In Matt Trueman’s Noises Off this week on the Guardian Blogs he highlighted the spat caused by the recently launched online publication The Globe Mail in Australia over its first arts feature ‘Now Everyone Is A Critic‘. The article centres around the now not-so anonymous theatre blogger Jane Simmons, whose blog Shit On Your Play is all about telling directors, creatives and Australian producers of theatre just what she thinks, in a direct and uncensored manner. As Truman notes, it’s like “The West End Whingers, just without the camp charm”. The feature singles out Simmons as the rallying voice of reason across Australian theatre blogs, with little to no representation of other, perhaps more notable, theatre bloggers. Naturally this, along with the general damning nature of Simmons’s harsh blog posts, has put the cat amongst the pigeons. I won’t go into detail, as Trueman gives a general overview in Noises Off, but the ripples of responses have been impressive.
What becomes apparent from the reactions to the Globe Mail’s feature, is that there is an in-built theatre blogging community in Australia which is ready to lash out and defend, argue and debate in moments such as this. The Australian theatre blogging community seems prominent and ready to make its opinions heard should it need to. There seems to be a community which regularly finds its voice online, and, if the Globe Mail’s article is to believed, this community is not so much feared as respected.
It therefore seems a pity that I feel there is a lack of community here in the UK when it comes to theatre blogging. I’ve been writing on A Younger Theatre since 2009, and whilst my voice may now be part of a succession of other voices which make up what AYT has become, my own voice has stayed true throughout. I would be foolish to suggest that I’ve not felt some form of community over the past few years; this is to be expected when the online blogosphere is brought into the public space through seeing our love of theatre. Yet while friendships have formed there seems to be a demise in community online. Theatre bloggers in the UK are more prone to review theatre than add their commentary to the artistic visions, creations and funding elements that make up the arts as a whole.
It’s a subject that I’ve touched upon before, most notably in my blog The Stagnation of Theatre Blogging back in June last year, yet it seems the issue is still pertinent today. Where the Australian theatre blogging community has rallied together to offer opposing sides of the story, our UK-based bloggers are turning into mere reviewers. I long for the commentaries that seek to actively challenge the way in which our theatres are built and run. I even long for the cross-commentary that we could offer each other on subjects that become pertinent as the arts evolve across a year.
Sadly, all that the UK’s theatre blogging community has offered in recent months iare defences of the right of bloggers to review previews, and that is one topic that needs to be shut away and forgotten about. It seems almost that while other theatre blogging communities have the upper hand in their theatre communities, UK theatre bloggers are playing into the hands of producers and venues alike. It could easily be said that over the past year, the shift in allocation of ‘press tickets’ for online bloggers/reviewers has increased dramatically, and whilst this should be celebrated, have we lost our critical voice because we’re too concerned at losing those tickets? Possibly.
Regardless of the current prominent theatre bloggers churning out reviews that tend to shape the critical commentary across our theatres, there needs to be a stronger voice that rallies and challenges organisations and audiences alike. Trueman’s Noises Off is populated by overseas bloggers responding and engaging with each other together, forming communities that add a layer of critical discourse beyond just reviewing.
In the UK we have seen some excellent bloggers using their online platforms for discussions. Examples such as Daniel Bye on Opera North, Dan Rebeallato on Quentin Letts and Dan Baker’s view on the arts have given ample space for discussion [Web Ed's note: you don't have to be called Dan to have a theatre blog!], but there has not been a continuation of the responses that these generated. Even the formidable bloggers Chris Goode and Andrew Haydon have fallen quiet, and whilst there might still be the odd blogger laying out discussion, no one is picking it up and offering a dissection of the arts as a whole. The blogging community feels disjointed, and I’m not one to escape the blame either or even through A Younger Theatre I offer standalone blogs that don’t offer response to others. If the current bloggers (including myself) can’t rise to the challenge, then perhaps we need to make room for those who do and can respond, allowing the community to be joined up instead of the current disparate blogging.
Whilst I adore the Guardian Theatre Blog for fueling my need to consume commentary, I do wish that more of those being commissioned to write the pieces would take time to build the dialogue elsewhere too. My love of the Guardian Theatre Blog is clearly apparent, but we have to be careful that we don’t pander to a single establishment – that’s the beauty of the online world; new voices and critical commentaries can so readily be made… so where is the UK’s theatre blogging community ready to respond? Are you out there? Hello?
Image by Lee Barrows.