Blogger, critic, reviewer, writer of drivel; all these terms have floated around as people try to deal the ever-evolving world of online theatre criticism and impose some sort of definition on it (and me). I have generally resisted trying to get sucked into the debates – responding only when comments have really resonated personally – but recent weeks have seen two buddies of mine throwing down the gauntlet when it comes to theatre blogging as distinct from theatre reviewing which has got me thinking just a little: lurkmoophy’s letter of resignation as a theatre blogger and Jake Orr’s response – The Stagnation of Theatre Blogging for A Younger Theatre.
Luke’s own précis of his post “Don’t only write reviews. Branch out into commentary, opinion and awesomeness within theatre” is a nicely inspiring mantra and one that I had been musing for a while: there’s about 4 half-finished blog posts on various subjects lurking on my laptop somewhere that never quite made the light of day. Why is that? Well, lack of time is the main reason. In common with most bloggers I know, theatregoing is my hobby and for me, writing about the shows I’ve seen is a choice I made to keep a comprehensive record of it all in lieu of collecting ticket stubs and/or programmes. Clearly, it is has evolved into something more than that now, a behemoth that dominates my life but it is still essentially a pastime, as the reality of 9 to 5 working dominates the day rather than burning issues in theatreland.
There’s also the added concern for me, as someone who does not work in the theatre industry, as to whether mine is a voice that is worth listening to, is there anything important that I have to say? So between this doubt, work, going to the theatre and then writing up all those theatre trips, there has been precious little time to work up well-considered blog pieces worthy of publication; ones that would actually contribute something worthwhile to any existing discussions. And there is something vaguely amusing about the fact that Luke and Jake have both accompanied their calls to reinvigorate blogging with decisions to step back from other aspects, whether reviewing or actually going to the theatre, a tacit recognition that there’s a limit to how much we can actually achieve ourselves in our own spare time.
For blogging is indeed an individual act, the choices that people make in what and how they write are theirs and that is what I find to be the beauty of the blogosphere (though I hate the word itself), the discoveries one makes by chance or through recommendations of people writing about what they love out of passion rather than a sense of duty. Declaiming this as stagnation and trying to foist a sense of responsibility onto bloggers seems rather disingenuous, I feel the argument should be focused elsewhere, on those employed as theatre writers and those who work in the industry who are best placed to provide the reasoned, valuable commentary that is being sought here, the Guardian Theatre Blog being a brilliant case in point of engaging and frustrating in equal measure.
The call is to “evolve or die” but my choice is to evolve as a theatre reviewer: there is a method to my madness, ultimately I write for my own personal record whilst I try to embrace the dizzying whirl of onstage opportunities as best I can. And I don’t want to have to sacrifice this continued journey of discovery of my mistress ‘Theatre’ by making my own dramatic resignation from theatregoing to prove a point. But, I was never one to back down from a challenge and so whilst I disagree with the assertion that “we’re in desperate need to move away from just reviewing”, I will be experimenting a little to try and mix it up and please my colleagues…
Do I have anything to say? Part of this will be finding that out, but I do like the fact that my review-writing comes from the perspective of an ordinary audience member who isn’t involved in the ‘industry’ (although as a blogger, is that still true?) and so what I want to see is if I can frame my knowledge and experiences in issues such as fundraising and partnership/collaboration, albeit in a different sector, in a way that is useful and passes on lessons learned. So I’ll be writing up a few non-review posts over the next month or so, starting with a report of the Devoted and Disgruntled Satellite event “What Are We Going To Do About Theatre Criticism” I attended last week, to see if it is a direction that works for me and also for the blog itself. Constructive feedback (is there any other kind…) as ever will be gratefully received as this is unchartered territory for me.