Welcome to The Mix, an occasional pot-pourri about London theatre.
In this instalment I want to talk about matinee performances, a godsend for those of us who don’t want to travel too far in the evenings, those who want to double up shows, and vampires.
That matinee feeling
My favourites are midweek, followed by Saturdays then Sundays.
A bit of judicious planning can mean a really dedicated theatre goer may be able to see a massive fourteen shows in a week; more if morning shows for children are available.
That’s the possibility of 728 shows in a year. And yes, there are that many available, with over 250 performance spaces in London alone.
The matinee audience
Matinee audiences differ from theatre to theatre: in the West End you’ll find American, Japanese and Korean tourists, coach parties from the North of England, school parties, and senior citizens.
Elsewhere you’ll find students, resting actors, the local regulars, flexi workers and a melting pot of interesting characters.
It’s easier to chat at a matinee, I find, perhaps because there is something subversive about sitting in a dark auditorium during the day watching people pretending to be other people.
There’s a feel of the night time about it, as if afternoon audiences are all complicit in the feeling of “bunking off”.
It’s also rather nice and civilised not to have the pressure of rushing for the last bus or equivalent.
That matinee time
Times vary. I’ve been at The Yard at 1pm, Southwark Playhouse at 3.30pm, the Orange Tree at 4pm, the Etcetera Theatre at 12.30pm.
Above The Stag does early shows (matinee-ish) on a Sunday at 6.30pm. The Omnibus Theatre is often at 4pm.
Some theatres insist on 2.15pm which seems perverse. I’m not even going to mention the midnight “matinee” at the Globe.
Play your cards right, synchronise your watches, and hope the trains and buses are running, and you can have many a cultural day around London. You might even save a bit of money!
The matinee and me
I like matinees because they allow me to get to, or consider going to, corners of London like Clapham, Camden, Highgate, Islington, Hornchurch, Bromley, Honor Oak and Penge.
If I’m truthful, theatres which are strictly evenings only are a pain, and in some cases I may never visit. Much better for me to be a daytime traveller, where possible.
I appreciate some theatres cannot afford the expense of opening their spaces for daytime visitors, and that sometimes it just isn’t practical. I’ll come to you if I can (The Hope in Islington, the New Diorama in Camden are just two examples), but if you’re out in the far corners of outer London, it’s harder.
I’d like to shout out to all the theatres big and small which have been so welcoming in afternoons and early shows during this year of theatrical adventures. It’s been a blast.
I hope to visit many more of you in 2020, and to meet many more interesting people who like to spend their daytimes watching stage shenanigans (and the companies who perform for us). People like Alison and Yvonne, Julie and Mark, Howard and Gwen, Malcolm and Mark, Judy and Laura, Toby’s mum, Jenny and Sue …
I understand that star ratings can make or break a show. They make good visual copy for a poster or a draw on social media.
They even make critics and bloggers more visible because the more four and five star ratings they give, the more publicity they get. Shows don’t tend to quote without little icons on their publicity.
And yet, I can’t bring myself to use that five star scale.
What is a star rating, anyway?
The star rating is supposed to be a mark of quality: a 1 is not worth your time, and a 5 means you must sell all your worldly goods for a ticket (often not that far from the truth).
Worryingly, three stars or below seems to constitute failure. Every show must be brilliant, fabulous, magnificent, remarkable. It’s just not possible.
Recently, I’ve been adding short reviews to the Stagedoor app to try it out, and there you have to add a star rating. Four and above and you are recommending a show: for me that causes a problem, because I might like a show but don’t see it as very good (****) or exceptional (*****).
There are plenty of solid, enjoyable shows out there which do not really deserve those top star ratings. They are not bad, either. They are the average, three star shows which I don’t feel particularly strongly about; and there will always be lots of them.
But we are not all the same!
It is also difficult to rate one show’s worth against another: the big budget musical, the difficult new WE play, the fringe revival, the experimental work watched by one man and his dog. If I gave something from each of these categories the same star rating, I am not saying they are the same thing.
Chalk and cheese, apples and oranges, a 2,000 seater and a budget of millions against a 40 seater and a budget of tuppence. To me, theatre is theatre. It is about celebration, informed and honest opinion, constructive criticism, and not about a show’s chart position.
If I rave about a show (a silent four- or five-star verdict), I’ll say why I genuinely love it. But mine is just one opinion of many.
Who are these ratings for?
To be honest, I’ve seen lazy reviews that say nothing of interest but have a big fat star rating at the end.
I want to know what a show has to offer me and what the cast, creatives and crew have conjured up together to bring their work to the stage. That’s far more valuable than just saying “this is the best thing since …”.
I do glance at star ratings, and they often surprise me.
But I don’t take them as the gospel truth: even a poor show has something to recommend it or can have something highlighted from kindness to make the failure not quite so acute.
Those one-star ratings can be unnecessarily crushing, just as full marks can make a company complacent.
And then there’s creative marketing, like this two-star Guardian review for a film made to look that little bit different.
The star rating and me
Star ratings should not be the only way to assess and promote theatre quality. In fact, they can be quite decisive and problematic at times. I note that the lack of higher star ratings for some shows caused issues at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
You won’t see star ratings here on LouReviews.
Nor will you see favourable reviews in lieu of press tickets – unless I really do love the show, that is, and then you’ll hear all about it.
If I don’t fall in love with a show, you’ll know, and I will always try to explain why.
I might hint at a show’s worth, but you can fill in the gaps. And that’s a lot more fun as a consumer … isn’t it?
73 questions was started by Vogue in 2014, offering their readers a look into the lives of celebrities in a fun and easy way. Since then, bloggers all over the globe have taken this question and answer game and put their own spin on it. This has become the Vogue Parody – 73 Questions.
I was nominated to join the game by Becky at Musical Theatre Lives In Me. Becky writes reviews, news, articles and interviews on her blog, which is well worth a look.
On with the questions!
Vogue Parody – Questions 1-10
What’s your usual Starbucks order?
I admit I am more of a Costa girl but I do like a hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows as a treat, or a mocha if I’m feeling virtuous.
What does your work station look like?
Comfy. I like my sofa, my laptop or phone, and something on in the background as white noise, usually Judge Judy or Four in a Bed. The room itself is a bit chaotic, with books, programmes, magazines, CDs, DVDs and remote controls all around. Out of my window I can see the back courtyard which has the occasional visiting wood pigeon or squirrel.
Cheese and onion pie. It’s been passed down through the family and now I make my own recipe. The secret is not too much Worcester sauce and ready rolled pastry. If I crave something sweet then I make an excellent apple and carrot cake.
I always go back to Thomas Hardy. Every novel, every poem, every short story.
What do you think of open relationships?
Every person is different, and I am in no position to judge, but open relationships are not for me.
What is your favourite video game?
I don’t really play them. I occasionally play Criminal Case, but games like that are a bore.
Guilty pleasure treat?
A Wispa. I joined the campaign to bring them back, and it was a great day when they did.
Gone With The Wind (1939).
Watership Down by Richard Adams. I read it once a year.
Twitter or Instagram?
Both, but I have been on Twitter a lot longer and all human life is there.
Laptop or desktop?
Laptop, although mine has seen better days and the hinges are broken.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
From a former co-worker, “you don’t always have to stay on the wheel”.
What project are you working on right now?
Other than the blog, I am writing a chapter for a book about memories of British television shows. Rewatching episodes and researching around them is fun. As far as the blog is concerned, growing my following is my number #1 priority.
Did you get good grades in school?
I was in the first year to sit GCSEs which meant year one we studied for ‘O’ level then year two we changed focus. Given all the upheaval my grades were fine, ditto with my ‘A’ levels two years later.
Absolutely not. I even got kicked out of PE classes in school for being totally useless at just about everything.
Do you have a degree?
Yes, in information management.
British. Family are a mix of Yorkshire bandsmen, Lancashire dockers, Black Country miners, and Irish emigres.
What is your favourite kind of blog post?
One which shows some of the blogger’s personality.
What do you like to collect?
Theatre programmes (since 1987). DVDs and books. Cuddly toys.
Describe yourself in three words?
Shy, serious, sensitive.
If you were a rapper, what would your stage name be?
Who was the last person you DM’d?
What’s on the top of your wish list right now?
Pretty Woman, if and when it is confirmed.
Slytherin. It seems the most creative, plus it is headed up by Snape.
How many tattoos do you have?
A big fat zero.
What are you most thankful for so far this year?
That my mental health is slowly improving, after a frankly awful 2018.
What’s the best thing that’s happened so far this month?
I went to the Falsettos press event. It was great, and I felt like a genuine member of the theatre blogging scene.
What’s the best thing that has happened to you today?
I reactivated my Goodreads account, which will allow me to start writing seriously about my huge book collection.
Autumn (or Fall, if you’re reading this in America). It isn’t too cold, the colours are beautiful, and it seems a peaceful time of year.
What’s the best thing ever?
The song MacArthur Park, by Richard Harris.
I like Christmas.
Which fictional character do you relate to most?
Fiver in Watership Down.
Do you like surprises?
No. I hate being the centre of attention.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve ever had?
Finding out that the career I had put all my energies into for more than half of my lifetime was not what I wanted any more. It took a crisis in my health for me to realise it.
Which surprise made you cry?
When I first started dating my husband, he bought me a silver necklace with a teeny diamond in it. It was the most beautiful gesture.
What’s the best surprise you’ve ever given?
My mum’s 40th birthday party was fun. We all planned it, there was a council road sign with a slogan on it, balloons, all the family was there (a rare occurrence), and we nearly lost the cat in all the excitement!
Do you like muffins?
A double-edged question for someone born in the North of England! Do you mean the muffins which are cakes (in which case, yes, especially blueberry), or do you mean proper bread muffins with the whole in the top (in which case, definitely yes)?
Do you cook often?
I have a limited range but I can rustle up a decent casserole or pasta bake.
Vogue Parody – Questions 41-50
What’s your favourite dessert?
Blackcurrant jelly with evaporated milk. Lots of memories of home and childhood.
Is there a dessert that you don’t like?
I used to really dislike pears but my taste changed, so no.
Cake or pie?
What’s your least favourite food?
Anything too spicy. I don’t want eating a meal to involve pain.
What’s your favourite condiment?
It’s 4am on a random Saturday, what are you doing?
If you could do a college class, what would it be called?
1930s musicals on both sides of the Atlantic.
Best animated film?
Dumbo (1941). An hour of perfection. It makes me laugh, the lead elephant is cute, the songs are great, and there’s a scene with his mum that always makes me cry.
What has a guy ever said or done to impress you?
When someone is honest enough to open themselves up completely, good and bad, that impresses me. And it has happened now and then.
Best thing to do on a first date?
Don’t try too hard to be something you’re not.
Worst thing to do on a first date?
Anything involving a bodily function.
What’s the best pick-up line?
None of them. They’re too cheesy.
Best comic book character?
I always liked Minnie the Minx. Girl power.
Name three things that are always in your handbag.
Phone, hairbrush, keys (with a keyring my first boyfriend gave to me more than thirty years ago).
If you could play a historical figure in a movie, who would it be?
Annie Kenney, a leading figure in the women’s suffrage movement and a mill girl from my home town.
Kittens or puppies?
Kittens all the way.
Favourite sushi roll?
I have never eaten sushi.
What lipstick do you use?
On very rare occasions, “Pink in the Afternoon”.
What foundation do you use?
It’s a Revlon beige one, but I don’t wear it all the time.
Blow dry or air dry?
Blow dry all the time, although I probably wash my hair far too much.
If you could sing a duet with anybody, who would you choose?
I’d go right back to the dawn of musical films and pick Nelson Eddy, who had a voice like honey mixed with chocolate. Ideally of course I would have a soprano voice like Jeanette Macdonald to make it work.
If your life was a song, what would the title be?
I Am What I Am (from La Cage Aux Folles).
What’s your favourite animal?
Squirrel. They are clever, cute, funny, athletic and flat out amazing.
Ernest Shepard’s work for Winnie the Pooh.
Questions 71 to 73
Person you would love to have coffee with?
Flo Ziegfeld. I would want to know more about how he assembled the Follies.
Country you would most like to visit?
Probably New Zealand and hobbit-land.
Best way to decompress?
I watch silly videos on YouTube.
I challenge any of my blogging readers who haven’t already done this to have a go!
In this post I’m going to reflect on what I’ve experienced since I relaunched loureviews.blog as a professional concern in January 2019.
This is my own personal viewpoint, based on my experiences over the past seven months.
A bit of background
I have previously built up my career as a professional librarian in academia, for the last four years of my career as a senior manager in a small but upcoming university.
It was a job I enjoyed, and had done well in, but issues with my mental health had caused me to step away from it, and eventually leave both the job and career path, by choice.
Without going into too much detail, I needed to find time and space to work on my own terms, and I am lucky enough to have saved enough money to allow me to do that for at least two or three years. I’m 47 years old now and it is time to do something for me, plus I have a husband heading into retirement in the not too distant future (who has been a brilliant rock thus far).
I have been reviewing theatre shows since 2011 and launched my current blog in January 2012.
I was part of the London Theatre Bloggers network at that time but was unable to take advantage of many of the opportunities on offer, due to work commitments. I attended theatre when I could at weekends, some evenings, but wasn’t as plugged in to the theatre scene as I would have liked. Leaving my paid job has allowed me to change all that.
Building the brand
I changed my Twitter name and my blog name to match each other, created a new profile, and upgraded my blog to become Premium.
I upgraded my Pinterest account to a Business one and started to redesign it and regularly share my blog posts to it.
I joined Instagram and upgraded to a Business account, posting every day.
My Facebook page has been active since 2014 and all posts are automatically uploaded to it, and I also add all posts to my personal Facebook page to be seen by everyone.
My LinkedIn page has been completely redesigned with a new profile and regular posts from my blog. It retains all my previous work experience and publications information.
My personal photo is the same across all my social media, and I now have business cards to support my blog and social media.
My heaviest use of social media is on Twitter, which is about 70% theatre-related and 30% other (cinema, local interest, politics). I have a list of theatres and shows that I follow, plus other bloggers, and regularly interact with them and retweet content.
Every show I see is reviewed, whether I have received a complimentary ticket, a discounted ticket, or have been unwise enough to pay full price.
To give you an idea of what my personal experience has been, so far this year I have paid over £3,000 on theatre tickets and have received around £600 worth of complimentary tickets.
I have started to utilise discount services such as TodayTix, lastminute.com, and there are also seat-filling agencies. I have also had to set myself a travel budget as travelling around the capital, even with an Oyster card, isn’t cheap.
My average spend on a theatre ticket works out for 2019 at £45: I would like to reduce this further for 2020.
Finding a niche
I am not a specialist in any particular type of theatre or arts – I review plays, musicals, dance, opera, music, exhibitions, and cinema. I attend West End shows and fringe shows, professional shows and amateur shows, revivals and new writing, gender-specific, queer, black theatre. However I have avoided immersive theatre, so far.
I have launched a number of occasional series on my blog which I intend to keep up – The Mix, which is a news round-up which started monthly but is currently running a bit behind; Fringe Focus, which will be as regular as possible; interviews and features on shows big or small (often those I cannot make a gap to see, but find interesting enough to run to raise awareness on); and my quarterly look-back at my own performance attendance.
More features and content are planned for 2020 and beyond.
Treating it as a job
My blog and related social media take around 4-5 hours of my time per day, on top of time attending performances (average 3 per week, more if I can).
Although it is not bringing in any money, it must be treated professionally for it to be taken seriously, to build trust with PR representatives and performers, and to increase its reach and visibility.
My email signature has my blog address, my Twitter, and my Linked In profile listed, and I hope I am always polite and interested in whatever interactions I have.
I also ensure I promote and mention shows I can’t see, but which sound interesting. My first love is the theatre business, after all.
For someone who is shy and socially awkward, this has been the hardest bit to learn. I must approach people to find new connections and opportunities, which means approaching PR, production companies, theatre creators and other bloggers to increase my network.
At the end of 2018 I was on three PR lists, now I am on twelve. Others have started following me on my social media spaces, which seems positive.
Perhaps in 2020 I will get on lists which represent the “big boys”, which would be nice for my pocket, but it’s far from essential. I’ve grown to love the fringe spaces and shows I have seen this year, and with over 250 theatres within London itself, there’s still a lot to see.
In 2020 I would like to have the opportunity to do some interviews in person, so we’ll see.
Setting realistic goals
My goals this year were to engage with more PR companies, see more shows, and increase my followers.
My more personal goals were to look after myself, increase my confidence (going out on my own, going/travelling to new places, handing out some cards), and to engage with others working in the same space.
I’d recommend anyone moving into blogging has an idea of what they would like to achieve, and a plan for how they can do it.
I have goals for next year which include getting my blog syndicated and having access to more opportunities, but I know I must work for that.
Saying no is also an important part of being a blogger – my strategy has been, no, sorry, I can’t fit in your show but if I like the sound of it, let’s have a chat about it and I’ll do a bit of promotion for you.
It’s also important for me to know my limits including evening shows, number of shows (two show days wipe me out) and where in London I can realistically travel outside matinee times.
Negotiating blogger etiquette
This is a big learning curve for me, as I am not sure whether I should contact PR companies or wait for them to find me (I’ve started doing the former, and they can only say no or ignore me, or maybe even say yes).
What level of social media engagement is the right one is also a minefield – I tend to be active on Twitter a couple of times a day, with several posts/retweets, but I don’t have a clear strategy about reposting my own content yet.
I’ve tried to reach out to other bloggers, who in the main are a friendly bunch, but one or two do shut you down if you’re not a ‘name’. That might have bothered me at one time, but it doesn’t now, and there are by far more friendly and supportive bloggers out there than not: an invaluable network of creatives.
Dealing with rejection
This is something all bloggers probably must deal with at some point, but it is still a tricky one.
I write for myself, primarily, in my own space, on my own blog. If someone only wants to give opportunities to specific publications or sites, or need to ‘pre-approve’ you, that’s fine (as I’ve already said, I’ll pay for a ticket and come and review anyway).
My writing credits speak for themselves, not just in blogging. Follow my Linked In link to see the articles, books and chapters I have written over the years. I’m not a novice, and I believe my writing is honest and valuable.
I think bloggers are just as valid as professional critics – perhaps more, as we are unpaid and do it for the love of the sector we’re in. But now and again, you’ll get the message that your brand and your blog just doesn’t cut it, and that’s OK.
Identifying new opportunities
This year has been a real voyage of discovery. Finding out the theatre and performance spaces in London has been interesting enough (Twitter, Instagram, and the londontheatremarathon project have been invaluable), but then finding shows, companies, and creators is a minefield.
Following other bloggers gives clues, as press releases are shared, detective work starts, and emails get sent out. I have a spreadsheet, of course (every former librarian loves a spreadsheet). I read The Stage. I subscribe to every London theatre’s mailing list (I think!) and follow them all on Twitter. I listen to podcasts, watch vlogs (I want to launch my own at some point), search across social media platforms and theatre news sites.
I try to challenge myself – this year I didn’t attend the Vaults Festival because I wasn’t familiar with the space, but now I am, and I’d like to go in 2020.
I can’t go to the Edinburgh Fringe as travelling that distance on my own is too scary at the moment, but I am attending some of the Camden Fringe, the Richmond Theatre Directors’ Festival, and did one show each in the CASA Festival and the LAMDA Summer Season student showcase.
If a theatre across London has a matinee performance, I do my best to see something there (if not this year, then next).
I’ve contributed to four crowdfunding projects for shows this year, and even if I cannot see those shows, I still post about them.
This is one of the most important things to me: many bloggers struggle with mental health issues, for example, and we support each other. We all have similar goals and want each other to get there. It doesn’t take much to say something nice, or get a message out to your followers.
Be nice to everyone: I learned that from my previous career when as a manager I helped a lot of people navigate and climb up the career ladder.
Now I’m finding my way (but not a beginner) in the blogging world, a new name in a crowded space, but I really want to be here, and stay here. So, I accept the help of others, and help them where I can.
Know your own worth
This goes for any facet of life, but as a blogger I know I’m good enough to find my niche, to find those opportunities, to be part of the London theatre scene.
If I meet my deadlines and my obligations, I’ve done my bit. If you’ve offered me a complimentary ticket, or an interview, or a product, then I expect you to stay in contract and deliver on your part of the bargain.
A lot of blogging admin is chasing emails, sending reminders, following up leads, but I do expect to be treated as a fellow professional, and I promise to reciprocate.
I started this blog in 2011 to report back on shows I have attended, mainly theatre but also some concerts and sporting events.
It has also become a vehicle for some film, television (current and archive), book reviews, and some more personal pieces.
On a professional level I worked for twenty-five years as a librarian, and also am a published writer – academic articles, poetry, popular culture – and spent five years editing a journal for a major publisher. If you would like to know more, see my LinkedIn profile.
As of 2019 writing and editing has become my main job, and I am very keen to engage with productions, outlets, and arts organisations to expand my coverage and my reviews.
I decided to join in the madness that is daily blog posting for NaBloPoMo and have gained over 100 followers on my blog because of it (hello there) but not a great deal of interaction. And I do like interaction, so …
In December I will go back to blogging fairly regularly, probably once a week. I don’t want to use up all my topics at once. I have enjoyed the discipline of getting something out there day after day and will probably participate again next year – very likely with my professional blog, more work-related, which you can look through, should you wish to, at http://eresourceful.wordpress.com.
I’ve dropped out of my film forums over the past few months and haven’t really missed the Doctor Who-related banter which seems to have taken them over. I don’t mind Dr Who but I am not a ‘fan’ and even on archive TV forums, all people ever seem to talk about is this one series and it gets B O R I N G.
So along with blogging daily here, playing Criminal Case and Candy Crush on Facebook, and adding stuff to Letterboxd, I’ve cut my internet time-wasting right down, although November has also marked the time when I have become a regular twit tweeter.
Are you enjoying NaBloPoMo? New subscribers to loureviews, what brought you here, and will you stay beyond NaBloPoMo?
I have signed up to blog each day throughout November in association with BlogHer and National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo for short). If you’re a US-based blogger, there’s a chance to get prizes – but the rest of us are just doing it for the love of blogging!