What qualifies someone to write about theatre?

Earlier today, an article was published by The Stage in which producer Danielle Tarento was quoted as saying of theatre bloggers, “This is a massive generalisation, but a lot of people are not ‘proper writers’. They do not have the intellectual background or historical background or time to know what they are writing about.”

And then Twitter exploded.

My natural instinct is always to give people the benefit of the doubt in cases like this, ever since I was 18 and the local paper quoted me as saying my A-Levels had been easy (definitely not what I said) – so I naturally assumed the quote had been taken out of context. And there’s a good chance it was, particularly since in the same breath Danielle Tarento acknowledges the massive role bloggers play in spreading the word to a wider audience.

But that hasn’t stopped people getting upset about it, and the fact that the article was published at all seems like as good a reason as any to pause and ask: what qualifies someone to write about theatre?

I don’t come from a writing background, as evidenced by the noticeable absence of the novel I’ve been trying to write for years. I don’t come from a performance background either, unless you count a few appearances in school nativity plays and a brief spell in a drama group which I’m pretty sure only ever managed one production (I can’t remember what it was; all I know is we all said, “He’s not there!” a lot, and I was supposed to have a German accent). This worries me, because in addition to all the professional critics out there, it often feels like most other theatre bloggers are either students or practitioners of theatre. This, in my head, means they must know a lot more about the subject than I do, so I’m at a double disadvantage before I’ve even started.

I fell into theatre blogging totally by accident – it began as an occasional topic on a blog about stuff that makes me happy, and grew from there. Next thing I knew, I was reviewing regularly for three other sites, and eventually decided it was about time I started a specialist theatre blog of my own. And here we are.

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150(ish) reviews later, here are a few things I know:

– Like most theatre bloggers, I’ve been going to the theatre my whole life, which means I have 30 years of experience as an audience member. True, I’ve only been reviewing for just over a year, and I’m too scared to look back at some of my early reviews because I’m sure they were very, very bad. But the only way to improve is to keep trying, and I like to think I’ve got at least a bit better over the past 12 months.

– Like most theatre bloggers, I have a full-time job to pay the bills. So I don’t have a lot of free time to work on reviews… but I make time. I stay up late, I use my lunch break and my commute, and the other day I sat in a restaurant with my family and ignored them all for a good five or ten minutes while I finished up a review – which I later rewrote because I hated the thought that I’d rushed it and not done a good job.

– Like most theatre bloggers, I don’t review because someone’s paying me. I do it because I want to; because I want to support theatre and share something I love with others. (Although if anyone wants to pay me, that’s totally okay. Just putting it out there.)

– Like most theatre bloggers, I sometimes worry my reviews aren’t intellectual enough, or that I’m somehow “doing it wrong”. But then I remember I’m not writing an academic essay; I’m writing for people like me, who enjoy a good show and might want to go and see something they may otherwise not have heard about. And it’s my blog, so as long as the review is honest and accurate, I can’t really mess it up.

So, what qualifies someone to write about theatre? Personally, I think passion, dedication and having an opinion are worth a lot more than using big words or having every comma in the right place (which is saying something, because I really care about correct punctuation). And if today is anything to go by, the theatre blogging community is overflowing with all these things.

The battle between bloggers and critics is, apparently, an endless one. It raises its head regularly, usually on Twitter, and everyone gets outraged every time. It is unfair to make the sweeping statement that bloggers aren’t proper writers, especially since some of us only plucked up the courage to start applying that label to ourselves very recently. But actions speak louder than words (or should that be words speak louder than tweets…? I don’t know), so let’s put our energy into proving our worth, by blogging on with pride, improving and learning as we go, and giving it 100% like we always do.

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