Reviewing theatre

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
By: 
Tim Byrne interviewed by John Back

picture of Tim Byrne
Tim Byrne

Tim Byrne is a regular theatre reviewer in Melbourne. He spoke with John from Writers Victoria about how to get those first few pieces out there and make a name for yourself in Australian theatre writing.

Tell us a little about yourself. Are theatre reviews a big part of your writing?

My name is Tim Byrne, and I’m a freelance writer. I regularly contribute to Time Out Melbourne and Australian Arts Review. I’ve also written for Australian Book Review and have a feature article coming out in July for Kill Your Darlings about the state of independent theatre in Melbourne. Theatre is clearly one of my passions, but I think it’s important for a writer to have wide interests. I also love books and film. I’m working on a novel. It’s incredibly hard to make a living out of theatre reviews. I imagine only a handful of people in the world manage it.

How did you get into theatre originally?

I’ve been going to the theatre for almost as long as I can remember. I got heavily involved in theatre when I was at Monash University as an actor and director, and I’ve been a fairly voracious theatregoer ever since.

You’re a regular theatre reviewer for Time Out Melbourne. How did that come about?

Andrew Furhman is the editor of the theatre pages of Time Out, and was on the lookout for a theatre reviewer. A friend suggested sending in an example of my writing, which I did. And here I am.

What is the process for pitching and publishing theatre reviews?

There is less emphasis on the pitch when it comes to reviewing for the theatre. You can certainly suggest to your editor things you’d like to see, but there are so many productions vying for media attention that invites usually come thick and fast. I accept a lot of offers, but if something really doesn’t appeal or I can’t make the dates I will pass it up. I usually write the first draft the night of the performance, and the final draft the day after. I send it in by email, and it usually gets published a few days later.

Any suggestions for good places to submit reviews?

This is a hard one, because most publications have reviewers working for them already, and won’t necessarily appreciate getting random reviews from strangers. The best bet is targeting smaller zines or literary journals who have critical writing but not a strong theatre presence. This way you can carve out a niche for yourself.

What is your advice for someone thinking about reviewing for theatre?

My advice would be to get any form of your writing into any publication you can. This way you gain vital experience and have a portfolio of work to show people. Don’t expect to make money from reviewing, but in my experience writing work leads to more writing work, and you can get yourself known in this industry pretty quickly. Snarky, bitchy reviews can be fun to write and read but will alienate you from industry professionals and wear thin with your readership pretty quickly. Writing courses, workshopping groups, festival events are the best way into the industry. Join things, because networking is the only way in. Oh, and go to the theatre. All the time.

What are you most excited about in Melbourne theatre this year?

The piece I’ve written for Kill Your Darlings, out in July, deals with the independent sector and the resources that have been diverted into it by the major companies. I’m excited by the work coming out of MTC’s NEON festival and Malthouse’s Helium. I’m excited that every major theatre in Melbourne will have a massive musical opening within the next two months. I’m excited by the work coming out of fortyfivedownstairs and Theatre Works and North Melbourne Meat Market. I’m excited about the things I don’t know I’m excited about yet. I suspect we’re going to see more political and agitprop theatre coming on the back of more savage cuts to the Arts. All in all, it’s a pretty exciting time to go to the theatre in Melbourne.

About Tim Byrne

Tim Byrne is a freelance writer and theatre critic for Time Out Melbourne and Australian Arts Review. He is currently working on a novel. Tim is also a bookseller and interviewer, running a series of author interviews at Avenue Bookstore. He maintains an arts blog that focuses on theatre, film, and books. He has an upcoming feature in Kill Your Darlings Issue 18.

About John Back

John Back is a Program Intern (Theatre) at Writers Victoria. He is on Facebook and tweets at @mrjohnaback.