Last weekend was a busy one for me. Other than participating in the 6km Run for Water on Sunday, I also took Saturday morning to attend a writing workshop conducted for the Arts’ Festivals 2010 on ‘Arts Writing’, more accurately, how one can write reviews for books, theatre, movies, dance and one on poetry writing. These workshops ran concurrently and thus although I would have liked to attend a few more like movie review and poetry writing, I settled for book reviews.
The event started with a forum on arts writing. The panel of reviewers invited were Felix Cheong, a renown Singaporean Poet, Mathew Lyon, a theatre reviewer (and teaches Theatre and Arts studies for A’levels at RI), Dr Stephanie Burridge, a dance reviewer, Yong Shu Hoong, a movie reviewer for My Paper, The New Paper and some others, and lastly, Stephanie Yap, a book reviewer for ST.
The attendees were a mix of students mostly from ACJC, the organizing partner, undergrads, one NS man, some already working and me, a homemaker. The poor turn up could be partly due to poor marketing. I almost missed the small write up on ‘what’s happening in town’, and of course if the workshop was being held somewhere further in the East or North, I may not have signed up. For $15, it was money well spent.
The forum was interesting, although for a short moment, there was an awkward silence during Q&A.
I learned that being a local Poet, even an award winning one, does not pay much. Loyalty from Felix Cheong’s book from the past five years was just $200.
Yong Shu Hoong revealed that being a critic in Singapore, a small market, is ‘incestrous’, as you may be reviewing friends’ work. Star ratings for movies are also useful because they give the moviegoer an ‘impression’ of the movie when space does not permit in-dept reviewing. One down side of being a movie reviewer is that he would not pay to watch any movie nowadays.
Theatre in Singapore is considered ‘temporary’, since there is no long playing theatre in Singapore, unlike Broadway and Westend. Mathew Lyon feels there is no such thing as bad criticism, just not enough, so even if you are reviewing in your blog, it’s a good start to inform what the Arts scene in Singapore is about. Make use of your emotion, sensory to revivify the work in your review.
For dance reviewing, knowledge of dance is important. One has to practise your art and develop a culture of review. Dr Burridge thinks most reviews are purely decriptive opinions, not constructive. Also, it is important to know about the history of the piece or culture when reviewing a dance, or your review will lack context.
I was with Stephanie Yap in the breakup session, together with an ACJC student, a medical student, a couple in PR, a lady waiting for her operation, a man in between job, and another lady. Surprisingly, not everyone are avid readers. Other than the student and myself, the others do not blog. Stephanie revealed that ST has a ‘relationship’ with the publishers and the paper usually reviews books sent by them. The star ratings helps as the reviews are constrained by space.
She stresses that since much work has been put into the work, critics need to be fair and thus "You must read the whole book before you review it."
We were made to do a short book review at the end. The couple left before that, but the rest gave very interesting reviews on the recent books they had read. The medical student reviewed Travels by Michael Crichton, the ACJC student did Time Traveller’s Wife, The man, I, Lucifer, one lady on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. I did Eating Salt.
I think Stephanie Yap could tell I have done many reviews. Still, I’m now subscribing to the philosophy of Learn, Relearn and Unlearn, so I was appreciative of any pointers she gave.
Overall, I had a very enjoyable Saturday morning.