The Editor’s View: The Stage Debut Awards extends our mission to support talent

Idris Elba secured his first job through The Stage. Photo: Stuart Allen
Alistair Smith
Alistair Smith is print editor of The Stage. Having joined the publication on staff in 2004, he has held the roles of reporter, news editor, opinion editor and deputy editor at The Stage and has written for publications ranging from The Guardian to Hello! Magazine. He is also the author of the London Theatre Report and a founder of the My Theatre Matters! campaign.
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The furore that has greeted the axeing of Lyn Gardner’s Guardian theatre blog has underlined that one of the greatest services journalists can offer theatre is the ability to spot promising talent and tell the world.

I won’t dwell on the depressing state of play in mainstream theatre criticism other than to observe that it’s now not uncommon for The Stage to be the only national publication at a press night outside London. Local reviewers are often no longer specialist critics but off-duty reporters, or even trainee journalists on work-experience placements.

The Stage has, I’m glad to say, taken a counter-intuitive approach to the great shrinking of theatre reviews coverage elsewhere: we feel an increased responsibility to get out and about. We have upped our regional coverage and worked hard to further improve the standard of our reviews across the UK.

In the same spirit, we are launching The Stage Debut Awards this week. Now, more than ever, The Stage has a crucial role to play in making sure that the best emerging talent is given the chance to, well, emerge.

It’s worth remembering that some of the greatest names in UK entertainment today started out in regional theatre or small fringe venues. A little over 11 years ago, we reviewed Yorgjin Oxo, a strange play about talking mice at Theatre503. It featured an “outstanding” debut performance from a young Tom Hiddleston. He hasn’t done too badly since.

The Stage wasn’t the only national publication to review the show, but we were the first. Today, I fear we’re the only people who could undertake something like The Stage Debut Awards – covering the real grassroots of theatre – as we’re now the only publication that comprehensively reviews theatre nationwide.

I’m proud of the work The Stage’s reviewing team does to identify and champion the best theatre across the UK, but it’s worth stressing that we’re only able to do this if we have a firm financial footing to support it. That means charging people to read our content online and in print, asking for support from awards sponsors and selling advertising.

The passing of Lyn Gardner’s blog is a stark reminder of the commercial realities that face all publishers. If theatre values the service that publications such as The Stage and the Guardian give the industry, it needs to be prepared to support them. With money.

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Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk

The Stage Debut Awards

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