Theatre blogging. It’s the hot topic at the moment, it seems. Since the unveiling of a rather acerbic new writer who had been writing anonymously for 6 months by the newly launched online publication The Global Mail: http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/now-everyone-really-is-a-critic/23/

It has had reactions from Queen blogger Alison Croggon in Melbourne:

And then there’s me:
(And not to mention countless big discussions on Facebook with James Waites)

Jana Petrovic: http://guerrillasemiotics.com/2012/02/ah-but-anyone-can/

Crikey.com has jumped on it, Ben Eltham courteously summarizing the reaction:

There has been discussion about the value of blogs everywhere… on Facebook, twitter, tumblr, cafes, text message, email, private message, dinner conversation, recent job interviews – it’s a powerful and beguiling topic it seems.

For me, it’s endlessly surprising just how many people read theatre blogs – I read as much as I can – and I have my preferences and my favourites – but I’m not sure why many others do. It makes me feel connected to the theatre community which can so often feel like a clicky closed shop. It can inspire me to think differently. It is a recent development that my site measures the hit rate and visitor capacity via Google analytics. Before that time, I had assumed no one read me and I really didn’t want to know. I wanted to “write as though no-one read me.” As far as I was concerned, this was a holding pen for my ideas as an artist and commentator and reviewer. And if people contacted me, that was great – but I never assumed what I wrote was read at all.

I made the decision I would not advertise on my site, making it completely independent. Making sure that the relationship between who and what I write about and the concept of “revenue” is never driving the content on the site. I write what I want, when I want, about who I want. I use an old WordPress format – as basic and black and white as possible. I made a decision to declare my interests (including my own work) and dedicate myself to responding to the independent sector and to reviewing and promoting new Australian plays.

And tomorrow I have the great honour of being included on a panel of reviewers in my capacity as a blogger for the inaugural NSW Writer’s Centre’s Playwrights Festival, curated by Kate Mulvany… details can be found here.
This festival has been in the pipeline for nearly 2 months – as Kate has approached us to talk, debate, share and confess our thoughts on playwriting and theatre.

Imagine my surprise when on Wednesday (2 days ago) I receive a group email from Belvoir with the subject:
Free Sunday Forum: Are bloggers changing the theatrical landscape?
The blurb went like this:
“Please join us for an extra special Sunday Forum dedicated to the current debate within the arts community around the art of cultural blogging. Who speaks for who now, and what’s the process? Has the theatrical landscape changed with the arrival of bloggers? Blogging vs reviewing; what’s the difference? This is destined to be a hot debate, and we’ve got a great panel lined up, featuring some high profile reviewers and bloggers including: Elissa Blake, Alison Croggon, Chris Hook, Darryn King and Jane Simmons.”

Imagine my surprise to see not one established Sydney Blogger featured. And so I tweeted:
“Just got sent an invite to buy a ticket to see a panel on blogging @Belvoir on Sunday. A bit weird considering Saturday http://www.nswwc.org.au/whats-on/festivals-2/playwriting-festival/”

“Odd they want to advertise/encourage Simmons – why not James Waites? Or Jana Perkovic? Or Jane Howard? Also what about Kevin Jackson? @Belvoir”

“@alisoncroggon @Belvoir Oh Alison, there is nothing I love more than listening to your razor-sharp mind incisively cut through an argument!”

“@alisoncroggon @Belvoir but the line up suggests a Print VS Blog discussion – which as you aptly noted is an old argument.”

No response from Belvoir.

I called Mr Waites to ask him if he’d been approached. No. I found this absolutely bizarre given James Waites seniority in the field of reviewing – 30 years of reviewing across platforms (print/ online and now blog.) He has recently finished interviewing theatre luminaries for an ABC doco, he wrote an article for the Belvoir book. But he was not asked nor included.

I looked at the names – print reviewer, Melbourne blogger, print reviewer, online reviewer, Sydney’s newest blogger (who Ralph Myers, Belvoir AD had dismissed out of hand in The Global Mail Article.)

I felt confused. How could Belvoir be hosting this discussion the DAY AFTER the NSW Writer’s Festival are leading a similar one, and without any long standing Sydney-based bloggers?

I’m not going to deny feeling personally confused too. The first question addressed to me at a job interview at Belvoir was “How’s things in the blogosphere” and then ended with quizzing me on the identities of some active anonymous bloggers (back then). I must say Belvoir are kind enough to invite me to their second night performances for which I always write considered responses on my blog. And they have quoted me on their site before – when I have given glowing reviews of their shows. AND they include me in their subscriber survey of “which arts publications/sites do you read.” They know I blog. And yet I wasn’t told about it.

And I started thinking about the Sydney bloggers –
http://5thwall.wordpress.com/ – which has a specific page for “critic watch”
http://epistemysics.wordpress.com/ – Young and enthusiastic blogger/budding playwright, who regularly interacts with Belvoir – whom Belvoir has even asked him to delete sections of his blog for copyright reasons.
http://jameswaites.com/ – Our grand elder!
http://kjtheatrereviews.blogspot.com.au/ – Industry guru!
http://www.ellistabletalk.com/ – socio-political sometimes theatre reviewer

And then I remembered a resource site: mastered by a theatre lover called Niall Tangeny: https://sites.google.com/site/theatreinsydney/theatre-blogs-and-reviewers

Australia (National)
Aussie Theatre (excellent theatre site with lots of features) http://www.aussietheatre.com.au
Theatre People (an excellent theatre site with stories and interviews and reviews) http://theatrepeople.com.au/reviews
Stage Whispers (another great theatre site with lots of features) http://www.stagewhispers.com.au/reviews
Australian Stage (national theatre site with a WHAT”S ON section for each city) http://www.australianstage.com.au
Crikey Theatre Reviews http://www.crikey.com.au/topic/theatre-reviews/
Crikey’s Curtain Call http://blogs.crikey.com.au/curtaincall/
The Australian Newspaper Arts Reviews (incl. John McCallum ) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/reviews

Sydney based
Sydney Theatre Company Blog http://stcblog.posterous.com/
Christian Baines http://christianbaines.blogspot.com
Jason Blake http://eightnightsaweek.blogspot.com/ Sydney Morning Herald reviewer
Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary http://kjtheatrereviews.blogspot.com/ NIDA teacher
Jodi McAlister http://theatrefromthebackseat.blogspot.com/
Emma Salkild http://emmasalkild.com/category/reviews/theatre/
Diana Simmonds http://www.stagenoise.com/
Jane Simmons http://shitonyourplay.blogspot.com/
Augusta Supple http://www.augustasupple.com
James Waites http://www.jameswaites.com
Epistemysics http://epistemysics.wordpress.com/
The Primate Perspective http://www.theprimateperspective.com/category/reviews/theatre/

And I wondered: Why were all these print and online journos taking up time on a “Blog” forum?

Then, magically today the blurb and title of the talk changed:

Reviewing theatre: in print and online
3pm 4 March
Please join us for an extra special Sunday Forum dedicated to the current debate within the arts community around the art of cultural blogging. Who speaks for who now, and what’s the process? Has the theatrical landscape changed with the arrival of bloggers? This will be an illuminating discussion and a chance for you, the audience, to meet the critics and ask them your burning questions. We’ve got a great panel lined up, including: Elissa Blake, Alison Croggon, Chris Hook, Darryn King, Jane Simmons joining our host Chris Taylor from The Chaser.”

A totally different focus now. Now the focus is Print versus Online and a “meet the Press” style invitation.

And I found out that the forum was initiated by Elissa Blake (Sun Herald). Because I was wondering why the field seemed so narrow and included established, well-respected and paid reviewers who are a part of the Sydney Theatre Critics Circle? the answer had been “time constraints.”

Not quite a discussion on blogs, anymore. Or is it?

So I am writing this blog as a means of addressing some of the text messages, Facebook responses ( ME: I wasn’t invited to the Belvoir forum on Blogs. FRIEND: That’s like holding a forum on homosexual piano players and not inviting Elton John) and emails I have received about it:

What I love about blogging (not just online reviewing which i also do from time to time for Australianstage.com.au) is that it is intimate, independent, personal and immediate. I am not filtered by an editor, limited by a word count or by reciprocal media deals with theatre companies.

I love the community it generates. I can have long conversations with other bloggers about a play or idea or industry issue. I love being able to link online to other writers – and the interchange and exchange that brings. I love the democracy of it.

I’ve said it before, blogging isn’t easy. Even those starting out like Rebecca Saffir can attest to fear: http://playingforoneeighty.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/on-fear/ It is lonely and sometimes the pressure (self-imposed and otherwise) is too much. Sometimes the nasty tweets or comments or emails from others is just too much. Some days I can barely handle emails from those who are disappointed I’m not more rigorous with remedying my typos or grammatical errors. Last week I had to defend my right to say “no” to attending an indie production of The Maids – due to severe time limitations and a preference considerations (new Australian work first). And it was a huge email conversation, I assure you. Would have been quicker to attend the show, write three sentences about the production.

But I believe in genuine, heartfelt, sincere exchange.

I believe a healthy arts scene operates eye to eye with all participants – artists, critics, administrators, punters, bloggers and all those who are a mix of those things.

Through this blog I have back and engaged with national and international discussion – including the comments on Women in positions of creative control stirred by Belvoir’s 2010 season launch. The power of the blog was very felt. Joanna Erkine’s Cluster blog was at the centre of it. Then again when the Premier’s Literary Award ignore playwrights – blogs were called on again to mobilise, inform and inspire.

Blogs are messy, inconsistent – an ever-evolving platform for discussion and instruction, feedback, debate, sharing, promotion.

I am honoured to be a part of the Sydney blogging community. I proudly support and promote all who dare to write – all who dare to make. I am humbled by the heartfelt responses I receive. I am inspired by conversations I have through and because of my blog. I am inspired by the writing of my fellow bloggers – I am actively encouraged and supported by them. We talk. We discuss. We listen, and console when necessary – and keep each other accountable. We respectfully and openly agree to disagree. I feel lucky to have such great colleagues and writers – people like James Waites and Kevin Jackson who have volumes of Australian theatre history deeply lodged in their hearts and minds.

And more and more I am excited about the future of blogging – I am very excited that the recent Australian Theatre Forum (headed by the visionary – Fiona Winning) felt it would be egregious not to have bloggers attend to reflect and respond to the ideas within the forum. When I shyly thanked her at the end of ATF 2011 for having me along, she replied “Of course, I’d be stupid not to acknowledge the importance of blogs in the community.”

One last point that I’ll make about this is the timing of the Belvoir forum – the day after the Mardi Gras Parade, also in competition with “THE F-WORD: A DAY OF FEMINIST DEBATE” with Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf at The Sydney Opera House… and it seems to completely ignore the discussion scheduled at the NSW Writer’s Centre’s Playwrights Festival. Why then? What’s the hurry?

I wish I could have felt a part of this forum and discussion. I wish I could feel welcome even sitting in the audience. But for some reason I don’t. I’m sure many of you will be in attendance. I won’t be. Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear your response.

But in the meantime, I offer a song of solace and inspiration – an Aussie rock ballad appropriated by those passionate folk in The Netherlands – proof that Australian voices are important and very much loved.