On learning and writing


I have a confession to make: I know very little about most things. One of the aspects of being a freelance journalist is that I get to write about a lot of different things, and many times I go through this enormous learning curve where I spend considerable time “catching up” on issues that I’m writing about for the first time.

The learning curve is actually my favorite part about doing what I do. In the last several years, I’ve learned so much about the community around me, the issues that are going on locally — things I probably would have never learned about if I weren’t writing about them.

But probably one of the areas that I write about where I feel the most like I’m floundering is arts writing, which is strange because I spend more time writing about arts than anything.

My training is in theater. I have an M.F.A. in acting (which makes me a “mother fucking actor” to those of you that didn’t know.) The gist of my education was learning how to get in touch with my feelings and learning how to pronounce things clearly. The former has caused me no end of grief, and the latter could have spurred me into a lucrative telemarketing career if I had decided to go that route.

My theater training has the unfortunate consequence of making me dislike most theater I see. It’s difficult for me to really enjoy the experience because I get so picky about the tiniest little things. 

But as for other arts writing — like dance and visual arts for example — while they are in some ways related to theater, I really don’t have a background in those areas. So when I write a review, I sometimes feel like I lack the vocabulary and history that I draw from when I write about theatre.

I try to describe what I see or hear, and reflect on it. My favorite art experiences are things I don’t quite understand, so often what I really want to do is talk to the artist or choreographer after the show and find out what they were trying to do.

This week, I wrote a piece that started out as a preview for Ragamala Dance’s latest production, which I ended up turning into a kind of review. Because it didn’t get published until after I saw the performance, I added my thoughts about the show. 

It’s a kind of review you don’t see very often. Previews often include an interview with an artist or curator, and reviews usually consist of the reviewer’s lone voice about a piece. I rather liked this new kind of hybrid.

I mean, why not? I certainly don’t know anything about South Indian dance, or the art forms that Ragamala was drawing from for their show. Being able to interview Ranee Ramasamy allowed me to understand what they were trying to do.

Sure, you can’t always talk to the artist. But I feel like when there’s an opportunity to do so, it can help add context to what you are seeing. This wouldn’t necessarily result in a positive review, but it might end up making the review more of a dialogue.

 I’m curious about what others think about this idea. Thoughts?