Striking out for sanity ~ theatre notes

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Striking out for sanity

Limitations. I haz them. And right now, I have to face the fact that I'm unable to run this blog as I would like. My other activities - which mean, among things, that I have a prospect of paying the rent - are very demanding. (I laid them out last week, so I won't repeat a list here). Regular readers will know that I've been grappling with this problem for a long time, but this winter it's felt a bit tougher than usual. A swift look through this year's reviews will show that I've tried not to compromise the writings on TN, but the fact is that they don't come easy: they take a lot of concentrated hours, brow-wrinkling, space-staring and assorted bookish riffling. I know all this stuff is what makes people value Theatre Notes, and it's also what makes it worth doing personally. But right now, what's being squeezed in between the novels, the blog and my life is me. Reluctant as I am to admit it, the pressure is doing me in.

The most sensible option is to temporarily put the blinds up here while I work on the current novel, but somehow I don't want to do the sensible option: even if it's not fully ambulatory, I'd rather keep the blog on a drip. So although it feels like a cheat, I'm going to wind things down radically. Seeing fewer shows doesn't seem to be working as a policy, so instead I'll be writing less. While I work on my latest soon-to-be-best-selling fantasy, I'll be writing capsule reviews instead of the usual essay. I should be able to post responses more promptly, and they'll at least have the virtue of alerting you to anything I consider worth seeing. In theory, this should avert total collapse. Crossing fingers, toes, eyes etc. We'll see how this works.


Matt Scholten said...


No doubt I am biased, but any comments and contribution you can make to the discourse on theatre in this country is valuable to so many of us. I say great decision to slowing down a little (as you know, I have done the same myself recently) and I look forward to swallowing the capsules with a nice gin and tonic. And can't wait for Black Spring. Out this Christmas apparently folks...

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Matt. And for the PR!

Richard Pettifer said...

Alison can you go over what options would hypothetically be available to a theatre blogger critic for state or federal funding, if any. In light of the recent closure of Neandellus, and John Bailey and Richard Watts no longer regularly posting, Cameron's job might be looking a bit wobbly now,(and Jana in Berlin taking photos of herself), we are left without a regular, dedicated, established theatre blogger in Melbourne.

If I might make a small argument here, as I assume funding is not readily available or you might have considered it an option rather than winding back for a time, it seems to me pathetic that such a valuable service to the community would not be supported, even actively pursued and promoted by funding bodies. There seems to be no better way to maintain and establish editorial independance than blogging, and given that this blog in particular has a worldwide readership and participates in global arguments, you would think the benefits for Melbourne theatre are obvious.

Though I am forced to face facts that the recent cornucopia of informed opinion that welcomed an internet user with a thirst for thought may have been little more than a fleeting moment in the sun, it seems to me far more valuable that we acknowledge its benefits and seek to actively encourage it.

Or perhaps some things weren't meant to last. Who am I to make dramatic, provocative statements, but, having surveyed the terrain, and with the hopes that this will change and change soon, I hereby proclaim the death of theatre blog criticism in Melbourne.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Richard - I feel like I should put a sign up, like Granny Weatherwax: I ATEN'T DEAD.

In my case it's not so much money in short supply, as time and - most of all - energy. If I didn't have my own work to write, it might be different. But I do, and in fairness to me, I must put it first.

The sustainability of blogs has been troubling me for some years now - not mine especially, but others. Blogs are where the future critics are, and yes, they need to be nurtured, if we value a critical culture at all.

Richard Pettifer said...

...The fantasy novelist comes out... hardly a hag yet Alison.

I think maybe blogs are where NOW critics are. Not future critics.

So I take it you don't have any ideas for funding, and there is no direct funding available. Surely this should be looked at. Internet Culture and especially independent theatre have a healthy alignment, and dare I suggest the growth in independent theatre could be linked to a healthy blog culture. Although perhaps there is a lack of acknowledgement for both.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Richard - I assure you that the question has been under discussion for a while now, especially with younger bloggers. It's been raised with funding bodies. The new digital arm of OzCo may be a place to go. But you'll have a lot of fun persuading already stretched literature funding bodies - or theatre funders, for that matter - to fund people who only write about theatre.

Richard Pettifer said...

Though it does concern me, I will politely decline you're offer if that's ok.

I suppose we will only see the benefit retrospectively. It will be funded in 10 years time - when it is too late.

Jana said...

Only just saw this, and loved the comment about me - hello, Richard! I think it's the first one I've ever posted, though...?

Especially since I have spent the last few weeks trying to reduce my mammoth viewing of Theatertreffen to a 1,000 words, and being unable to post the off-cuts on GS because of copyright limitations...

To be honest, Richard, Carl Nilsson-Polias and I basically got a working model for a theatre magazine in Australia running, a few years ago with Spark, but it was in a year in which I was in Europe, doing fieldwork for my thesis, and he went travelling, and a number of prominent bloggers got good jobs - so there was no one left to take care of Spark.

The problem is that there are already PR-services/review archives, such as Australian Stage, funded from advertising. In their business model, writing is just fodder for ad-selling, and I don't think they have much currency with the regular theatre audience.

However, as with most media in Australia, it would be hard to argue that quality and rigour is funding-worthy in and of itself.

One thing I still don't understand is why no quality theatre publication comes out of our theatre and performance university departments. They have the resources, and full-time staff, and enthusiastic students, and an expectation of rigour, that would make them the most logical initiators of such a project. In Europe and the US, that is quite normal.

Another logical source of funding & organisation would be professional bodies representing theatre, that have every interest in fostering a genuine discussion within the field about standards, quality, principles, and so on.

Unfortunately, a single blogger can only do so much. Australia is very, very far behind what I know of the rest of the developing world when it comes to cultural media infrastructure. And then people wonder why so many 'ordinary Australians' are hostile to high arts. Well.

Richard Pettifer said...

Just making sure you haven't forgotten us over here Jana ;)

I think your sensibilities have been Eurofied and your comment leans too heavily on institutions, one of the beauties of theatre blogging is surely its independence, even solitude, which association with an institution would kill. The format is the closest thing to true democracy in theatre writing, what's more there is a beckettian romance about it and like any democr. there is baggage and there is good stuff. These have been sites of free and open debate and I have found them exponentially more useful than comparatively old-school brandings which seem to have little personality ("" or "Australian Stage". Hardly inspiring names. At least your doused 'Spark' aspires to activity. But if I had the choice, I have to say, you can "Shit on my Play" anyday). If you can name one good dialogue that has happened on any of those blogs, please point me to it.

Didn't think so.

Perhaps there is something of the romance retained in the idea of someone bashing away at a keyboard fuelled only by the theatre they have seen and perhaps a glass of wine. This idea I particularly like, and I think it's a useful format, and it says something very pure and ideal about what theatre is supposed to be.

Richard Pettifer said...

Personally I've often said things I regret on blogs but overall your opinion gets shaped by the exchange and that's a useful thing, and its just a shame that they all seem to have stopped at once for some reason. I wanted to make a small wreath and an appeal, hence my post.

There are people close to me who have no understandng of theatre, sometimes no money, but a lot of interest, and the internet is of paramount importance to them following what is going on without seeing shows. I know people who have just passing interest in theatre who look at TN. I showed someone Neandellus once and their head exploded.

So, surely some means of revenue for such an activity should not be out of the question, in the interests of sustainability and as an acknowledgement that what is (was?) forming here was a worthwhile and beneficial cultural artifact. I know there is a bias here and it sounds like arse-kissing posting this on TN but it just doesn't make sense that these things go unsupported when they are such a valuable public good. And if you consider the future of our theatre, perhaps citizen journalism is to play a key role. Given the subjective nature of viewing, perhaps its even a place where cit-journ can happen less problematically.

Most Aust's hostile to high arts because they do not want their lifestyle to be threatened.

To continue the arse-to-mouth, I'm sure I wouldn't be the only one to be curious to know where your writings on Theatertreffen are appearing btw.

The Bloggard said...

No doubt Matt *is* biased, but the bias spreads a good deal wider than Melbourne. I get to a reasonable amount of theatre, professional and amateur, wonderful, mediocre and worse. But it is a tenth of what I would like to see, and genuinely perceptive comment by someone who can write is a rare blessing. A pallid sketch it might be when compared with the theatrical experience of being there, but...

The problem with Croggon's writing is that is worth reading at essay length, for its own sake as much as for the experience she relates. So is there some way of editing and collecting the best of her criticism into a long form defined creative outcome? The term is used with thick rubber gloves, but advisedly:


Alison Croggon said...

Hi JH - thanks! I have on odd occasions idly approached publishers with the idea of releasing a kind of selected reviews, a la Billington's One Night Stands or other collections. No bites, but am thinking that I might do it anyway.

jh said...

Please do, and if the crowd funding approach works, I doubt if I would be the only one who would donate. And while a traditional essay collection would be welcome, one of the strengths of the longer reviews is the quality of the responses they provoke. I'm not sure it is straightforward to capture these without them becoming some kind of disconnected end note, but the comments from duncan and carl in response to your piece about Brook's Lear are evidence of the value of the form. [And yes, Carl, Ran blew me away when I saw it as an early twenty-something.]

Maybe this is all missing the point, and the issue is not making TN pay its way at all. Perhaps one should instead donate to advance the cause of (selective) cloning, as though some doubling of time might heal everything. But if some contributory model helps, then don't be shy. I suggested the crowdfunding of essays as I didn't think that an ongoing blog fit the pozible model very well. But happy to be proven wrong if someone has a bright idea, and happy to see the essays emerge in whatever form.


Gustavo von Bischoffshausen said...

Yes writing can be very time keeping if you want to do it properly.

I do have a blog on history and theatre in Lima, Peru, called and occasionally write a review.

Fortunately there is whole bunch of young people who cover theatre work in Lima, especially works by amateur groups of groups from poor districts who are not in the commercial circle. They are students from Universidad de San Marcos.

Please publish your long essays. I would like to have them in the nigh table as I have Belington’s One Night Stands, Theatre Notes by Kenneth Tynan and Roland Barthes's short essays on theatre. Not many Anglo speaking people mention Barthes but I find it very good. Please add a thematic index if you publish the book.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Gustavo - thanks, and will do my best. I'm unlikely to find a publisher here, though. Most likely I'll have to self-publish if I do, which will mean an ebook, which is not so good for the bedside table and illustrious company. Good point on the index too.