the owl vs the internet

An incredibly funny and original sketch which formed part of Pappy’s Fun Club: Funergy show, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe was something that came into fruition quite clearly last night. Many of you are aware of the classic argument which has been thrown back and forth between Print and Digital media many a time over the past few years, but finally it was Theatre’s turn to have its say.

HARC: Brickbats in Cyberspace hosted at The Royal Court Theatre, gave a more formal insight into Theatre and the Art’s stance on the whole situation posing the question of How blogging is changing the landscape of theatre criticism in London and beyond.

Contributing panellists were Charles Spencer, lead theatre critic for The Daily Telegraph; Andrew Dickson, arts editor for guardian.co.uk, Judith Dimant, producer of Complicite, and leading bloggers and theatre professionals.

Spencer fluttered about like the Owl arguing that there is a “watering down of serious critical discourse” and that bloggers are a threat to critics jobs. Very much apparent over in the US, he argued, and not so much here but certainly a real danger. What about critics being a threat to theatre maker’s jobs? Surely he, of all people, would understand the cutthroat world of the Entertainments and Arts industry and finally the dog was biting back?

Dickson sat on the fence a fair bit accepting his stance as a contributor through default – even though he contributes himself, he is the editor and therefore he also commissions others and here encourages blogging to its full potential. He then nicely balances along the fence by pointing out that blogging isn’t a potential threat to print media “as long as the newspapers are aware.” and that newspapers are “not actually sacking people because of bloggers but because of other stuff.” But all the while agreeing with Spencer that theatre critique should be of a high standard and readable.

Dimant pitched here flagging up and using Complicite as concrete examples, particularly a success story in Michigan where they were relatively unheard of but sold out of eight nights, after the first night showing. This is the raw power that not just word of mouth, but blogging can achieve. Of course the quality of the work, such is Complicite’s, has to be there for it to strive to achieve any kind of success at all.

At this point it was outweighed in favour of blogging and certainly where my stance is too. The fact that so many people can interact and communicate and share their views with each other through a freedom of different mediums is always a positive thing. With the steady decline of the existence and coverage of the arts over the past century, blogging and web 2.0 can only help to move forward the current trend of theatre making and seeing.

These arguments are backed up by both Dimant and Dickson. Dimant adding that the “existence of blogging helps people to participate, interact [and gives] a sense of community”.

Other thoughts that were pointed out and I thought were worth drawing attention to whilst streaming the discussion:-

  • Blogging in danger of jeopardising quality and content because you become traffic hungry and become obsessed by the clicks – I know I sometimes feel like this.
  • The article should be of a good quality and readable even if the reader doesn’t intend to go and see the show – in response I write that much of theatre blogging isn’t actually about a show yet we still read it. I certainly try to write with that appeal whether I achieve it or not – don’t we all?
  • Matt Boothman makes an incredibly important point, quite rightly – How is criticism supposed to evolve and find a place in the media as it exists today, if its biggest names think blogging is the enemy? Referring to Dickson here, and what of the likes of Billington and co.?

There was so much discussed in these two short hours and I’d love to go into deep and lengthy discussion about it all, but nevertheless it is encouraging that it has taken place and hopefully is the can of worms that was in desperation of opening.

Obviously I’m completely in favour of blogging as the opportunity for critique, discussion, interaction, community etc can only strengthen what we know and understand about theatre – but ultimately, it all has to be seriously engaged with by taking on board and when being transferred from page to stage. After all, the stage is what it is all about.

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One response to “the owl vs the internet

  1. Pingback: did the brickbats in cyberspace mean anything? « Until Further Notice

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