I have a friend that likes the theatre. They go to the theatre every now and then. They ‘like’ a few theatres on facebook and keep vaguely up to date with new shows. They are interested and enthusiastic and they want to know more. They want to know what they must see, what they definitely shouldn’t see, what is good for a West End matinee and what is great for a bit of Friday night Fringe. But most of all they want to know why. Why should they see X over Y? Why if they go and see X will it change them in some way? Why if they don’t go and see Y will they always regret it?
And then they ask me where they should look, what they should read, who they should follow and mostly, I draw a blank. I read all the usual, established theatre publications, I follow the relevant people on twitter and I am bored. (Nearly) everywhere I look it is what I like to call ‘theatre criticism by numbers’. It is checking boxes, all within 250 words. Set = check. Lighting = check. Actors/acting = check. There is little comment, little engagement or investment (on an emotional or intellectual level) and there is a lack of awareness of a non-theatre going audience. The manner in which theatre is written about is often introverted, frustratingly narrow-minded, incredibly dull so getting anywhere past the first paragraph feels like climbing Everest and usually it is in no way reflective of some of the most exciting work that is currently being made and performed.
I love theatre and performance, I studied it and now make it because I believe in it as a relevant and important medium, yet when I read about it I am disillusioned. What theatre is and what it can do isn’t reflected in the criticism, in the writing, even in the lifestyle. I don’t want to know how many shows you are watching this week, I don’t want to know who you are interviewing at what theatre. This is inconsequential fluff; it is so often just stating the obvious. But the obvious to a very select audience, an audience who feel exactly the same way as you do about theatre. How are you going to make us want to read what you are writing? How can we engage with it? How are you going to reach beyond the already theatre-going middle classes? How are you going to make it relevant? How are you going to attempt to communicate what really matters about theatre if you remain within it and only consider it subjectively?
I want to know how you feel about what you are seeing. I want to know why you are so passionate about theatre and why you want to write about it. But I also want to know what you think theatre means socially, politically and culturally. I want to know if you believe theatre can change things and change people, and if I don’t already believe it I want you to make me believe it or at least get me geared up enough to go and find out for myself. I want you to not be afraid to get really, really excited about something you’ve seen, or really fucking angry and for you to be able to tell me exactly why in an articulate and creative way. I want you to think about it outside of yourself and outside of the established and traditional ‘theatre world’. Be clever, funny, irreverent, angry, and emotional. Make your audience feel something.
Theatre is often talked about and written about within an insular environment, by people who claim to love theatre for people who claim to love theatre. But that isn’t enough. I want you to surprise me. I want to be able to tell my friend that yes there is so much exciting theatre to be absorbed and influenced by, and you can read and learn about it by people who are really engaged with theatre but who can also acknowledge its place and role in society. And these people understand how theatre needs new audiences; new eyes and new ears to survive and strengthen and their writing can communicate WHY we should ALL be going to the theatre in a form that people will want to read about it and engage with it.
If I was my friend and read most of what criticism and thought is currently published I probably wouldn’t bother making the effort to continue reading or even to go to the theatre. I’d stay at home, get a lifetime subscription to Lovefilm and continue to take a trip to the West End once a year with my Grandma. Please. Give me something to tell my friends, family and some random person I just bumped into on the bus about.