The Stagnation of Theatre Blogging – what is a theatre blog today?

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It’s a question that has been itching away at me for a few weeks now, what is a theatre blog today?, and even more so since Luke Murphy wrote a compelling post on why he would no longer be reviewing theatre over on his blog. The truth is, with the explosion of criticism hitting the internet, where everyone and anyone is a theatre critic, where producers are attempting to control the critical voice, and even the bloggers are debating the ethics of when one should or should not review theatre, theatre blogging as a form of critical commentary appears to be stagnant – a dying practice.

It might be a slight contradiction to state that there is an explosion of theatre criticism on the internet whilst also declaring theatre blogging is a dying practice. I hope you’ll excuse me for being pedantic but there is a difference between theatre blogging and theatre reviewing. The latter only being concerned with critically assessing a particular performance whilst the former, in my opinion, not only looks at the work, but adds commentary to the wider field of theatre and the arts.

For some time I have hung between these notions with a foot firmly between both. I started A Younger Theatre as a blog with my first post being a review, which was then followed by a succession of commentaries on various aspects of theatre. Recently I have admittedly fallen into reviewing theatre, a combination of being invited to review at press nights leading to a lack of free time to write opinion pieces as a theatre blogger does. This isn’t just reflective of me, it’s true for the majority of ‘theatre bloggers’ as Luke suggests, which is leading to a stagnation of theatre blogging:

“In my opinion, the main cause of this is that there are too many people reviewing shows and not writing about theatre in a more general way… The more bloggers we have talking about the future of theatre, innovation within theatre and problems within the industry, the quicker we can push the industry forward.”

Luke’s latter point on pushing an industry forward is especially important to make. A theatre blogger who writes freely on the landscape of theatre and the arts is one who is helping to shape and develop discussion that ripples into organisations and audiences alike. I’m not saying that by writing about ticket prices for example (and one that we all agree is a constant source of anger) will influence theatres to rethink their pricing, but through commenting, assessing and hopefully sparking discussing between readers (who are likely to be theatre audiences too) can only go to further push our industry forward.

Theatre blogging for me isn’t about reviewing theatre at all, it’s about writing freely in an often opinionated manner on topics that sit alongside the work we see. It’s about organisations, structures, schemes, developments, technology, programming, etc etc. Theatre blogging expands on the critical commentary asserted by theatre critics in their reviews. Naturally I’m going to imagine that the term theatre critic ignites the imagery of Billington, Spencer, Hitchins, Gardner or Convey, but I would extend this to online critics too, such as the West End Whingers, Ought to be Clowns, Webcowgirl, who use a blogging client as a method to publish their reviews. For me though, these digital based reviewers who aren’t published in the traditional forms of media should be called theatre critics and not bloggers.

I’m being pedantic of course, and naturally there is an argument to be had about the nature of the blogger vs the critic, but this is one that has been written to death over. The point I’m attempting to make is theatre blogging has become minimal to review. There are of course theatre practitioners who write about their own work, a fine example is Chris Goode in his ‘Thompson’s Bank of Communicable Desire‘, but aside from Mark Shenton in his daily blog on The Stage website, or the continuous hum that comes from the Guardian blogs, there seems such stagnation from the blogosphere.

Has the time for the theatre blogger come to an end?

Looking around further and the notion of ‘blogging’ seems to have infected every organisation in their efforts to inform and engage with their audiences – a marketing tool. Now you can read about the artistic process in every detail possible as marketing officers across the country churn out increasingly mundane snippets of ‘informative insights’. With the growth of micro-blogging websites such as Tumblr, and the micro-narrative of Twitter, we’re diluting any form of meaningful assessment of theatre, and in turn are spewing reviews as if this is the last form of commentary we’re able to produce. What happened to the long-form blogging? When did theatre blogging become solely a marketing tool for theatres?

We don’t yet know where the digital innovations that are entering our everyday lives are influencing the methods in which we are engaging with theatre and performance. We’ve already been through a series of movements within the critical world from print publication, to online dominance and finally in blogging. The digital landscape we are currently inhabiting will have evolved ten times over in the next few years, and who knows how we’ll be critically assessing theatre and if the term theatre blogger will actually be that of the current theatre critic. Yet one thing is clear, the current theatre blogging is stagnant and we’re in desperate need to move away from just reviewing. Evolve or die, let us blog and thus not .. die?

The debate on theatre blogging and theatre criticism can be continued. Join Lyn Gardner and myself in a Devoted and Disgruntled Satellite: What are we going to be about theatre criticism on the 21st June at Rich Mix from 7pm. Details available here.

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