A Response. From a young and unpaid critic (or theatre blogger – up to you)

Right. I’m writing a response. And maybe no one will read it but what the hell, I’m putting off my first summative 3,500 word uni essay and this seems like worthwhile procrastination.

For those who are unaware, Matt Trueman posted an article in The Stage today about the decline of theatre blogging.

So I have a done a bit of blogging and bit of criticism here and there, some NSDF stuff, some unpaid online newspapers, some reviews on here that only my parents read…But I wouldn’t say I am an established theatre blogger. I haven’t been doing it for a long time but I have seen as many shows as I can and I have really really loved it.

I’m not paid for this and I have personally always felt like I’ve never wanted to be paid for it. When I was 16 I knew that I could and wanted to write about theatre but I didn’t want to be a “critic”. Being a “critic” meant that you went to shows you weren’t always passionate about, you had to meet gruelling deadlines, and you were surrounded by musty middle-aged men. In no world did that sound appealing. What I wanted (and I hope many other bloggers want) was to get really angry about theatre – so angry that all I could think about on the train home was how to form that first sentence about the mindnumbingly  patriarchal binaries of that show which got press because it had a celebrity in it. Or get so inspired by a show that I write a blog about it, and then I write a play inspired by it, and then I see more shows like it and all I can think about is how theatre is this incredibly visceral art form that requires you to respond. I wanted to experience again and again how liveness of theatre makes it unavoidable to have some kind of response.

But often, that response is filtered, or edited, or set back in some way once the writer decides it needs to be put out into the world. There’s a kind of struggle over whether your review will be ironic and funny, or heartfelt, or scathing, or profound – and where does it fit into the blogosphere? Has someone already said what you want to say, and have they said it better and have they been paid for it? Is your passionate outburst somehow less legitimate now? Is your review an artform in itself, and does it, therefore, have to be carefully constructed? Might you have the opportunity to work with these artists later on and therefore you can’t say what you really think? I constantly rattle these questions around in my little echo chamber of a brain but come to no real conclusion. And then, because of that, the review sometimes doesn’t get written. I don’t think that’s the problem for everyone and I don’t think that’s my only problem, but I think it is a contributing factor.

So, Matt, I think there is more to this than simply that the blogs are fading away. From my perspective anyway, there’s kind of a ‘standard’ you have to be at to be considered a theatre blogger – maybe your review was retweeted by Andrew Haydon (nice, you’re in), maybe you were followed by @TheStage (good one), or maybe you were mentioned in an article about the decline of theatre blogs… Anyway for young critics this can often seem intimidating and impenetrable. Also, Matt talked about how the conversation doesn’t seem as fraught anymore, and everyone is stepping away from criticism to their real life jobs in theatre (?) but maybe they just got kind of, complacent? Because the lack of debate in the sphere has as much to do with the readers as it does with the critics. Maybe it’s not about getting critics more passionate its about getting people to read and legitimise that passion.

Then, as also mentioned by Matt, there is the Bloggers vs Critics argument which has kind of died out as well. I disagree – I think that generally people think that if you’re paid you’re a critic, if you’re not you’re a blogger. I actually think that if you’re unpaid you’re more likely to be a critic – less constrained by press releases and the deadlines and the strict guidelines of what to say and what not to say. Again, why I always said I never wanted to become a ‘Theatre Critic’.

Also – it feels kind of disheartening to see an article like the one in The Stage today. I kind of am constantly feeling like I just missed the bandwagon – the amazing companies that came out of my university are just a little old for me to know and be involved with. And now I’ve missed the criticism bandwagon too? I’m not so sure. I think there’s still time for the game to be changed. Maybe there is some truth in the article – there most likely is a lot of truth in it. But I hope this new, snapchatting generation of kids can fight back. And who knows, maybe this will get retweeted by someone important and then what, I’ll become someone worth listening to? Or just someone who now happens to be on your radar, and is therefore worth reading?



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