Alison Croggon is one of Australia’s best-known theatre critics, as well as a poet, playwright, fantasy novelist and librettist. She spoke with us about where she writes and what the life of a theatre reviewer is really like.
As a critic, a lot of your work takes place in darkened theatres. Where does the writing happen?
The writing always happens afterwards. When I go to the theatre, I attempt to be all perception, as awake and receptive as I can be. The hour or two hours or twelve hours I spend watching performance is all absorption. The writing is when I try to work out what happened.
How do you deal with the constant deadlines of theatre reviews? What’s your usual turnaround?
It really depends. When I was blogging, I sometimes could take up to a week. I do prefer to have a day in which I can let things sort themselves out in my underbrain before I start poking them and asking questions. But quite often, especially if I’m reviewing for the Guardian or attending a festival, I can file the next morning. With longer reviews I like to take my time, but sometimes that thought process can happen surprisingly quickly. It can be exhausting, so I try to ensure that I take time out, otherwise I just burn out.
Is it hard not to be influenced by other people’s opinions? What background reading do you do for a review?
I tend to do very little backgrounding before I see a show, although because I’ve been covering theatre for years I will generally know something just because of my experience. If I need to, I try to do my reading afterwards. Often I will read quite extensively around a show, and obviously whether this happens beforehand depends on how much time I have. I think it’s better to see a show with as few expectations as possible, so you can read it cleanly on its own terms. I find other people’s opinions interesting, if they’re thoughtful: they will never change my experience of a show, but they may open up an aspect which I haven’t thought about. I think it’s perfectly okay to disagree on a show, and I often do!
How much (paid!) work is out there for theatre and arts reviewers these days?
This is so much in flux that it’s hard to tell. I suspect there might be more than there was, rather than less, as there’s been a bit of an explosion in new arts publications. But there is certainly more unpaid work than paid, and you’ll never make your fortune from it.
You built up a hugely successful blog and online presence. What are your top tips for people just starting to do their own reviews?
The old tips are good: blog regularly, whether it’s every day or every week or every fortnight, so people know when to expect it. Be thoughtful, open to dialogue, and do your research. If you want to review theatre, learn about it: how it is made, what its history is, and so on. Always admit it and apologise if you make a mistake. Always be yourself.
What are your social media pet peeves?
Again, the usual ones, which are just about bad manners: spamming followers with promotion, abusive behaviour and so on. The general rule applies: Don’t be a dick.
About Alison Croggon
Alison Croggon was the 2009 Geraldine Pascall Critic of the Year and ran the influential review blog Theatre Notes for eight years. She has reviewed for the Bulletin, Australian, Guardian and ABC. She is also an award-winning poet and novelist.