Currently theatre critic at large for Tribune and a freelance reviewer, he is also co-editor of theatreVOICE website. A former honorary secretary of the Drama Section of the UK Critics' Circle, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, and works as a journalist, writer and broadcaster. Sometimes, he collaborates with ace cultural consultancy, Noema.
His many academic publications include chapters in books about contemporary theatre, as well as the entry on Sarah Kane in the New Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), and numerous contributions to journals such as New Theatre Quarterly and Contemporary Theatre Review.
His journalistic work has appeared in newspapers such as The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent. His writing includes co-authoring an award-winning audio-guide, The Venice Tapes (1996), and co-translating Letitia Russo's Dead End for the National Theatre's Shell Connections in 2004. He is also a regular panelist for discussions at all our best theatres, and a guest on radio programmes on arts subjects.
Anagram of Aleks Sierz: Sleaze Risk. Genre: mattoid.
• See blog!
• And In-Yer-Facebook (© Donna Savery)
Sierz Q & A
What is the Sierzist approach to writing about contemporary drama?
Sierzism is an experiential approach that focuses on live performance. In In-Yer-Face Theatre, the experience of going to the theatre and watching a production is foregrounded: what is important is not only what happens on stage, but also the whole experience of going to see a show, from the atmosphere of the theatre to the event's advertising, its programme and its reviews. This approach does not ignore the play text, but neither does it fetishise it: in the end, a detailed close reading of the words on the page is a lot less interesting than a convincing remembering of the live performance. But memory is not fixed; it must be created. So in order to re-create a memory of the event, interviews and other materials are useful. And the memories of playwrights, directors and actors are obviously important. And the multiple recall of audience members. But don't forget that one of the primary sources is the experience of Sierz himself. And so what?
The prime question that the Sierzist approach poses is: what does a play mean? What is the playwright trying to say? Clearly, this is a common question that many playgoers ask, but it is worth asserting in the face of all those approaches that seek to avoid this question in a welter of relativistic nonsense about every interpretation being equally valid. While it is true that plays always mean more than one thing, it is equally true that you can map out the field of their meanings. Go on, give it a try.
Why is In-Yer-Face Theatre structured in the way it is?
The book is organised by playwright. This in itself emphases the point that the playwright is central to great British tradition of new writing for the theatre. In other words, there is one chapter each for the three most important "experiential" playwrights of the 1990s: Anthony Neilson, Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill. The other chapters are organised by theme. The book's structure is polemical, and doesn't aim to reflect reality in a total way: what it does do is reflect the argument that the new playwrights of the 1990s were an avant-garde that galvanised the whole new writing scene. In this way, the book tells a coherent and compelling story. But it's not the only story that can be told about 1990s new writing in Britain. Lots of other stories are there for the telling - now it's your turn create narratives, and myths. What are you waiting for?
How is the Sierzist approach manifest in The Theatre of Martin Crimp?
In this study of a single playwright, the Sierzist approach is evident both in the brief accounts of seeing the plays of Martin Crimp, and in the book's exploration of the imaginary world of his plays. In Chapters Six to Eight, Sierz enters the fictional world of Crimp's drama and analyses its contours and characteristics. This imaginary stage world is not, of course, the real world, but it does reflect and challenge our ideas about the real world. That is, after all, is what fiction is for. Isn't it?
What about theory?
What about theory. Sierz's attitude to theory is not one of simple-minded anti-intellectualism (you really don't have to believe everything his critics accuse him of); in fact, Sierz rejoices in theory. And especially in its peculiar poetry. But the whole point of theory is not to blindly regurgitate it, but to develop its intellectual methods and explanatory insights. Look, not every theory they teach you at uni is equally useful. Surely, the usefulness of any theory (its use-value, to hi-jack an evocative phrase) lies in what it can help you to know about any particular phenomenon; in other words, what it can help you see that you couldn't see without it. By contrast, most books about drama use theory in a purely formalistic way: they set out some standard banalities about Barthes and Foucault, quoting their formulas, and then move on to writing about theatre. But they never use theory to analyse the performances, and never (and I mean never) use it to illuminate a truth. Instead of being a method, theory here becomes an ideology. Instead of being illuminating, theory is just a way of saying the obvious in ponderous way. Instead of lighting up thought, it is shadow play. Deadly theory. Avoid at all costs.
Theatre is physical and experiential. I may have said that before. Watching a show, ask yourself: how does this feel? How does this look? Think of yourself as a rock journalist, not a theatre historian... It's not about being intellectually brilliant, though it's really quite nice when that happens. But remember, theatre doesn't deal with abstractions such as philosophy. Really. Knowing what you're doing is important, but it's not the whole story. It starts with character, with emotions, with conflict, with story, with a different world. And then... Now stop reading (I mean it, man): write a text, get some actors, find a space - at last, it's your turn to play...
• If I have been good to British new writers then they have been good to me too. Because of them, I have been invited to speak in the following countries:
Many, many, and sincerest, thanks to all who have invited me: it's been a gas! It really has.