It’s safe to say that 2020 hasn’t exactly gone to plan for any of us working and writing in the arts sector. This was year two of a three year plan to redevelop LouReviews as an influencer for London theatre. I had goals to accomplish.
But then in mid-March, theatreland closed and much of it remains dark, blighted by uncertainty and redundancies. A digital space, thriving on donations, has been in place, and that is what I decided I was going to support.
Last year I reflected on the first six months of the plan, how LouReviews had evolved, and what I had taken on board.
Building the brand
A key part of the first year of the relaunched LouReviews was getting the brand known across social media. It was also crucial to connect with new people in the industry, whether in person or by email.
One goal was to build my following and views, which has been achieved. It takes a lot of work – a mixture of seeking out news and information, and pluggling into professional and PR networks. It is a constant decision making process and one I take very seriously.
If I just duplicate PR press releases I am prioritising some shows above others. I will feature something that interests me, but also look to interview and/or review. LouReviews is not primarily a news site, I want it to be something a bit more. So I seek out small companies and initiatives.
It is also realistic. I am unlikely to be invited to review big shows, although if I am asked, great. I might add more value than if I review from a restricted view seat. Smaller shows are more of a passion, so I naturally gravitate there.
I also wanted other places to showcase my writing. 2020 has allowed me to join the teams at MyTheatreMates, BroadwayWorldUK, and NorthWestEnd. Others are on my radar, perhaps. It would be nice to build up other bylines and relationships and I am open to other opportunities.
This plan was going well, pre-lockdown. Half of my shows seen were going to be self-funded, half through press tickets. This would allow me to cover a wider range of shows than my budget would allow.
LouReviews gets no funding or income, so I have to be careful. Each review or interview requires several hours of work so I prefer to know quickly what I need to plan for. It is not possible to prioritise something if I am left wondering whether I will be invited to cover a show until the last minute.
I have also launched a Ko-fi account this year (a virtual tip jar). I might consider a Patreon if it was worth it both for me as a creator and for those contributuing. Gaining a small income to sustain LouReviews is a long-term consideration I have to think about.
I also planned this year to submit work to other places but that was somewhat scuppered by lockdown. It is still a plan, along with something on my YouTube and Vimeo channels.
Finding a niche
This has been easier than I thought. My main focus has become fringe productions that are female led, queer, or concerning mental health. These are spaces where I feel most comfortable and confident watching and writing. I continue to focus on other areas such as new musicals, and since companies have moved into the digital space, a variety of innovative films and streamed content.
The series of posts I planned in 2019 may continue, or I may rest or redevelop them. Time will tell. There is certainly a case for continuing Fringe Focus if artistic directors from those spaces are available for a conversation.
This is still the hardest bit of the job, especially in convincing others I am not an amateur fan site. It isn’t my job to gush over big West End shows or high profile performers. It is my job to provide honest and courteous promotion and critique (and remember, I do it for free in my own space, so am not beholden to what others dictate).
My network is growing. I have succeeded in building a relationship with more PRs, which I value. Where relationships have failed to materialise, OK: it just means their shows and clients will get my attention if I choose to investigate them myself.
On Twitter I generally follow accounts where I can see a commonality of interests. I have curated lists of London and regional venues during lockdown. I have joined some blogger communities, but often they seem devoted to increasing followers, making sponsored content, and selling advertising space.
And I have done a phone interview this year, participated in immersive Zoom shows, and been a Google Meets interviewee, so new experiences are happening!
Know your own worth
In the current climate it is essential. I am a theatre blogger with a valid opinion, the same as any other critic or journalist. I am worth no more or less than anyone else. It is as simple as that. I’m a blunt northerner living in the capital. I have been reviewing since 2011, and have been a published author since the 1990s.
My time is as valuable as anyone else’s. I am privileged to have access to this wonderful performing world, and despite the uncertainty and fear that has existed through lockdown, it has been lovely to see the community come together to support each other. Long may that continue.
After covering the Vault Festival this year, and various digital festivals during lockdown, I’m definitely up for more.
Finding some small source of income. I’m definitely looking, and available. I don’t just write on theatre, but also books, classic film and TV, music, popular culture, politics and exhibitions. I can even be funny, on occasion. Check out my video of Hero the Hedgehog, which got over 28k views on YouTube.
Writing for other theatre sites. I have some in mind, although one site is off the list after unfollowing me on Twitter when I asked about opportunities. I have guest posted three times in the last few months for other blogs, and am open to other collaborations.
Visiting and reviewing at more small theatres in the capital. I hope (and know) that many will survive, and as well as seeing old friends, I am keen to seek out new ones across London.
Developing a section for digital theatre, beyond lockdown. This will cover streams, films and broadcasts both archive and current, including (at last) the BBC Shakespeare series of the 70s and 80s.
And, of course, championing the arts at all times!