Theatre is all about how much it touches us each personally. We measure it in the depth and range of our own responses, but the curious thing about the art of theatre criticism is that those of us who do it for a living channel write them up in a forum that then becomes part of the public narrative about a production. Readers, of course, can make up their own minds in return to what we have written — and can often participate in the conversation via online comments threads attached to those reviews.
Or they can just start a blog and give themselves and their own opinions a platform to share them from. Theatre without an audience, as I’m fond of quoting Soho Theatre’s artistic director Steve Marmion saying, is just masturbation; and the same could be said of the myriad, mostly unread, blogs. As it is often said, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Of course, one of the problems in the bottomless world of Twitter and endless blogs is that there’s far too much noise around to hear much properly, but occasionally some voices rise above the din. One of the questions I’m asked most often is about how to drive traffic to a blog, and of course the per-requisite is that it is one that has something to say. And says it regularly: there’s nothing quite like frequency of posting for a blog to establish a voice and an audience.
There are limitless blogs but people only have limited time; no one can read everything that is out there. Or time to search them out: It’s why blogs like this one (appearing on The Stage’s superb and already well-trafficked website) or those on The Guardian get accidental as well as regular readerships: you can ‘stumble’ upon them as you visit other content.
But the other day I read a really interesting and touching blog entry which explained the particular motivation one writer had for establishing theirs. Twitter’s @BroadwayGirlNYC wrote how she had trained as an actress, going to college on an acting scholarship. But then, she wrote, “Something changed. The thrill I felt onstage shifted quietly into fright. The butterflies in my stomach became nausea. The spotlight, once warm, felt harsh. I could no longer conceive how to overcome the pressure of remembering all of my lines. And worst of all, my ability to realistically emote evaporated. I was no longer a good actress, and I realized with surprise that I wasn’t really a willing actress, either.”
Life went on, and she did other things: “Soon my only solid tie to the theatre was as a member of the audience: a crucial role, or course, but different. More like outside looking in; solitude where community once was.” But then she joined Twitter, and in turn started a blog: “Tweeting and writing about theatre has brought me back into the community I lost when I was in college. The solitary act of tweeting became a means to connect with thousands of theatre-lovers like me. As my list of readers grew longer, I also sought out other voices sharing their words & thoughts with the digital world. It has been a delight to join a community, not unlike the casts I knew in my acting days, of passionate consumers of theatre. ”
The internet can be about isolation, anonymous voices talking (and often trolling and abusing) in the dark. But it can also, as BroadwaygirlNYC has shown, be about establishing connections and sharing enthusiasms. And in the great democratisation of opinions that the internet affords, her palpable enthusiasm is one that is worth joining, sharing and celebrating.