The second in my ‘Magnify’ series, looking into what it’s like to be a self-proclaimed theatre critic, and how I got here.
It’s now been two and a half years since I started writing in a more serious form, firstly for the innovative A Younger Theatre website founded by Jake Orr, and now with The Stag, the University of Surrey’s student-led newspaper in which I’ve just gained position of Dance & Theatre Section Editor.
It’s something I fell into, rather than intended to pursue – I’ve always loved writing and have a somewhat amusing collection of short stories, poems, and novel attempts going all the way back to when I was 6 years old. The thing I found difficult when writing fiction however, was stamina; I got to page 54 of a well-planned, thoroughly thought out book and froze; not a word has been written in it for almost 7 years. But I soon realised that I had a knack for short articles as I began to write these through my GCSE and ALevel years. It was standard school work – go and see a production, write about it for homework – but it turned out I was quite good. I started writing about the shows I went to see and put them up on my Tumblr blog – nothing professional, nothing fancy, just a way to put down my thoughts and see what people thought of them.
As an avid theatre-goer, I’m signed up to any and all theatre websites offering cheap tickets for young people, and it was in one of these newsletter emails that I stumbled across a website looking for young writers to review shows in and around London. A short email conversation with Jake later and I had a position as a reviewer for (what is now) a growing and important site for young people’s theatre. Suddenly, things got real. I was given press tickets, greeted by people at the front of the theatres, received free drinks, and started to feel rather important and listened to. After a year with AYT and just two weeks at university, I shifted to write for the university paper. The excitement that followed seeing my name in print for the first time hasn’t diminished 11 issues later, and as I mentioned I’ve now got the job of editing the section for this next year. Soon after getting the writing place with The Stag I decided to write about more than just theatre, and this blog was born.
Along with a more professional work ethic, a wider audience, and the opportunity to explore new topics and writing styles, writing for organisations, papers, and maintaining a professional portfolio also teaches you to face your own critics. I’ve dealt with personal attacks following a review that didn’t praise certain actors, and have had to learn how to deal with such conflicts. Similarly, I’ve written pieces that other critics have disagreed with and vice versa, and being able to accept other arguments whilst staying true to your own opinions is another important lesson. The main piece of advice I’d give is keep your mind open – see things you never would normally see, write an argument that’s against your personal beliefs, and find out what other people are talking about.
I’m not sure where it’ll lead or if indeed it’ll continue much into my future, but writing about things you love is rewarded to those who read and those who write. You see so much more, learn to appreciate the small detail, and greatly enhance your ability to communicate online and in print. Organisations such as IdeasTap, and the Guardian, as well as smaller organisations like Fringe Biscuit have opportunities just waiting to be taken up by new young writers. Keep connected using social media (eg. Twitter), start small, and see where it can take you.