The following is an open letter from Shane Byrne to Sara Keating of The Irish Times.
17th September 2012
Dear Ms. Keating,
Thank you for your review in the Irish Times Festival Hub. Naturally I’m disappointed that you didn’t seem to enjoy the show at all. I think it’s a great shame. I don’t agree with all your comments or share all your opinions but I respect your right to them. I take them on the chin. I accept your criticism and after this run I will mull on your points and make a decision on how I allow them to inform my practise.
I’m writing now in relation to the last two sentences of your review.
“Hungry Tender is theatre as therapy, and the stakes for Byrne are undoubtedly high. But he has failed to ask the crucial question of himself: what is in this for the audience?”
Firstly I would like to address the notion of Hungry Tender being theatre as therapy. Although there are elements of the creative process that can have positive or therapeutic effects on the artist, I assure you that performance itself is rarely like this. I can promise you that the conditions of performance have very little that would lend itself to anything near therapeutic. It is my understanding that your job is to review the 55 minutes you see in a theatre.
I can’t help but feel that there is some conjecture on your part. I also think you know well that therapy in a theatre a somewhat impossible.
I am writing this letter mainly based on your suggestion- in fact it seems more of a definitive statement- that I neglected to think about what’s in it for the audience. Allow me to explain how the process works and why this is incorrect and also insulting.
In THEATREclub we start making a show based on thinking about something that we feel merits discussion. Whether it’s the rise of heroin use in epidemic proportions in Dublin or the more personal human issues of a self destructive relationship with food. We view theatre and performance as the first step in creating a new discourse. This works. This is not done selfishly. The performance we create is specifically designed and intended to speak to an audience. It’s not solely about us.
I started making Hungry Tender because I believed that I was not the only person who had struggled with food. I had never seen a piece of theatre about it. I wanted to talk about it and I wanted others to do the same. So I made a show. I made it so that other people could watch me and hear about my own relationship with food in the hope that it would encourage them to think about themselves. This works.
I know what’s in it for the audience. I know that it’s a chance to watch someone take the first step into a conversation about something that is seldom spoken about. I know that they watch something out of the ordinary in that this person is a young man. I know that they are presented with uncomfortable content. They watch someone make themselves very open and vulnerable through very normal activities. I don’t play anything during these sections. I do not add affectation or acting. I make a sandwich and I eat it. What’s in it for the audience is the silence and the space and time to think.
I know that they see sections that are confusing and at times cringe making. I hear them sigh and shuffle in their seats and I know that the silence I’m providing is working. I feel the shift in the theatre and hear the sobbing and the whispers and I know that there are people in the room with me who feel affected and who are thinking. This makes me feel like I’m doing a good job.
I don’t judge my work based on reviews. It comes directly from the response from the audience. It is in the teenagers who stop me on the street to tell me they loved a show and they felt it was really important. I judge success on the audience members I’ve never met before who wait in foyers to thank me. They say thank you.
I’d like to clarify that I am not writing this to somehow slate you or your work. We disagree and that’s the nature of what this is. However, I would just hate to think of anyone who hasn’t seen this show make up their mind based on this review. I don’t want anyone to assume that I make work in a manner that cares little for the audience. As far as I’m concerned I make it for an audience to see. I would never want to leave anyone out. Theatre is for everyone. I just wanted to make that clear in this public forum seeing as the review is published here.
Thanks again for your review and thanks for taking the time to read this.