- #th8r_crt: A Live and Virtual Discussion
Then there is the whole question, “When do you become a theatre critic?” Well you’re a theatre critic as soon as you say you’re a theatre critic and publish something online.—Kelly Nestruck, “Theatre Criticism and the Internet” Round Table
Expertise has now become democratized—or irrelevant perhaps.—Linda Hutcheon, “Reviewing Reviewing Today”
In Toronto, it is not uncommon to find a poster for a big-ticket musical featuring a quote from the National Post alongside one from Mooney on Theatre, a popular local blog. As Linda Hutcheon asserts, “[W]e are witnessing a major shift in reviewing practices around the world, in the form of the democratization that has come with the explosion of reviewing sites provided by the Internet” (“Reviewing in Canada” 157). This shift has implications not only for theatre audiences, who can now take to their smartphones at intermission to pronounce judgment—or sooner if the performance offers “tweet seats”—but also for artists, who can use the web to respond to reviewers more readily than before and incite critical debate of their own. With print publications shrinking, folding, and increasingly moving arts reviewing online, seasoned critics are also faced with a changing landscape.
In October 2011, I moderated a public round table on theatre criticism and the Internet connected to an undergraduate course I teach at the University of Toronto. The panel featured Megan Mooney, founder of Mooney on Theatre; the Globe and Mail’s Kelly Nestruck; Aislinn Rose, artistic producer of Praxis Theatre, a company known for its innovative use of social media; and NOW Magazine’s Glenn Sumi. I also set up a Twitter feed so that audience members and online followers could participate. The conversation that ensued covered topics ranging from the ethics of theatre blogging, to the value of credibility online, to social media’s dramaturgical potential.
Not only did Twitter out several of our panellists as closet fans of The Bachelor, but it also promulgated our discussion across the country. Our hashtag #DRM231 was picked up by artists, audiences, and critics from Vancouver to Halifax, and in two hours we generated nearly 100 tweets, adding an extra layer to our conversation and extending its life beyond the temporal and geographical boundaries of our session. From a pedagogical perspective, Twitter offered my students the opportunity to see the connection between our classroom discussions and the “real”—and virtual—world, and to understand their own roles and responsibility in the critical discourse about theatre.
What follow are highlights from a transcript of the two-hour event, interspersed with screen captures from the Twitter conversation. I hope that these brief excerpts will inspire further research into the impact of blogging and social media on theatre criticism in Canada, an issue that is beginning to be explored in other contexts.2
Can you each talk about the appeal of the blogosphere and what distinguishes your online activities?
Part of what I’ve strived to do is to fit into the entity of the Globe and Mail critic but then also push the boundaries of that in some ways. The question of authority is something that interests me because that’s something that a newspaper record found very important at one point, but then the idea of a newspaper record is changing because of the web. What should a paper be: should it be reporting what’s happened in the last twenty-four hours, or do you have to move the stories forward in some way because people have already read them online? Similarly, in terms of theatre criticism, I’ve always felt that reviews are the start of a discussion rather than the final word on a production, and so online has allowed me to play with that notion and engage in discussions about a particular production or larger issues.
People read NOW online, but we still have a loyal readership of the hard copy. I think you can do different things online. You can definitely add multimedia: sometimes when I do an interview with an actor or a director I put in audio clips so readers...