Blogging about blogging can often result in the worst kind of online onanism, so you’re going to have to bear with me for a bit here. Because today I participated in a panel discussion at the British Shakespeare Assocation’s annual conference at the University of Warwick. The topic was Blogging The Bard, though it actually encompassed a much broader debate about the nature of blogging and theatre criticism in general – what are reviews for, what role does traditional theatre criticism serve and what does blogging bring to that dialogue.
The panel was chaired by Andrew Dickson, the arts editor of Guardian Unlimited, and also featured Peter Kirwan, who, in his excellent Bardathon blog, details his experiences of attending the entire RSC Complete Works Season in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Patricia Tatspaugh, a contributor to Shakespeare Bulletin and Shakespeare Quarterly – and very much a non-blogger.
It was a fascinating experience, with questions posed that I’m still mulling over. I know why I blog. I blog because I enjoy the process, both as a creative exercise and as a way of ordering my thoughts; if it happens to entertain other people, well, then that’s a bonus. Blogging at its best can open up discussion, it can create an evolving conversation – in a way that a straightforward review often doesn’t. And while I don’t have the decades of theatre-going experience of a Michael Billington, I, and the people behind all the theatre blogs that I read, have a palpable passion for the medium and its possibilities – and that really comes across in the writing (even if there is whinging involved).
Bloggers have the space and lack of constrictions (no overnight deadlines, no press night hoopla) to focus on the nuances of a production, the details and the small moments that make a production linger long in the memory or pick you up and smack you in the gut. They can bring some necessary shade to the sometimes black and white world of theatre criticism and, in cases like that of the recent RSC Lear, where the press where held off from attending until Frances Barber recovered from a knee injury, while the paying public watched an understudy in her role, provide information unavailable elsewhere.
I think that academic analysis, theatre criticism and blogging are all part of the same discourse, the words all flow in the same direction ultimately, and while I know my blog can veer towards the trivial and flippant sometimes, there’s plenty of people out there who write considered, thoughtful pieces on matters theatrical with more eloquence than I’m capable of (him for instance, and him), and anyway I think there’s space in amongst all that for a little flippancy now and then (insert predictable gin reference here).
Anyway the discussion went well, and it was a nice being back at Warwick, where I did my MA, if only for a short while. I hung around for the plenary lecture by Philip Davis on The Shakespeared Brain an interesting look at the way the brain processes language, particularly the syntactically adventurous language of Shakespeare, before heading back to London in the afternoon eager to get my hands on a copy of Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound after Andrew quoted from it in his introduction.
Next week looking very theatre-heavy indeed, which I’m really looking forward to after such a comparatively quiet August.