An Open Thank You Letter to James Waites
I wonder... did you know in March 1992 when you were my lecturer at Theatre Nepean that you would say something so simple and so profound that it would hit my solar plexus, ricochet into my brain and sit in my consciousness for ready reference even until today?
You were referring to your work as a theatre critic and you said, “For me objectivity doesn’t really exist because human nature is subjective. So I think if you recognise your personal position and become aware of it and question it, then you begin to see other sides of the same story and are able to come from a neutral stance." Then you shrugged your shoulders and said, "A review is really only my opinion, that's all."
I was stunned - we all were. I couldn't quite believe something that seemed to be an absolute truism, black or white, actually had shades of grey. From that moment I felt liberated, a bad review was just an opinion - maybe a well founded one but an opinion nonetheless.
It was a revelation to me and I know I'm not alone.
Later in 2010 as a journalist your wisdom came back to me during my Masters degree. But this time the same words were applied to hard news, not creative analysis. I realised that journalism isn't as objective as we all like to think. It's subjective with hopefully a bias towards being fair and balanced in the telling and re-telling.
When I reconnected with you in 2011 through our friend Diana, I plucked up the courage to email you about how much your lectures affected me and my journalism. In true "Jimmy style" you replied, "I am always astounded that any student ever listened to me much less remembered anything I said."
But I did listen James and I know I'm not alone.
As you know theatre foyers can be funny places... places of extremes. You can get unexpectedly locked in deep conversation and hours pass only to realise that you are one the few stragglers left, as was the case when we saw each other at the Sydney Theatre after Waiting For Godot. They can also be places of fleeting encounters... a quick peck on the cheek, a grasp of hands and a brief exchange on the performance, as was the case in that same foyer last Saturday night when our eyes locked, as we wove our way through the heaving crowd.
I had no idea that would be last time I would see you. I know I'm not alone.
Even though it is painful, I understand and admire your bravery.
Thank you James for sharing your wisdom, your humility and your humanity. You have left an indelible mark on me and I know I'm not alone.
Whitney Fitzsimmons is a theatre reviewer for Stage Whispers and a TV News presenter at the ABC