Nurturing the blogging community (A response to Jake Orr)

A couple of weeks ago Jake Orr at A Younger Theatre asked why the UK theatre blogging community have fallen so silent – and referred to my own blog when pointing out the lack of consistency in posting.  It’s only fair that I offer up my own personal reasons for a lack of consistency – some of which I imagine also apply to other blog writers.

Firstly, I should point out that blogging is at present merely something I do alongside my primary line of work – that of a theatre producer.  I choose to write for pleasure rather than profit, and the act of writing blogs is something I feel can help to support my other practices by engaging in critical dialogue with various points of culture and potentially stimulating debate and thought around the work I engage with; there are huge benefits to me in writing which are not to do with financial gain.  However, this also means that writing continuously is not financially sustainable for me; I have to focus on my other work to remain solvent, and the more time I spend earning money the less I have to write.

Time becomes a huge issue for me at various points; at the very point Jake wrote his blog, I was about to set off on a tour across the British Isles and – even though I was keen to write a response quickly – I didn’t have any real free time to spend on anything outside my producing work.  Since the turn of the new year, I have found myself increasingly busy with producing work which has been fantastic – but which has also meant I haven’t had a great deal of time to spend on blogging.  In itself this isn’t necessarily a problem, as sometimes writing about certain topics and issues comes easily due to my passion for them – but quite often the time needed to really flesh out a blog or ideas isn’t available to me.  As with anyone with a perfectionist streak to them, I’m not keen on putting something out I’m not particularly happy with; I have plenty of blogs which I have started and not published for that very reason.

Even if there is time available to me, that’s not to say there’s going to be something I care strongly enough about to write about.  Again referring back to the concept of writing for pleasure, I’m under no pressure or obligations to write to a certain frequency or about certain issues – although in my mind I have an idea of how consistent I would like to be with my writing, I do not have anyone breathing down my neck to ensure I’m delivering ‘on deadline’.  At a point where I’m still honing my writing style, I feel my energies are better focused on quality rather than quantity; I’d rather post an in-depth 2000-word blog entry every three weeks, rather than post a 200-word one every week which only scratches the surface of the issue I’m addressing.  It may well be that, in time, I’m able to encapsulate ideas in a briefer form than I do currently – but I’m under no obligation to do so at this time.

From reading other blogs, in some ways I feel other writers have a greater impact by writing less frequently; rather than diluting their output, they write when they feel moved to do so and that passion is clear within their writing.  As linked to in Jake’s original article, the entries by Dan Rebellato and Dan Bye clearly come from the heart and are fuelled by a sense that these are issues which need to be raised – should they have come during a spell of consistent writing, then perhaps their impact would have been less effective?

With regards to content, it’s perhaps interesting to consider the writing coming from those who self-identify as artists first and foremost; the initial starting point of their writing comes from a place directly invested in the art, and informed by practice.  Of course, there are plenty of examples of writers who identify themselves more clearly as theatre writers or critics – but perhaps their positioning on the outside of theatre-making processes provides them with a different perspective which means their writing is read in a different way?  Perception of the writer’s background could have as much to do with this as the content of their writing; I’m aware that I certainly read articles and blogs differently if I’m aware the writer is a theatre maker, as I almost subconsciously connect their writing to what I know of their work and processes.  In this regard, it is interesting to learn that theatre writers are beginning to spend time in rehearsal rooms – such as Maddy Costa working with Chris Goode and Jake Orr with Dirty Market Theatre – which may help to break down barriers between the two fields, and hopefully will help to create more open dialogue and a greater diversity in theatre writing.  By writing more about process, it may help to encourage artists to write about their process and to add to the community already in existence.

Beyond content, there is also the question of style.  I personally find long-form writing such as that of Chris Goode’s blog and Exuent Magazine’s essays to be fascinating and engaging, as I feel it allows a greater analysis of issues to form and for ideas to not be condensed; however, these writings seem to exist in places where the word-count limitations of many popular platforms (such as The Guardian’s Theatre Blog) do not restrict.  As anyone with any experience of academic study will tell you, writing to a word count is always a challenge and often compromises the quality and clarity of the message you are trying to convey; a writer may find themselves having to cut out things of value to make a piece fit, or may need to flesh out work with filler material which lessens the impact of the stronger content.  Being able to write to a word count without compromising quality is a skill which needs to be developed and honed over time, and in some respects this is something I hope to achieve – but only through first being able to write in the form and style which I choose to, and allowing my work to develop naturally.  If I’m being required to write to a consistent time-line, then I may be less inclined to write at all.

To me, the blogging community I exist within is something I believe relies on self-perpetuation; by writing about things we provoke others to respond, which in turn inspires them to write again and add to the ecology of voices around the art we create.  As with all forms of creative output, there is inevitably a need to experiment and invigorate the medium  – and provided there are people out there willing to try new things both in theatre making and theatre writing, then hopefully there will be a consistency and diversity in the blogging and writing community to recognise that.

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