Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Theatre: a social or critical experience?

Everyone talks about shows and movies they have seen or books they have read.  How has twitter changed the way people talk about theatre, the way they recommend theatre for their friends, and the authority of professional critics, now that everyone has something to say?

Lone Theatre-goer

In this post from superb ayoungertheatre blog, the Lone Theatregoer goes to the theatre seven times in seven days, makes friends with the person sitting next to her, and concludes that although you don’t talk to your companion in the theatre, the process of going is a social experience thanks to the conversation it generates.

Theatre and the twitterverse

In the blogosphere and twitterverse these days, such conversation can come from doing a similar thing online: tweeting, discussing and showing your appreciation or criticism for shows with a community of people you have never met.  The lone theatre-going experience is definitely a surreal one, though there is no shortage of discussion on these topics on the internet, and you are alone only in the physical sense.  But is the internet-conversation on theatre a good substitute for the real thing?

Blogging previews – the debate

Firstly there is the possibility that theatre is being over discussed and over criticised in this way.  Here, Matt Trueman argues that amateur theatre bloggers should not attend previews, suggesting that the criticism of such bloggers generates online momentum that can be damaging to box office figures even before the show is ready.  However, this works on the assumption that there is an obvious split between the theatre blogger and the professional critic – surely the point of online criticism is that the gap between the two is closing; anyone can tweet an opinion, and everyone does!

Sharing the experience with people you love

Secondly, theatre is also about sharing experiences with friends and loved ones.  Surely the opinion of your friend, your partner, or your daughter will mean more to you than the random person tweeting about the show you’ve seen on Twitter, the amateur-but-experienced review blogger, or even the professional critic, however golden their opinion.

The power is in the audience

Whether you’re taking a loved one to the theatre, or tweeting about it after, it is all publicity, and eventually cash, for the box office, and therefore the show itself.  The ‘golden critic’ has limited power where footfalls are concerned – as Mark Kermode, a favourite critic for thousands, has said in relation to genre films – ‘for as long as you keep going (to bad films, mainly) they’ll keep making them’.  This is particularly true for extending runs in the West End.
In the end, the social feedback from a show has always been a tried and tested way of deciding what gets shown in the West End – twitter and blog sites just speed up this process!  Surely the future, even the present, of criticism is social.
The authority of the critic is just the ability of the critic to get their point across.

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