Matt Trueman: Why I’m worried about the decline of theatre blogs
Whatever became of theatre blogging? Maybe it’s just me, but a scene that seemed so vibrant a few years ago seems to have all but curled up and keeled over.
A couple of the classics carry on – Andrew Haydon’s still harrumphing over at Postcards from the Gods and Maddy Costa’s heartfelt musings remain as delicate as ever – but the rest of the best have largely gone to ground. One by one, the Megan Vaughans, Catherine Loves and Dan Huttons have left blogging behind and no one’s really come through in their wake.
True, review-style blogs have proliferated – the Wilmas and Whingers, the Cats, Clowns and Mates – but it just doesn’t feel like blogs are driving the conversation in the way they once did. The best of them are passionate and witty, and, better than that, they bring a critical lens and wider attention to work that flies under other radars. But it’s rare that such sites challenge the status quo or push the art form forwards.
Exeunt is the exception, though it’s not strictly a blog. It’s where you find the keenest new voices, unconstrained by the restrictions of mainstream media. In its success, however, it has hoovered up writers that might once have started their own blog. They get a readymade readership, but lose the distinct critical identity that comes from blogging.
Without those individual voices, clashing and competing, or shouting in unison, the blogosphere feels flatter than it once did. Instead of piling into the same shows and tackling the same subjects, they tend to write as colleagues side by side. That means fewer debates, fewer disagreements and fewer interpretations.
Perhaps theatre blogs have had their moment. Maybe they’ve served their purpose. A lot of that early energy was fuelled by opposition – to criticism, in particular, but also to the sort of theatre given prominence. Five years ago, writing about theatre online felt a bit like waging guerrilla warfare. Three Kingdoms was a full-blown stand-off, as bloggers and critics stared each other down over a stage full of sex toys and animal heads.
That fight doesn’t feel as fraught as it once did. Like Alien vs Predator, the Bloggers vs Critics franchise ran its course. Blind panic has petered out and the phrase “everyone’s a critic” no longer inspires the mortal dread it once did. Broadly speaking, more people writing about more theatre is deemed a good thing.
Both theatre and criticism have changed since then. Personnel changes have opened opportunities for emerging critics – here at The Stage and elsewhere – and a generation of theatremakers has brought a new approach to main stages, even to the mainstream.
The risk is a new status quo could settle into place, one that needs challenging just as old ones have. To avoid that, we need outliers and individual voices – the sort that thrive on their own blogs. Or are the kids all using Snapchat these days?