5th year as a theatre blogger: some thoughts

I started LouReviews back in 2011 as a hobby, and as part of London Theatre Bloggers (many of us are still around now).

In 2018 I had to give up work due to a mental health condition, so decided to give this a go seriously.

In 2019, LouReviews first full year, I reviewed everything I saw, whether I paid for the tickets or not. In that year I obtained over £1,000 of complementary tickets and paid over £4,000 to attend other shows. Now, I only review when I am gifted a ticket. I can’t afford anything else!

My passion for theatre though has not diminished since my first trip – also, I now have to manage a physical condition which is sometimes limiting, so in a way this is a good outlet for my creativity without being under the demands of others!

How many hours do you need to put in?

A lot more than I originally thought. It isn’t a regular 35 or 40 hour week. I do all my admin as well as watching shows, writing, uploading, and social media.

Every upcoming show needs to be planned and researched. I can’t always operate on the assumption I will be invited to review so many hours are lost in work for shows where I never hear back or have tentative confirnation which then turns into “no capacity”.

For shows I know I am definitely seeing I will start to plan around social media promotion and background knowledge as early as I can, and also try to find complementary shows to see or feature.

I estimate I spend 6-8 hours on an average day plus travel time/watching time for shows. The admin can be stressful as constant chasing is often (not always, thankfully) required.

How easy it is to build relationships with PRs?

It varies. Some find me. Some were recommended to me, and I have to say, they have been the ones I have struggled with most. News releases, yes, but invites are often like pulling teeth, and it isn’t a status or longevity issue.

Another point to note is that many venues use multiple PRs or chop and change, or a person with which one builds a professional relationship can move elsewhere. It is often difficult to find out who is representing what, to be honest, and that is another time pressure.

I really do value the good guys out there who have respect for our work and value our content. I don’t have much time for those who ask what my site is when I have literally just reviewed for them, or who “can’t find space” then ask me to share things about the show on social media.

Is there a blogging community?

There is! I found pre-Covid there was a strong community of solo bloggers who were absolutely supportive of each other. Great writers and great people.

One thing that has changed is the rise of the influencer, who is either a YouTuber or a recognisable face. Some PRs seem to value their sites more than the more anonymous reviewers, and that has definitely been more the case post-Covid. (You could write a whole thesis on the influencer in theatre!)

As long as we comment, read, support and chat to each other, it’s all good.

Is it easy to access a range of shows?

You will be inundated with news and requests, especially for smaller shows and festivals. I value all theatre, big and small – my site is looking for the best the capital can offer and I look for a wide range of content.

However, sometimes short notice requests come through, and it just isn’t possible to say yes to everything. There are venues I try to cover several times a year, and festivals too.

I cover everything from West End plays and musicals, classic revivals, new writing (especially female-led or LGBTQ), cabaret, to children’s shows, dance, work in development, and concerts. If I’m interested in something, it means it both fits in and that I am enthusiastic about it!

What about work reviewing outside of theatre shows?

Film has become a crucial part of what I review – mainly through screeners I watch at home, but also occasionally through live screenings. Books are always welcome, and the occasional exhibition.

What about digital theatre?

I do regular reviewing of digital content, which bridges the gap between stage and film and allows me to work outside of London, including the USA.

Digital theatre has become a key point of my theatre-going for pleasure, too (for example I subscribe to National Theatre at Home instead of the standard membership).

What about shows and venues you can’t get access to?

Some I choose to pay to go to and see shows, but you won’t see them get a full review.

For venues too far out or difficult to get to which do invite me, interviews or digital content reviews are the way forward, and that is growing.

West End shows might get the “cheap seat” review, but that will not cover an appraisal of the show. Others I just choose not to see because of cost or time constraints.

Is it better to work with a team?

I managed teams in my other jobs for a long time. I like the freedom of it just being me and having the ability to work at my own pace. I did attend too many shows early on but have now scaled that back, especially after a health scare last year.

It would be nice to have admin help and a proofreader but that’s not possible without a means to pay them, and then it opens all kinds of issues around employment laws you can stay out of as a solo operator.

What about opportunities as a team reviewer?

I work for BroadwayWorld UK and NorthWestEnd as a team reviewer, but these are also voluntary jobs without income, and one does not allow republication of content elsewhere.

It does give access to opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise get, which makes it valuable and gives my Muck Rack listings a bit of variety.

What is the role of the theatre reviewer?

To be honest and as objective as possible. I personally dislike star ratings, but needs must as PRs seem to like them as do shows big and small. So it is about giving a show that rating too, which I find hard when it is comparing apples with oranges.

The role is about supporting and promoting theatre in all its forms, from the biggest, flashiest piece to the smallest amateur or street performance. What I love the most is finding a brilliant new show or a potential star of the future, especially if they are in a smaller venue.

It’s also about being critical without being unkind. There are ways of saying a show doesn’t work, or it has weak points, without being nasty. It is also important to remember that yours is one person’s opinion, alone, and as objective as you try to be, you can never be completely unbiased.

Are you an influencer or a reviewer?

A reviewer or critic (but I find that word a bit dry and old-fashioned and use it sparingly). I do have TikTok, Insta, and YouTube but haven’t used any to their full potential yet. An influencer, in my definition, is one who makes thenself the primary focus – quite rightly in a visual medium.

Do metrics matter?

That’s a tricky one. Metrics do matter, but they are not the whole story. Lots of things influence them like changes of domain name (which can kill your DA or statistics), and I find it varies very widely, which items of content gain traffic. It isn’t always the pieces you think!

How much does it cost you to run a website, cover travel, etc.?

My WordPress is £300 a year including plan, support, domain name, email, and from this year, VAT.

Travel – I buy 3 monthly zone 1-3 travelcards so that’s around £2,500 a year. Anything outside those zones is extra.

Then there are programmes and playtexts which aren’t always provided, which can be £6-10 a time. I often find a playtext essential for a new piece of writing.

I don’t pay for any social media accounts as I don’t feel the outlay is worth the return.

What are some of the pitfalls?

Not being able to get on PR lists. Being excluded from bigger shows. No or late response to enquiries. Being bumped from invite lists at the last minute. Spending more money than you make for doing a job!

Can you make any money?

If you sell tickets, yes, or maybe through Patreon content or selling banner or sidebar advertising. I have heard of some bloggers charging for social media posts, but that doesn’t really sit well with me.

I have a Kofi donation page on which any contribution is very welcome!

What do you wish you had known when you started?

I was naive, I think. I thought you had a certain path to get your metrics up and your content valued, but I have no idea what that path is now!

One thing you need to keep telling yourself is that it isn’t getting invited to West End shows that makes you successful. For me, the success is in getting an opinion out that is engaging and authentic.

Also, I underestimated the amount of work needed to keep the website fresh – I do need to retweak and set up new menus.

Is it a good job where your health is concerned?

Yes and no. As long as you manage your workload, it will be OK. I do find that sometimes my mental health can suffer with a knock-back or bad experience with a PR, but you have to be mindful of that and not let it hurt you.

I also find it hard sometimes going solo to some venues and shows because of my anxiety, but never feel entitled to a plus 1 ticket (although of course they are nice to have both the company and a second opinion).

What is the nicest bit of feedback you have had?

Even having a review acknowledged can be nice; liked or shared, even more so.

“Friend of emerging artists” was one which I particularly liked, and one small theatre group said, “everyone wants you to review them.” That makes the downsides all worthwhile.