This blog marks a particular milestone today: this is my 1000th blog entry, since it was launched back in August 2005. It’s become amongst the most important daily journalism I do. Yes, it’s a daily task to keep ahead of it and make sure I have try to have something new to write about (I’ll let you be the judge of whether I always succeed). But I’m delighted to be here, and even more delighted that you are here, too. A lot of arts journalism feels like it is going into a void, and not just because many newspapers are in trouble nowadays. But the best thing about being here is the feedback I get, both formally (from the comments you post) and informally (from the comments people make to me privately).
As another blog I recently read from Flux Theatre Ensemble put it, ” Given the layoffs in arts journalism - a 50% decline in four years —is there any light up ahead in a life spent writing about theatre? Well, it’s hard to argue with those terrible numbers. But a few things recently have made me wonder if we’re simply in the hard part of an important transition that will leave us stronger than we were before.” The blog then goes on to cite evidence of some of the changes that are happening for the good, and says that put together, “It is possible to see a silver lining through all the economic flat lining: critics are now able to engage more immediately, more substantively and more openly with other critics, artists and audiences; with those others now able to respond immediately, substantively, and openly.”
And I’m very glad to be part of this new movement.
New kinds of dialogue are emerging, and critics and commentators are being brought into discussions with those whose work we see as never before. Or, in some cases, have not seen. I recently blogged about the pre-emptive criticisms made of Jude Law’s appearance in the title role of Hamlet here; but now that the reviews are out, Jude Law’s personal PR, Sara Keene of Premier PR, fired off an e-mail last week to The Guardian’s online arts editor, Andrew Dickson, to request the removal of an earlier piece he had written in September 2007) querying Law’s casting in the role: according to a blog newly posted on Monday, Keene wrote to him thus: “Dear Andrew, In light of the vast majority of today’s reviews, would you consider taking down your original piece which still comes up, fairly high on the list, when you Google Jude Law’s Hamlet?”“
As Marina Hyde duly comments, “What an adorable request, Sara! Because of silly little things like freedom of speech (ask a grown-up), one suspects it unlikely that the Guardian will comply, but we are pleased to have been apprised of your ambitious campaign to purge the internets of any negative comment concerning your client, and wish you all the best with it.”
In other news today:
Sometimes tenacity pays: Con O’Neill has been playing Joe Meek in Nick Moran’s Telstar ever since its earliest reading, 12 years ago, when - according to an interview with him in today’s Times (that manages throughout to refers to him as O’Neil, not O’Neill) - a rough draft was given a “three-hour read-through in a dingy Stockwell pub” by O’Neill and friends, including Jude Law and Kathy Burke. In 2005, it was seen onstage, in a summer run at the New Ambassadors Theatre that lasted barely three months. But O’Neill’s performance was hugely acclaimed: as Kate Bassett put it in her Independent on Sunday review, “The central performance by Con O’Neill gathers a ferocious, desperate momentum.” Now it has become a film, but even Con expressed surprise that he was asked. He tells The Times, “When Nick asked me to do the film, I said: ‘Why are you asking me?’ And Nick just said: ‘I want everyone else to see the performances that you’ve been doing for the past 20 years!’” I feel strangely connected to Telstar — not just because I’ve followed O’Neill’s career avidly ever since I first saw him in his 1988 Olivier award winning performance in the return of Blood Brothers — but also because one of the characters in it is Meek’s landlady, Mrs Shenton. She is played in the film version, which is released on June 19, by Pam Ferris.
The recession is confounding everyone. Instead of going down, box office figures are actually going up, both Broadway as I reported here and in the West End here. And now comes news that yesterday’s launch of the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe brochure sees it setting yet more records: as The Times reports today, there will be 32,265 performances of 2,098 shows in 265 venue; last year, there were 31,320 performances of 2,088 shows in 247 venues. Even the Fringe Office was taken by surprise: Kath Mainland, the new chief exec of the Fringe Society, says, “The fact that the programme is the same size - very slightly bigger - than last year is hugely heartening for us. We were not expecting that.” Nor was I; every year I expect the bubble to burst, as I think the message will finally get through to participants that it’s usually a fast way to lose money. And this year, with less of it about than ever, I thought far fewer would try. Let’s hope audiences remain similarly confident about taking their holidays in Edinburgh, too. But I’ve not booked anything yet myself; and for the first time in a decade or more, I am thinking of not actually going. But I could still weaken…. Watch this space.
- But if the box office and artistic aspirations are variously holding up, what about business sponsorship? What used to be the Perriers, then became the if.comedy awards, is going ahead this year - but without a sponsor. Now Edinburgh’s unofficial comedy Oscars are being simply re-branded the Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
As The Guardian recently reported, Nica Burns - who founded them 28 years ago - has failed to find a sponsor to replace Intelligent Finance, so is going it alone: according to the report, “Burns will fund them herself, although she said she hoped to recoup the money through a sponsorship deal for next year’s award. ‘We know we’ve got stuff lined up for next year, so we’re cashflowing it,’ she said. ‘We’ll get it back over the course of time’.”
She does, in any case, want to avoid the rows that occurred when the awards were sponsored by Perrier. According to the report, “Some performers were unhappy with that sponsorship because the water company was owned by Nestlé, the subject of a wider campaign against the company’s worldwide marketing of breast-milk substitutes.” Now, Burns tells The Guardian she feels obliged to investigate the ethics of potential sponsors: “There are quite a few from which we couldn’t take money, which other people could.”
- What about business sponsorship of the arts beyond Edinburgh? Is this story being repeated elsewhere? Michael Lynch, the departing supremo of the Southbank Centre, delivered a parting shot that others have had to pick up the pieces of, according to a report in yesterday’s Independent: after presiding over the raising of some £118m needed to refurbish and re-open the Royal Festival Hall, he gave a farewell interview in which he declared, “My greatest disappointment is that Corporate Britain didn’t do themselves proud. At a moment when Corporate Britain were making more money than they’d ever made they were prepared to leave it to the individuals, the general public and the audiences of this place. And look at what the bastards have done to us over the last couple of years.” The Independent goes on to report that, “In a subsequent interview he singled out the investment bank Goldman Sachs for special mention”.
According to the Independent’s report, “Before the story had stretched its legs panic had gripped the arts community. His successor at the Southbank, Alan Bishop, was hitting the phones to apologise to City contacts (each Goldman Sachs board member was individually called) and reassure them.” Ditto next door at the National, where Nick Hytner commented, “Contrary to Michael Lynch’s experience … the National Theatre continues to benefit enormously from the generosity of both corporate and individual City donors … Goldman Sachs have been staunch supporters for 10 years …”
But the most interesting point is the observation of Simon Tait, who wrote the Independent’s story, that “The Lynch remarks have not led to corporates deserting the arts, nor have their spokesmen put their heads above the parapet to comment themselves. Despite their difficulties, large-scale supporters such as UBS are maintaining their support. They are keeping their heads down because they like the arts’ association with culture giving banks in particular a good image with customers and clients when other facets are less attractive; but saying so could nudge shareholders into demanding why money is being spent on art when their dividends are dwindling, the last debate the financial sector wants at this time.”
- Latest star rating anomaly corner: Michael Coveney’s reviews of the Mendes double bill of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale gives them two stars in The Independent yesterday, while his review on Whatsonstage.com, also published yesterday, awards them three. But in today’s partial reprint in The Indie - which runs to 387 words, instead of the original 768 - its back up to 3 stars.
I’ve written before of the apparent fluidity of star ratings; it seems to becoming a trend.
- And finally - error of the day award goes to the Guardian’s birthday calendar which lists Chiwetel Ejiofor as Ejiofor Chiwetel!