Bright Side for the Broadside?
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.
Thing #1: A Managing Director reaches out to fans of a critically panned show to voice their own opinions. The result? 30 responses on his blog, 80 responses on the paper's comments section, and all sorts of discussions about the pros and cons of the idea of the effort, its execution and the results.
Thing #2: A fascinating impromptu discussion between two critics about a director's work on a production in context of not only the director's body of work, but the director's contemporaries, as well. (Read down to the comments).
Thing #3: An organization dedicated to theatre bloggers begins to figure out what all these online advocates of our theatre might do together.
Thing #4: One critic engages another about the unspoken politics of their reviewing, and a discussion with strong voices from the Right and Left engage in the comments section.
Taking these 4 things 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. A discourse about what theatre criticism should be functionally, aesthetically, organizationally and politically is happening; a conversation that anyone with a computer and idle hour can contribute to; and while it may be terribly wishful thinking, I think it is possible that professional theatre journalism may emerge stronger from this process.
We may be reaching a time where a critic gains power because of the quality of their reviews, not the pedigree of their masthead. Audiences will feel a greater connection to that critical vision because they will able to engage with it directly. The advertising dollars that supported arts journalism in print media may find a logical home in that dedicated following. Supported by that revenue, and with that audience engaged, we may be reaching a time where a theatre journalist, solely through a persuasive critical vision and a computer, can help lead our theatre to higher ground.