. Most importantly however is the notion of storytelling in theater– hearing stories about ourselves told through the different unique voices of writers and performers and directors. For me, all this is completely captivating and is something I want to think about and write about and share with others. That’s what motivates me as a critic, taking these precious experiences and presenting them to people in a way that can help them find their own engagement in the theater. Yes sometimes that means presenting my frustration at a particular play or performance. But ultimately what I’m trying to do is be a theatre ‘super-bug’ infecting everyone that encounters my reviews with the same kind of love, excitement and anticipation for the theater that I have along with the knowledge and ability to demand greatness when that curtain goes up. It doesn’t matter how many plays I’ve seen or how many reviews I write, that greatness, when it happens, gets me every time and is a joy that I will never tire of. And if I do my job correctly, neither will you.
See you at the theater!
Love it, J! I am glad you have decided to jump in here.
As a past member of the now defunct “Calgary Region Arts Foundation” (superceded by CADA) and Lunchbox Theatre, I support anything that raises awareness of the arts.
I think that the new Ghost River play is getting a buzz at the Pumphouse Theatre…
Hey Jessica, while I find your reviews fantastic and very helpful, the set-up of some of them is a little unsettling, I just wanted to point it out (though I realize it is your site and you can do whatever you want on it)..anyways.
The fact that you separate “for the guys/for the girls” after your general review, and then make comments (see it/skip it/maybe see it) based on generalized gender behavior is disconcerting in that not all males, for instance, will want to see a show just because it has violence and other “testosterone worthy” things in it. Same with females choosing to see a show based on it’s empathy, or not see one based on its gore factor. In my opinion, a simple “if you like gory descriptions and tough love, you may enjoy this show” (or whatever..) would suffice and get your point across just as well, if not better. Gendering things does nothing for our society but keep us in boxes.
Again, just my own personal comments that I wanted to share with you. I think your reviews are great otherwise, but like I said, they throw me off sometimes when I get to the end.
Thanks for the great recommendation.
“Jesus in Montana”
Thanks so much for your contribution to the theatre scene in Calgary. It’s also been my perception that many of the local reviewers tend to function more as cheerleaders than critics. Your detailed and honest appraisals are much more useful in helping me decided what to see.
Keep up the great work!
Thanks Drew! So glad the reviews are useful to you.
Have just come back from Lunchbox’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Lover. It is just excellent. SEE IT!
It is wonderful to have a professional theatre critic in Calgary. Badly needed.
Thanks Gail. So nice of you to take the time to comment! Unfortunately I’m on my way to London to catch the end of the theatre season and will miss The Lover. But I do know that Sun critic, Louis Hobson, has seen it so it will be in condiseration for our Theatre Critic Awards in July.
Thank you for your reviews over the last few years! I admire your honest, open, intelligent approach to your reviews. Sorry to hear you will be moving. All the best.
Your leaving! Oh no! Your reviews have contributed significantly to the theatre scene here. Gail
I know I’m coming late to this. But I just wanted to let you know that you’ll be missed in Calgary (being missed right this moment, as I was looking to see what you had critiqued). You were a very useful part of the arts scene in Calgary. Thanks for the good times, and for the times that were not that you saved us from experiencing. I hope you bloom and have all the success you deserve in Houston…
Late or not, thank you for the lovely note. Means a lot that you took the time to write. I hope you’ll continue to engage in the theatre scene in Calgary and fingers crossed that you get to see productions that give you goose bumps!
So happy you’ve found Catastrophic and that you, too, LOVED “The Hunchback Variations.” Thanks for this thoughtful review.