When theatres closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they began to stream performances online, often for free. Some theatre companies used the time as an opportunity to explore different kinds of digital experiences, such as performances on Zoom or Twitch. Although theatres have now begun to reopen, there are still plenty of performances available to watch online if you can’t make it to the theatre in person. Flex your creative muscles, record your opinions, and start conversations with other theatre lovers by writing your own theatre blog.
What is a theatre blog?
In her book, Theatre-Blogging, Megan Vaughan defines theatre-bloggers as ‘those who self-publish personal, informal posts, primarily about theatre, in an online space they control’. Theatre blogs tend to be focused on reviewing theatrical productions, but they can include other reflections on watching/ making theatre as well. You can set up a free blog through different platforms such as WordPress or Wix.
There’s no right or wrong way to write a theatre blog, just like there’s no right or wrong way to make a piece of theatre.
Having said that, here are some things that you’re likely to find in an online theatre review:
- Some description of the various elements of the show, including the story, the performances, the directing, the set design etc. This is helpful both for people who haven’t watched the show and to back up your opinions. It can be very helpful to find a cast list online so you make sure you’re giving credit to the creatives.
- Your personal opinions evaluating how you found the various elements of the show. Unlike in an English essay, you don’t need to try to be objective.
- A sense of your voice as a writer and your personality. You can make the most of a blog as an opportunity to be creative, as there’s no set format.
- Could provide context around the show and/or the theatre company
- Could include other media e.g. production photos, or links to other websites and blogs
Read the review linked below:
Think about the following questions: Which of the features of a theatre blog described above does it contain? Does it challenge your ideas of what a theatre review should look like? What do you like about the piece? Is there anything you don’t like about it?
Alice’s review of Waitress is playful, using Trip Advisor reviews to inspire her own review of Waitress. The opening paragraph gives you a sense of what it is like to be in the audience of that show, and she also provides a summary of the story. In some ways it is more like a conventional review, evaluating performances, design and direction. Alice’s review also reflects on the politics of the production she is writing about; she expresses disappointment that the show reinforces gender stereotypes, despite its female-led creative team. Alice’s review demonstrates that you can write seriously and playfully at once.
Who is my audience?
When you’re writing, it is useful to ask yourself why and who you are writing for. You might be keeping a blog:
- To contribute to a wider conversation with other theatre fans and/ or theatre-makers
- To keep a record of shows you’ve seen and what you thought of them
- As your own form of creative expression in response to shows/ developing your own practice as writer and maker of theatre
- To engage with theatre from a particular perspective e.g. Jill Dolan’s The Feminist Spectator blog engages with culture from a feminist standpoint
Any of these – and more – are valid reasons but each will subtly influence what and how you write.
Finally, a note on constructive criticism. Especially if you’re a theatre-maker yourself, you’ll know that creatives have invested a lot of time, money and effort into making their shows. When reviewing, try to put yourself into the creators’ shoes and understand what they were trying to achieve in their show. Even though you may not have liked something, can you understand why they might have chosen to do it? Remember that criticism doesn’t (have to) mean slating something.
Finding a show to watch
The Guardian keeps a rolling list of digital performances, some of them free, here. Physical theatre company Gecko has uploaded their shows to their YouTube. English Touring Theatre has made a series of short films and podcasts by playwrights you can watch on their website. If audio drama is more your thing, you can listen to a trilogy of audio plays here, or find many original podcasts and radio plays on the BBC Sounds website.
Choose a show – a theatre performance, podcast or even a film or TV series and watch/ listen to it. Write a 350-500-word blog-style review.
Resource written by Dr Hannah Greenstreet for the St John’s Inspire Programme Summer School.
DR HANNAH GREENSTREET
Dr Hannah Greenstreet completed her PhD in contemporary feminist theatre and realism at Jesus College, Oxford in 2021. She holds a Master of Studies in English: 1830-1914 from Oxford and a BA in English from the University of Cambridge. She has taught literature and drama at the University of Oxford, Pacific Lutheran University and CMRS-Middlebury College. She is also a theatre critic for Exeunt Magazine and a playwright. She is Project Support Officer for the SJC Inspire Programme.
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