Who Pays for Previews?

I write this in response to the news that Lyn Gardner’s weekly preview blog is to stop.

Lyn Gardner’s weekly piece was supremely informed, and accessible to a wide range of readers across the country.  Who else can recommend shows that you know will be good?  You travel to a new city, you have an idea what to see.  A touring production comes to your city and you can rely on a recommendation from the other end of the country.  Reviews are backwards looking.   Bloggers tend to be local.

The Guardian bore the cost, the theatres reaped the rewards.  This is not only a backward step for the newspaper and its readers, but also a bitter blow to the companies and theatres putting on lesser known work.  And of course to those that would have discovered new work that they would have enjoyed.

What we need are informed judgements on which we can decide whether to see a performance.  Those people that have seen the show and can highlight what is coming up.  And what do we have?  An army of PR employees and companies trying to promote shows.  There is a fundamental difference between sites that write content to be informed and those that aim to maximise click through – ‘entertainment’ sites which list out the shows but don’t really add value to the theatre goer who might be looking for something different.  Just PR.

I don’t do many previews.  I choose those that interest me.  I interview people that I personally find fascinating, or whose work I enjoy.  I do a monthly round up which hopefully pulls in my experience.  But I am Manchester based; what every city needs is a preview that takes into account what is touring, has seen it, and can recommend it.  It has to be nationally sourced.  It’s got to carry respect.   If not Lyn Gardner then who?  Perhaps some sort of theatre blogging network between cities.

The theatres benefit and are prepared to spend a lot of money on marketing and PR.  Why do we expect those with real expertise on the country’s theatre scene – journalists, bloggers, researchers – to work unpaid?

In terms of supporting the diverse theatre that exists within the UK, was there anything as effective as Lyn’s blog? It would be fascinating to see just how many tickets were sold directly as a result of weekly posts.  Is it too far fetched to suggest that this could have been an effective place to spend Arts Council money?

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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