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Theatre thought: Where is the UK’s theatre blogging community?

Posted on 15 February 2012 Written by

Hello World

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.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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12 Comments For This Post

  1. Jane Howard Says:

    While the theatre blogging community in Australia is undoubtedly strong, respected, and talking to and from many parts of the sector, there can still be a certain level of divide between the MSM and the bloggers. The tone of the Global Mail’s opening was quite standard, a sighing “oh, everyone’s a critic now, are they?”, but certainly amongst practitioners I find bloggers to be amongst the most respected commentators.

    For the most part, I find they’re furiously intelligent, care deeply about theatre and ALL the issues that surround that, and are absolutely interested in being part of a dialogue about the shows themselves, but so much more too. I think the unusually strong twitter component of Australian theatre writers and practitioners has played no small part in building the sense of community.

    (In saying this, though, the theatrical blogging community here is very much physically located around Melbourne and Sydney. I hope it’s expanding, but I’m still the only one in my city of 1.2million.)

    Part of the reason our blogs are so strong is because our newspaper industry is so weak – we have one national daily (News Ltd’s The Australian), and then most cities have one daily also owned by News Ltd, with only Sydney and Melbourne having a second daily, owned by Fairfax. Blogging becomes much more prominent when the traditional alternative is so quiet. That’s not to say some great writing doesn’t come out of the MSM, but it is a smaller part of the puzzle. Many of our bloggers have in the past, or currently, also write print reviews – the lines are quite blurred.

    Alison Croggon played no small role in pathing the way for the rest of us – her blog Theatre Notes is such a place for conversation and community in itself that I think that has truly spread and embraced/formed the rest of the community. I don’t think it’s a matter of you moving or changing to “make room for those who can and do respond” – because that’s exactly what you’re doing here! Bloggers, communities, dialogue will be born out of comment boxes. There is infinite space for new voices in theatre: and the more each of us keeps pushing our voice, the more room we do make for others.

  2. Daniel Marshall Says:

    Hello! Yes, we are out there! Good to see this issue raised and I really do hope this article is heard loud and clear.

    I started a blog on gay theatre and politics last year and it has honestly been so rewarding. I think reviews are an important feature, but I agree that there can be a saturation and so they should feature far less than they currently do.

    Since I started an active interest, some networking and a positive attitude have allowed it to flourish into a website to express arts thought/critique rather than simply being a reflection of the stage.

    Great article.

  3. Daniel Marshall Says:

    By the way, if you now want to see said gay arts and politics site please do visit us at http:www.thegaystage.com

    Thanks.

  4. Jake Orr Says:

    Hey Daniel,

    Great to hear about the success of your blog and to also hear that you are not solely reviewing theatre but adding a dialogue to it – in a very specific theme. I do however hope that what I have written will inspire you to perhaps respond to other blogs/writings on the internet, to create a dialogue beyond what you current write on The Gay Stage. That’s not to say that what you are currently writing is not important, but the reason for me writing this blog was through a need for a bigger level of dialogue, communication and activity between online bloggers.

    Hope you’ll be part of future discussions.
    Jake

  5. Jake Orr Says:

    @Jane Howard

    Thanks for the comment Jane, and apologies it first made it’s way into the spam filter!

    You’ve raised some really interesting points which I have not considered before:
    - Lack of theatre bloggers in a given area
    - Print media minimal/weak
    - The blurring of lines between print/’official media’ and the blogosphere

    In the UK, and here I speak from a very London-centric frame of mind, we have a thriving theatre industry, an excellent spread of print newspapers that feed and cover the arts, and a whole digital buzzing world of bloggers and digital platforms too. In many respects because they are all strong and in so many numbers, this is ultimately working against bloggers who are trying to have their voices heard more. There have been continual shifts in dynamics for what the online community of reviewers and bloggers can offer the arts in terms of coverage and community. At times they compliment print work, and in other times clash heavily.

    This blog I think was about highlighting how Australian bloggers such as yourself have built a great form of dialogue and communication between yourselves. Now this might come from some of the reasons you have mentioned, but the point stands: you communicate and form dialogues in a community. I can’t help but to think that this is not the case in the UK. Our conversations are sporadic, and if anything the use of Twitter has engaged us in short form and left any chance of debate and intellectual conversation to be left out in responsive blogs. The community that we might have developed is only weakened by our lack of in-depth conversation and engagement through the very tools which have brought us together: blogs!

    Perhaps this is because we have such a strong outlet in the form of The Guardian Theatre Blogs which seems to suck up a lot of the coverage and debate, but I think it’s important we those bloggers also seek dialogue beyond the safety of The Guardian. I guess I’m after more engagement, more communication, more responsive blogs and action.

    I’m a big fan of Alison Croggon, and have been following Theatre Notes for a while now. This is the sort of conversation that I think we are lacking in the UK. I feel like I’ve rambled a little, and perhaps not really responded as I should have or intended to, but thank you for your comment Jane. Food for thought.

    Jake

  6. Daniel Marshall Says:

    I do believe you might have convinced me!

  7. Lauren Says:

    Hello!! I am here! I am a budding blogger from the US. I started getting into it in this past Christmas, and I am slowly but surely figuring out what it is I want to write about. I feel that I should avoid talking about myself, but I hope to use my experience as an artist to encourage and help out my fellow artists. I feel that my experience post graduation will be more helpful, but I’m just starting out.

    But I agree, there needs to be more dialogue amongst us artists…isn’t networking one of the most important parts of being an artist, not to mention a huge instrument of success. Ditto, great article.

  8. Dan Baker Says:

    Hi Jake,

    Yes, you got me. I’ve not been blogging anything like enough to effectively contribute to the discussion. But you’ve inspired me into action; I’ve asked myself why this is, and have tried to answer the question. I’ve written a blog at http://burntarts.wordpress.com, but I also wanted to comment here.

    There’s definitely a sense sometimes that the Guardian Theatre Blog is considered the authoritative voice in the community, and although this is understandable due to its frequency of output it’s definitely NOT always right. Provocative yes, right (or good) not always. It’s voice can drown out others, thought, which can make it hard for another blog to be heard – not necessarily reflective on its quality, but it’s a difficult thing to have your blog read for the first time by anyone other than your close friends and family.

    Within the blogging community I feel we need to support, provoke and inspire ech other; rather than feeling like we are in competition with each other (which I don’t feel is the case anyway), we need to look towards each other as a means of adding to the dialogue and critical language around the work we care about. Blogs like this one help do just that, so I’m grateful that you’ve made me address the issue – and my own shortcomings when it comes to blogging!

  9. Kaite O'Reilly Says:

    I’ve just discovered this post from doing a search on ‘theatre blogs’… I am keen to discover if there is indeed a UK theatre blog community and so will enjoy reading this and following up on the suggested other links.
    I don’t review, but I’m blogging about the process of writing, co-creating and producing live performance. I have a series of productions this year – from a small independent company to National Theatre Wales -and I began blogging as a way of trying to externalise and therefore reflect on a series of different processes and the various skills a writer/dramaturg might need.
    You can see it on http://www.kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com

  10. Kat Caunter Says:

    Hi, I found this blog when I was thinking about starting up my own. Needless to say it made the decision for me, especially after further research I found a few blogs about theatre in general but none (correct me if I’m wrong as I’d love to read them) about musical theatre. It was because of this Stage Right was born, which basically consists of my ramblings about musicals I have seen, want to see or have recieved a lot of press…so if you want to take a look please go to http://www.stageright11.blogspot.com xx

  11. Lisa Says:

    I can’t believe I have only just discovered this site – what a wonderful post too! It’s sad that there is such a divide in UK theatre blogging…whilst reviews can make great reading there is a point when it all blurs into one big mess…Some good mentions in the article too – Given me a good list of other bloggers to check out!
    I have been writing my own theatre blog for some time now – purely to appease my own musical theatre geekiness – In all the time I have been writing it there have only been a few reviews and instead I have chosen to focus on theatre news/rumours/issues and bios of some of my favourite performers/creatives and show trivia…it might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I love being able to vent, geek out and share random theatre trivia with others! http://www.divaonstage.blogspot.co.uk – any feedback from other theatre bloggers would actually be most welcome too! :)

  12. Maisie Says:

    I find blogging a really confusing medium. I don’t know if I am supposed to be informing people as like a more opinionated and less intimidating wikipedia or whether it is like a review or a diary. How can I get both the things I want out of a Theatre blog? Any advice from people on here is greatly appreciated

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