On theatre blogs etc

Belvoir Street hosted a forum this afternoon about blogging and theatre criticism. There were two bloggers, two newspaper reviewers and the theatre writer from Time Out, who seemed to occupy a kind of in-between space – he has a word limit and a consumer guide brief, but there is a comments section.

Toward the end of the question time I felt a tremendous urge to grab one of the mikes and say some very interesting things. Luckily I’ve seen what happens when other people act on such urges (in case you’ve been spared the experience, I’m talking about those tedious types who talk about themselves to a hall full of people who are there to talk about something else). But this is my blog, so I’ll say my interesting things here.

One of my fondest memories of my eldest brother is walking home – it took nearly two hours – after seeing a preview of Steve J Spears’ The Elocution of Benjamin Franklin, talking our heads off. We thought the play had tremendous potential, Gordon Chater was wonderful, and the production was very interesting. We both agreed, though, that it missed the mark: the structure didn’t work, the morality was muddled, it tipped over into squishy self pity. Such a pity, we told each other. The pleasure with which I recall that walk, that conversation, that connection with my brother, is in no way dimmed by the fact that everyone else in the world saw it differently: the play went on to be a huge success, including a long season in New York.

By contrast I went to the Sydney opening night of The Rocky Horror Show with a newspaper theatre critic. We both enjoyed the show, but after we’d exchanged brief post-show comments, I realised that further discussion was being forcefully discouraged. She needed to focus, husband her responses, keep her next day’s review free of contamination.

In my mind these two evenings are emblematic of the difference between blogs and newspaper reviews: the former are about communication, connection, passion, excitement; the latter carry the burden of privileged speech – a readership with little or no right of reply, a position of influence that may of course be completely illusory.

Mostly these days I get my theatre criticism from blogs – Alison Croggon who sadly lives in Melbourne but made the trip up for today’s forum, and Kevin Jackson in Sydney, who sadly wasn’t there. Though I have profound respect for their ability to articulate and contextualise their experiences of theatre, I invariably argue with them, and occasionally even press send.

[I started writing this on my phone in the Belvoir foyer between the forum and the afternoon session of Babyteeth, and accidentally uploaded a fragment. Apologies to M-H and anyone else who got the fragment.]

7 responses to “On theatre blogs etc

  1. I enjoy Kevin Jackson too, Jonathan, and Diana Simmonds http://www.stagenoise.com/. I may often disagree with their opinions, (or not have seen the shows they’re reviewing) but I like their writing and the fact that they’re not fettered by word counts.

    It’s also interesting to follow Twitter when a show is on. Quick grabs from ordinary punters give you an idea what word of mouth will be like.


  2. Thanks, Richard. I’ve now added Diana Simmonds to me Feedly list. I checked out her review of Buried City and found it reasonably vitriolic enough to make me trust her.
    Th twitter feed on the forum at #sundayforum turns out to have been quite interesting.


  3. What a splendid distinction you make between the blog and the review. I’m a fan of your blog because you blend considered and spontaneous responses. Could it be that you write this way because you have a following of people you mostly know? However small that following might be, you might imagine us walking with you from the thatre (or whatever), inviting our response?


    • That’s an interesting question, Lisa. It’s true that my readership, as far as I know, is mainly people I know, but at least three of my regular readers are people I met through the blog. This doesn’t invalidate your point at all, of course. On the contrary. Blogs do vary wildly, but the combination of spontaneity and considered writing, or an oscillation between the silly and the sublime, LOLCats and passionate analysis, does seem to be common.


  4. I relate much of what you say about blogs and reviews to free and subscription only online publications. Could it be that people use a different voice when payment is involved? The spirit of blogging is free.


  5. “Toward the end of the question time I felt a tremendous urge to grab one of the mikes and say some very interesting things”

    My goodness. Well done for resisting. Writers Week is just beginning here and ’tis the season. One of my most enduring WW memories is of two old buggers in sun hats GRAPPLING for the microphone during Robert Fisk’s question time. One had just been told to sit down after speaking for three straight minutes on his own very interesting (to him) life, and the other was (little did we know as we jeered the loser out of the East Tent) just about to.
    Splendid stuff! “Get a blog!” should be the new question time cat-call.

    Oh … did I just talk about my own interesting things?
    Nyuk nyuk nyuk ….


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