Blog review ~ theatre notes

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Blog review

Theatre Notes has been going for six weeks! My, how time flies when one is having fun! And I think it's probably a good time to pause and consider what, if anything, the blog has achieved since early June, when I had a rush of blood to my head and began this quixotic enterprise.

I've remembered what I think a theatre critic can be: a privileged representative of the audience; a witness; a chronicler; a locus of theatrical memory; an informed and responsive subjectivity. And I've been revisiting a few favourite texts, among them Peter Brook's The Empty Space, surely one of the most inspiring books ever written about theatre. I'd forgotten that Brook speaks about criticism, and in terms very close to those in which I think of my aspirations and responsibilities as a critic.

The critic's angriest reaction, says Brook, is perhaps the most vital, because it is a "call for competence", when incompetence is "the vice, the condition and the tragedy of the world's theatre at any level". But he also says the critic is a pathmaker, one who collaborates with theatre makers in the desire for "a less deadly, but as yet undefined, theatre". "The vital critic," says Brook, "is the critic who has clearly formulated for himself what the theatre could be - and who is bold enough to throw this formula into jeopardy each time he participates in a theatrical event." Yes, that is precisely the kind of critic I would like to be. I see no reason why I should be any less at risk than anyone else in the theatrical equation.

But that doesn't mean that people necessarily like me for it. I am also remembering that slight social embarrassment, the natural resentment of those who wonder what gives me the right to comment on their work. It's a delicate business, my friends. There is perhaps something rather deformed about a compulsive desire to critique, something distasteful, like a vaguely unhygienic skin disease. Unlike everyone else, the critic says what she thinks in public; and although she has every right to do so, and even if she is as just as Solomon, who doesn't feel a slight frisson at her temerity? Conversely, I've had some astoundingly positive feedback, which confirms my suspicion that there is a real hunger for serious discussion of theatre, and a broad consciousness that the terms in which theatre is generally discussed are restricted and restricting.

So far, I think my six month experiment is justifying itself, and it's certainly enjoyable. My site minder tells me that in terms of readership, Theatre Notes has been modestly successful. Through June it had an average of 240 visits a week, climbing to an average of 336 in July. Bafflingly, most of my readers - 45 per cent - come from the UK, with the next highest figure - 17 per cent - from the east coast of Australia, mainly Melbourne. The rest are scattered fairly evenly through the rest of the world, with a couple of larger bumps in Western Australia and North America.

My reviews are also appearing in the State of the Arts ezine and are included in its email newsletter, which is sent out to 10,000 recipients every week. It's one of those mutually beneficial relationships, like those you see on natural history programs, and it means that the reviews are getting out to many more people than those who visit the blog. So many thanks to Chloe Flynn.

It's not a million hitter, but all in all it's not too bad, considering that Theatre Notes has come from a standing start. My first ambition is to pick up the local content. I figure, from various observations over the years, that there are probably about 5000 serious theatre goers in Melbourne; that is, those who are ready to follow new ideas in contemporary theatre, and whose interests might be provoked by the kind of ideas I'm pursuing here. I have had some postcards printed and am dropping them around Melbourne, to alert anyone who might be interested but might not otherwise hear of Theatre Notes (when I mention the blog to theatre people here, I most often get a stunned silence - cyberculture and the theatre world seem to have few intersections). So if you're reading this and think it's worthwhile, tell all your friends. And if you have any suggestions on how to spread the word, let me know.

I'm grateful to the theatre companies in Melbourne who have all politely, even if sometimes puzzledly, provided me with tickets. I like to think that I'm offering something positive in return, but of course I remember from the past that the recipients of my eager altruism haven't always been grateful for it. My one big disappointment is that almost no one has picked up on the interactive possibilities of the blog - that is, the ability to comment on my comments. If people have something to say to me, they email me privately. I can't believe that everyone who reads this blog agrees with everything I say, and I am always interested in conversation. And it's good to be diagreed with, it sharpens my own questioning of what I do. Are people just shy? Am I flogging a dead horse? Or is it true that in Melbourne, nobody hears you scream...?


Michael Peverett said...

Hi Alison

I guess one reason might be that your blog doesn't permit anonymous comments. I had to create my own blog solely in order to comment on your one! (If you want to know what unmotivated blogging looks like, have a look at

But also... I must admit I keep coming back to "theatre notes" for a selfish reason, namely that I just want to learn about a scene that I'm totally ignorant of. For various reasons it's not convenient to go to the theatre. And thanks - it's really interesting. But obviously I'm not about to sound off my opinions, since any that I might have developed are based on nothing.

Was uncomfortably jolted by your good poem about melting permafrost, recently.

Here is a link to a fellow Tasmanian poet that you may not know of:
- it's um.. quite a trip...

All the best,

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Michael

You deserve a prize - you are precisely two-thirds of the public comment here! Email me your address, and I'll send you a book.

I looked into the software dna, and have changed it so that anonymous comments are now possible. If it means there is a sudden onslaught of spam or abuse I will of course have to turn it off. But we'll give it a go.

Thanks for your responses, I am grateful (and also for the web links - Mr Bahai has an autobiography 750 pages long! That's about as long as Bll Clinton's!) And I liked your blog.

All the best