Book review – Theatre blogging, by Megan Vaughan

As a theatre blogger myself (seven years as a serious hobby, just over one year as a professional reviewer and interviewer), I was naturally drawn to Vaughan’s book which is divided into two parts: one, history and opinion on the art of blogging: two, the reproduction of the work of bloggers themselves (forty in total).

There’s much to digest in a fascinating book which mixes an academic tone with a more chatty, informal one. Perceptions of what blogging is when applied to the personal or professional spaces are explored by a range of voices, brought together to assess where this group of unpaid ambassadors for the arts may take us into the future.

Particularly notable is the reproduction of an edited WhatsApp group chat featuring a range of writers identified only by first names, who talk frankly about money, artistic freedom and issues around time and being taken seriously. This reminded me of The Stage‘s regular column, The Green Room, which itself dismissed bloggers in part recently as “any git in a cardie” (there’s clearly work to be done).

The publisher being involved in the editing of some of the blog pieces, plus the book description being focused on the “amateur” aspect of blogging is at odds with the story of one writer’s rejection from a critic’s circle which didn’t view her as professional, or Vaughan’s assertion that blogging equates to the control of a personal space in which to say whatever one wants. Vaughan acknowledges the former herself in the spirit of continued debate, presenting links back to original pieces if they remain online.

Issues such as the perception of trained journalists who act as critics towards the bloggers who have joined them in “their” space is explored, in both the context of gatekeeping and exclusion: for example Mark Shenton’s eventual co-founding with Terri Paddock of MyTheatreMates, the space for cross-publicising of professional bloggers recruited under a strict set of criteria.

The growth of social media, too, is considered, where anyone and everyone can express an opinion quickly and decisively. More transient, but also revolutionary, are the games, codes and forms developed by some bloggers to accompany reviews in the early peak of the internet.

This has survived to some degree (in the criticism penned by Ava Wong Davies, for one example) but I don’t see a wide engagement with the likes of Snapchat or TikTok as yet. Interestingly, in recent weeks we have seen this creativity moving into the national press with a review of the Cats film in the form of a poem.

Vaughan’s assertion that objective writing without bringing in personal or political experience is “not blogging” is bold and divisive, but perhaps there is a grain of truth where personal bloggers are concerned: the West End Whingers and their Paint Never Dries is one example of a type of journalism which refuses to toe the line.

This is an important and persuasive book which has certainly made me stop and think about my own brand, writing style and goals for future pieces. I heartily recommend it to critics and theatre bloggers at any stage in their careers, with the excerpts being reproduced being worth the purchase of the book alone.

Megan Vaughan’s Theatre blogging: the emergence of a critical culture is published by Bloomsbury.

LouReviews received a complimentary copy of Theatre blogging in exchange for this review.