By Daz Gale
The way we consume media is changing in every shape and form. That includes those, like me, who write about theatre and spend their evenings reviewing a variety of shows. Progress is inevitable and change can be terrifying, but there are those who regularly devalue and discredit any type of theatre content creator if their name isn’t attached to a newspaper. You may have seen these comments pop up time and time again, and you may have even seen me respond in all different kinds of ways I regularly brush it off as an insignificant comment that bears no weight in what I’m doing – but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I find the whole thing incredibly frustrating.
I wanted to write something about this new generation of theatre bloggers (reclaiming the word as some like to use it in a derogatory sense) and content creators, explaining why they are such an important and integral part of the industry. Why they shouldn’t be treated as lesser thans, and a positive change I would like to see in the industry regarding all of them going forward. Just to be clear, even though I am regularly used as a target for some of these people, this blog (again, reclaiming) isn’t about me. The industry is far bigger than that. This is about all of us. If you are reading this, it doesn’t matter if you are one of the most widely respected critics of all time, a blogger who has only just started or a theatre lover as all of us should be at heart. I’m hoping by writing this, I can express why we do what we do and why we shouldn’t be used as the butt of the joke.
I created this website in April 2020, born during the first lockdown as I found myself struggling without theatre and wanting to do something to feel a connection to it. I had no expectation anything would come of it and, quite honestly, expected to get bored and give it up after a few weeks. I didn’t have a journalism degree and while I always loved a bit of creative writing, my only experience was a real passion for all things theatre. It is a similar story for many of us. I have had messaged over the years asking how to get started when they don’t have experience. To that I always reply “Who says experience is necessary?” There is no right or wrong here. To say you must have a degree or a certain kind of qualification in order to write effectively is elitist and a form of gatekeeping. I did do a degree at university for an industry I chose not to go into, but I personally got nothing out of my degree that would help me in my career choices. I regularly say theatre should be accessible to all. Theatre is for everyone. As such, why shouldn’t writing about theatre equally be open to everyone?
When I started getting invited to press nights, I was shocked. I felt a real sense of imposter syndrome and like I was a fraud. I was convinced I’d get found out sooner or later and would never be invited to another press night again. The inferiority complex I had of my own writing and abilities nearly destroyed me before I even got started. It took a long time for me to get the upper hand in silencing in the voices in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough. Experience and a support network of fellow bloggers and content creators as well as PRs and all kinds of theatre fans I would meet in my travels helped me to see some of the good that comes with reviewing shows. I never set out to get the websites name linked to shows – all I ever wanted to do was write fair, honest and accessible reviews with my mission statement to drive positivity in the industry and while not compromising my own integrity. The demons still rear their ugly heads every now and then but that’s something I’ll have to deal with throughout my life. If you similarly have to deal with them, just remember they are not a true reflection of your abilities.
For so long, it was the newspaper critics who dominated the industry, and they still do. I have the utmost respect for most of them even if our opinions are not often aligned. While reading their reviews I also used to enjoy reading online blogs from various theatre lovers and enjoyed the real mix of differing styles and opinions. When it came to creating this website, I didn’t think about what style I wanted to write in and that was very much a deliberate choice. For those of you who have had the misfortune to meet me in person, you’ll know I love a chat and can talk for hours on end, dissecting all things theatre. I wanted to reflect that in my reviews, writing in a naturalistic style that felt very conversational. I always hated reviews which included words I had never come across in my life and didn’t know the meaning of. The last thing I want when reading a review is to feel stupid, so I actively decided to never do that in mine. I also found there was a tendency for some newspaper reviews to be very formal and without personality so set out to put my own stamp in reviews, filling them with stupid puns and terrible jokes. People may have turned their noses up at that but it made people smile (or groan) when reading them and that is all I ever wanted to do.
I asked for tips when setting up my website and, in the years since, people have asked me for tips too. I always say to find your own voice and don’t try to copy something else because you think that’s what people want. Find your own style and it will all come naturally for you. I know there has been a real influx in theatre blogs and websites in recent years and for that I am incredibly thankful. You can never have too many voices in theatre and to attempt to limit or restrict them is counter-productive and speaks to a sense of entitlement which no critic has any right to have. The more people there are celebrating all things theatre and raising awareness to a real variety of audiences, the better it is for theatre ultimately. There should never be a limit. The more, the merrier. I’m not saying a new blogger should be seen as equal to somebody who has written thousands of reviews for a newspaper over the past 10 years but I am also not saying they are inferior to them either. There is no chart of top 40 Theatre Reviewers, there is no star rating for each of them. There is no competition. Who makes it on to the poster? Who gets their name higher up? Who has the most followers? Who gets the most views?
Who gives a damn?
If that’s what you care about, you are doing this for the wrong reason.
Yes, I love when I see the websites name on a poster. Of course I do, as it gives me a sense of validation and pride in my work. But that is not what I do it for. I write reviews to champion shows and speak to people in a way I always hope connects with them. I could be writing reviews to an audience of precisely zero people and it wouldn’t change the way I write them or why I do it. I do it for my love of theatre. Nothing more. People are surprised to find I have a day job alongside the website. Most days I go from the day job to the theatre to write my review squeezing in maybe 4 hours sleep if I’m lucky before doing it all again. I burn myself out but I do it for love and have no regrets.
Not everyone who writes reviews does it for the love of theatre. This is their job and they are paid to do it. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Many of us have done jobs in industries we don’t love. However, you can tell the ones that have a real passion about it as well as it being their job, and sometimes these are lacking in the more established critics. It is great that it is their job, but maybe people don’t always want to seek out those kind of opinions and look for someone who they can relate to a bit more and can trust as opposed to that one newspaper critic who can’t understand anybody who isn’t a cis straight white male.
The poster that provided so much anger from one former critic.
Bloggers do it because they love theatre and it is clear to see. People will find the reviewer whose style and taste they can relate to and seek out their reviews when considering shows to go to in the future. The fact these reviews are not restricted to a handful of newspapers anymore can only be a good thing as it makes theatre more accessible.
I see comments about reviewers like myself not being credible and inferior to everyone else. “You’re not a critic, you’re an influencer” being one of my favourite comments I’ve ever had. Let me be clear – I didn’t seek out to be either of them. Why are we always so quick to label anyone? Let them be who they want to be. For me personally, I see myself as a theatre reviewer or a proud theatre blogger. I avoid the word “critic” as I see negative connotations with it. Some critics are known to be overly-critical looking to rip shows to shreds for clickbait. I will never be guilty of that. As for influencer, if I have ever influenced anyone to make a terrible pun, I wholeheartedly apologise.
I don’t want to make generalised statements about a certain older generation being resistant to change as that’s not fair and it isn’t true for all of them. There are some people in that pool who have always had time and kindness for people like me. Then there are those who look down their noses and go as far as to bully and harass with their own hate-filled blog. There are also people in the theatre blogging community who have been known to attack others which is equally frustrating. At the end of the day, we should all be coming together to celebrate our love of theatre, particularly after that terrifying time where everything was closed for the best part of 18 months. It saddens me to see people taking it for granted and at times being at each others throats when we should be supporting each other and lifting each other up. I will always be thankful to those who have helped me feel like part of the community and looked out for me over the past few years: Shaun Tossell, Mickey Jo, West End Best Friend, Lost In Theatreland, The Recs, That Stagey Blog, Sit In The Stalls to name but a few. Then there are websites like The Stage and WhatsOnStage who have shown the varying ways theatre content can be consumed that aren’t restricted to the pages in a newspaper and have also been incredibly supportive of websites like mine over the past few years. That is the kind of community I am proud to be a part of.
So what did I hope to achieve with this rambling mess? I can’t be sure. I wanted to attempt to express why I do what I do and why I believe we all have an equal part to play in the championing of theatre. There are bigger forces out there who are more dangerous to the future viability of theatre and wasting energy on attacking a blogger because they don’t deserve to be on a poster feels like a very pedantic thing to do. I would like to see a bit more harmony going forward although I am sure the usual suspects will continue to throw their toys out of the pram at any given opportunity. I have said what I have to say on the matter though. I have the utmost respect for anyone who contributes to theatre in any small way. Writing reviews isn’t as easy as some might think, especially when you are given a word limit (which this post has proved I clearly don’t have) so I have admiration for anybody who does that.
I get that All That Dazzles may not be the most conventional of websites, but what harm is it actually doing? If there are some out there who see the value in the content of websites like mine and many others, what is the problem in that? If reviews like mine can help sell tickets to a show and avoid a talented cast playing to empty seats, isn’t that a good thing?
Sometimes the constant barrage of comments can be hard to deal with. My imposter syndrome comes back in full force. At times like that, I remind myself why I do it. I do it for the love of theatre. That’s all. You don’t have to like me or the website personally, that is everybody’s individual right. At the same time, you don’t need to be so closed-minded that you fail to understand people have different tastes and, while you may not like it yourself, there are others that do. Even if you were once a well-regarded critic in yourself, that doesn’t mean you have the defining decision on what works and what doesn’t. The world is changing – for the better. We are moving into a more diverse, different and accepting world – and that is beautiful. I’ve always said theatre is subjective. Theatre websites are always subjective.
So to answer the question that was the title of this post - What is the problem with theatre bloggers?
None whatsoever. If you perceive them to be a problem, you may need to look a bit closer to home to find that the problem is an outdated and elitist attitude.
Think about the kind of content you are putting out into the world and ask yourself if there is any need for the negativity and abuse?
Theatre is for everyone.
Theatre reviews are for everyone.
To those who make theatre, thank you.
To those who write about theatre, thank you.
To those who love theatre, thank you.
See you in the theatre.