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Natasha Tripney: Here’s my advice for aspiring critics

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Don’t sit still. It might be tempting to do so; you’re sitting in a theatre after all and that seat is (relatively) comfortable. But don’t sit still. Don’t doze off. Arts journalism – hell, all journalism – is changing at a rate of knots. How we consume our media, in what form and via which devices, it’s always evolving. Mark Shenton has already written about the changes that have taken place during his time as a critic and the online terrain and the nature of arts blogging have altered dramatically even over the comparatively short period since I co-founded Exeunt – the online theatre publication now run by young critic Alice Saville – back in 2011. A lot of the things Exeunt was set up to address don’t really apply any more, or not in the same way.

The rapid rate of this change can feel daunting but there’s also a thrill in it. Just as there are certain outlets that have vanished, there are new opportunities available – to be heard, to be read, and to participate in conversations.

If you’re interested in writing about the arts you need to be open to this, to embrace it. This isn’t just in regards to building a journalistic career, though that’s part of it, but it’s also a vital if you’re a writer. Complacency is a killer. It sucks at the soles of your shoes. It glues you to the spot. Writing is an art but it’s also a craft; it needs to be worked at and honed – like any knife it needs to be whetted.

I believe that the best critical writing should be almost synesthetic. It should be analytical and informative, but it should strive to be something more than that, it should attempt to capture the complex emotional and physical experience of watching a performance, it should be a bit like a butterfly net coupled with a very sharp pin (if such a thing is possible). And it should be a pleasure to read. That’s top of the list – in pink ink and thrice underlined. It should not be dull. It should shine.

The Stage launched its Critic Search scheme last year to find new voices and nurture new talent around the UK at a time when other publications were cutting back on their coverage, particularly outside London. Dave Fargnoli, last year’s winner, now writes regularly for the paper, as do a number of the shortlisted writers.

But that was just a first step. The wheel keeps turning and it’s time to launch the second round of Critic Search. As with last year, the entry process is anonymised and there is no upper age limit. New voices are not synonymous with young voices and The Stage is very aware that diversity – in terms of both the range of work being covered and the people covering it – remains a key issue in theatre criticism. It’s one I very much hope this second round of Critic Search will address. We have a superb trio of industry experts on board as judges – Rachel O’Riordan, Madani Younis and Anna Jordan – alongside my co-lead critic Mark Shenton, The Stage’s editor Alistair Smith, and me. The deadline for entries is May 28. We want your words.

Think you could be the next top theatre critic? Enter The Stage Critic Search here

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