The theatre blogosphere has undergone huge changes since its beginnings at the start of the century. Now, you’re as likely to see GIF reviews and cat pics as you are a traditional written article. With that in mind, we invited writer and researcher Megan Vaughan to be interviewed by critic and playwright Ava Wong Davies about her new book, Theatre Blogging: The Emergence of a Critical Culture (available to buy online here). We’ve picked through our many pages of notes on the fascinating, thoughtful and funny insights both Megan and Ava offered to share a roundup of our top four take away points.
You can also listen to a short audio clip from the conversation.
You can always go back to it
Most national publications are expected to turn around reviews within twenty-four hours, with online platforms working to similarly tight deadlines. This, however, might not accommodate for the time needed to fully digest a show; what it meant, how we feel about it, even whether we thought it was any good. With only self-imposed deadlines, bloggers can have a bit more time to get into the nitty-gritty of those particularly knotty plays.
But delaying publishing a review can cause its own problems, and Megan and Ava both addressed the inherent conflict when it comes to the purpose of a review. Whilst a review that’s published two weeks after a run has ended becomes less useful for potential audiences even less so for the box office, how valuable, really, is one written during a sleepless night with only the length of the Northern line home to reflect? The wonderful thing about blogs, both pointed out, is the ability they offer to go back to a piece and add to it as thoughts have a chance to settle and evolve, a freedom mainstream criticism can never encompass.
Playing with form
Speaking about the eight threats to the theatre blogosphere outlined in her book, Megan shared how ‘often when people talk about quality journalism, what they mean is something that reads like something in a Sunday broadsheet. In blog writing, where the personal perspective is central, the communication of an identity and personality through the written voice helps to demonstrate a relationship to the subject but also much bigger things like who we are and what we stand for.’ Reviews that use GIFs, intentional misspelling, swearing or even cat pics can also demonstrate critical thinking and emotional intelligence.
'Uncertainty is really valuable'
Often critics will go into a play ready to interpret it through a particular lens, linking it to its socio-economic, political or historical context. Whilst this undoubtedly feeds into what a show might be trying to say, and one would expect a critic at a national paper to put a show in the context of what else is going on in theatre and the world, articulating this isn’t always the most important thing criticism does. As Megan put it, when you go to a nightclub and dance all night, or go to a gallery and look at a Rothko, you don’t think about those questions; you try to articulate how it makes you feel (if it makes you feel anything), to reflect on your own experiences, or even forget them for an hour. Perhaps the play’s not asking a question, or maybe it is and there’s ten thousand different answers. As Ava succinctly put it: uncertainty is really valuable, and reviewers shouldn’t underestimate that.
On a final positive note: bloggers are not just single people typing away on laptops; bloggers have always carved out their own networks, whether it’s those early day bloggers who gathered around a table in the pub to dissect Three Kingdoms, or those brought together by great schemes such as Critics of Colour or VAULT festival’s Emerging Critics Scheme, events like our own Bloggers Network, or simply enjoying and retweeting another blogger’s Twitter rant. So, with that in mind, have a read of Megan’s great book, blog about it, tweet her with your thoughts and join us for our next Bloggers Network!