Reviewing: Year One of Always Time For Theatre

Unbelievably, Always Time For Theatre has been around for a whole year now!

It’s been a year of great experiences, mostly great theatre and a few pleasantly surprising moments too. I’m happy to say that taking the plunge and getting started with Always Time For Theatre has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, for so, so many reasons; I have been particularly surprised by all the different forms of validation which came my way in this first year! There’s a fair bit here, so I hope you’re settled with a brew and a few biscuits… Here are the highlights and lessons of the first year of the labour of love that is Always Time For Theatre:IMG_50051: The thrill of the first post.
Terrifying. It’s one thing to rant, rave and opine post-show with friends, it’s quite another to type it out and post it for all the world to see. The main concern was, naturally, that no one would give a hoot – and for a good while it seemed that way as clicks were few and ‘followers’ on various social media platforms were fewer, but slowly (and thankfully) things began to get moving…

2: The shame-faced editing of that first post.
Over-excited pup was the overall impression. Yes, Elizabeth, you can love theatre. No, Elizabeth, you cannot splurge with such little restraint and undiscerning choices about content. Lesson learned.

3: Finding my reviews worthy enough to be shared.
…by the companies and actors that I was reviewing was a surprisingly uplifting experience; realising that this blog venture of mine could prove worthwhile after all was rather a big deal! Yes, yes, I’m not naïve; I realise that any small-scale positive ‘press’ benefits companies and shows if they share it, but it’s pleasing for the likes of little fish like me, all the same.

4: Writing for On Stage.
This gave me the opportunity for exposure on a Twitter page with a 800+ following and a Facebook page with a 100,000+ following. It was wonderfully validating to have Chris Pearson invite me on board as a UK Critic and columnist and the comments/ likes/ readership from this platform was a huge confidence boost early on. They are still looking for more writers as they are expanding significantly, so get in touch (@onstageblog) if you’re looking for opportunities to raise your profile!

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5: Being used in an advertising picture by Square Peg Theatre Company.
I was supremely chuffed and very proud to feel even slightly official. Many thanks to you!IMG_4997.PNG6: Pleasing thanks from the creators.
Being told that I had cottoned on to and captured in my review many of the intentions and key messages intended by the writer and director of an important, contemporary piece of theatre dealing with complex issues in ambitious ways: Joan, by Milk Presents. It was a great piece of theatre and I was pleased as punch to be told that I had provided a genuinely appreciated critique.

7: The moment I decided to write a series of ‘Lasting Impressions’ reviews.
This series reviews shows seen over the years, pre-AlwaysTimeForTheatre. Initially this was to plug the content gap between reviews when I couldn’t get to the theatre. I soon came to the conclusion that actually, such reviews are potentially very worthwhile to any theatre-makers stumbling upon them; to show people what is memorable years after a show has been seen most definitely carries worth. I had a few writers, actors and directors respond positively when I wrote about seeing their shows years before. I will continue to write them, although now that I’ve upped my game in terms of fitting in as many shows as possible, I’m writing fewer ‘Lasting Impressions’ posts- but they’ll continue to arrive at intervals, so watch out for them!

IMG_5008.PNG8: Enjoying the gentle push to see more shows.
There’s nothing like needing new, consistently posted content to get you booking as much theatre as I had previously desired, but didn’t quite get round to. It’s eaten up all of my disposable income of course, but it has been totally worth it.

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9: Learning the hard way that rushing doesn’t make for great posts.
I had a crazy week and would have been unable to do anything about a review for a whole 24 hours owing to work commitments. I splurged out my thoughts, proof read with precarious speed and posted before bolting for the car. I read it back 24 hours later, after far too many people had already seen it, and saw nothing but glaring typos, over-sharing of the plot (day 1 of reviewing basics went out of the window apparently), too much unnecessary detail and repetition to boot. Yikes. I edited speedily, then re-read and edited again, undoing further damage to my delicate, foetal reputation in the reviewing world before too many more people saw it. Lesson learned: quality over speed should always win.

10: The frustration of fighting the need for anonymity.
The day job makes social media presence tricky. I’d love to try vlogging but it’s just not possible. I know that lots of people distrust profiles without the actual human faces of the account holder. I can’t do that. What I can do is post pictures with disguised faces and hope that that’s amusing enough to gain forgiveness for my ‘mysterious’ anonymity…

11: Finding out about Twitter stats.
Discovering in mathematical, graphical terms (which I could have never done myself), the impressive growth of AlwaysTimeForTheatre. If you feel like you’re going nowhere (which is a great Gabrielle song, by the way), check those out, they’re a real boost!

12: Cracking the extra features of WordPress…months after using it.
Widgets, embedding my social media and realising that I could include images and hyperlinks within my posts…Amazing! And better late than never I guess.

13: Realising that my voice is important.
I had a short bartering stint with the wonderful Ginger Wig and Strolling Man but discovered that allowing others to edit my opinion pieces made those opinion pieces almost unregognisable as my own, and I decided that my voice in my opinion posts in particular is an absolute must. Another lesson learned. IMG_501214: Getting over the obsession with Twitter followers.
The follow-unfollow game can be frustrating when you’re starting out, and you’ll just reach the point of, say, your first 50 followers, and 3 will unfollow you just after you’ve followed them. Get over it. It’s important to have followers, and as many as possible, obviously- but it’s more important to have the right kind of followers- value those who are interested in your content and your interests. There’s no point in having 500 followers if only 20 of them actually engage with your content. I’ve accepted that growth is slow, but I can see that my relatively small following are engaging, so I’m happy with that. Lesson learned.

15: Attending my first press night, courtesy of @TheatreBloggers.
This was another important validating experience; it feels very ‘official’ to attend such an event and it made me so positive about the future of AlwaysTimeForTheatre.

16: Branching out.
Although my first love is theatre and that’s what prompted the start of AlwaysTimeForTheatre, I also see a fair few other arts and cultural events, so I decided to start reviewing them. It’s been great to branch out and to see the positive reception of that decision – I posted a few film and culture reviews to test the water and I’ll be continuing with them now that they have proven interesting to t’internet perusers…

17: Becoming a .com and realising that this blog thing was well worth investment. Again, it’s a case of small moments of validation, and paying a small fee to become a .com gave the site a little more of a sense of professionalism and long-term vision – that’s not to say that any bloggers who choose not to be a .com or a .co.uk or a .org are making a poor choice, it’s just a reflection on how that decision impacted upon my view of the blog.

18: Having the guts to provide the catalyst for heated debate about ideas of etiquette and approaches to theatre.
It allowed me to get my teeth into a debate on important issues with two particularly high flyers in theatreland and although we disagreed quite heavily, it was a healthy debate that allowed me to state my case without feeling inferior and shying away from responding to high profile people.

19: Recommendations.
Having people tell you that they have recommended your site for any number of reasons is a great feeling and long may that continue!IMG_500420: Invitations to review shows directly from theatre companies.
Although so far all of the requests have been in London on weekdays and therefore I’ve not been able to attend, the fact that those invitations have begun to arrive is yet another great, validating step in the right direction. Long may those invitations continue to arrive, and hopefully dates and times will permit me to attend!

21: Having people share and engage.
Debate, discussion, raging arguments, call it what you will, but engaging in debates about your passion is such a pleasure, especially if most of your friends don’t really show an interest in or appreciation of theatreland. I’ve also found so many fantastic reviewers and pages that I would have never stumbled across without starting Always Time For Theatre.

22: Finding Myself included on website listings.
Black Eyed Theatre cited my ‘Frankenstein’ review, and I was included in the round-up of reviews of Rachel Tucker’s Live at Zedèl (which I actually only realised a few days ago!). There may well be more but I haven’t seen any others yet…but regardless of how many are out there, I’m so proud to see my reviews there!

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IMG_501323: Starting the @TheatreBlogRT Twitter account.
There were so many RT accounts that I was using to gain a better presence, but the increase in traffic was very limited despite the consistency of the RT pages I was utilising (never a request went un-RTd, and I remain grateful for that early help from @GRLPOWRCHAT, @BloggersintheUK and @BloggersTribe!). I was frustrated by the lack of theatre-specific blogging pages, so I started one myself! It’s new to the world but it is slowly growing in terms of RT requests, interactions and followers. I’m hoping it will better allow me to both interact with other theatre folk and to raise my profile. Onwards and upwards!

24: Looking back and realising what a fantastic first year it’s been.
I’ll have more of the same and then some please!

Total Posts: 64
Theatre Reviews: 44
Other Arts/ Culture Reviews: 3
Film Reviews: 2
Articles: 15
Moments of regret: Few and far between.

IMG_4998So that’s the first year of AlwaysTimeForTheatre in twenty or so points. What are the goals for the coming year I hear you ask? Well…

1: Continued growth (obviously).
I naively aimed for 1000 followers in the first year, never realising just how hard it is to reach such numbers. However long it takes to reach quadruple digits, I’d like to meet that target at some point.

2: To be more techno-savvy.
I’m always on the look-out now for ways to up my blogging game.

3: More interaction with other theatre enthusiasts and reviewers.
I’m getting there with the Twitter conversations but I’m not quite consistent enough yet.

4: To be included in more round-ups and the like.
It’s a special kind of validation to find your review listed with others, especially when most of the others are much, much bigger fish in this vast reviewing ocean…

5: Down-sizing a little.
This is a bit of a frustrating contradiction as one of the things I enjoy most about reviewing is justifying; there’s little worth in making unsupported critical comments and likewise, praise is best when it has specificity. I’ve managed to tweak my style a little to cut down the amount written and this remains a work in progress…if a show is complex or gives me lots to say, I’m still producing substantial posts after editing and I’m not too disgruntled by that. I’m not aiming for short and snappy at any point either, so I’ll keep tinkering with the balance for now; I like depth in the reviews I read, so I’ll continue providing that in the reviews I write.

6: Possibly branching out into interviews.
There are a good few stage stars (Tyrone Huntley, Rachel Tucker, Philippa Stefani, Slava Polunin, Audrey Brisson, Jeffrey Solomon and Katy Owen to name a very small few from a very long list) directors (Emma Rice and Mike Shepherd anyone? No? Okay.), writers (Jean-Luc Courcoult and Lucy Skillbeck if you please) and companies (1927, Oddsocks, Royal De Luxe, Vamos, Propeller…and dare I say it, Kneehigh?!) that I’d love to interview, as well as those who are new and up and coming. I have very little idea of how to go about this, but research has commenced. Any kind souls who are pros and fancy offering advice, please do pipe up and help a girl out!

So. That’s the first year, and I fully intend to stick around in the land of theatre blogging. I can’t wait for the second year and thereafter – please keep spreading the word, reading the posts and letting me know what you think!

Oodles of gratitude to any and all of you who have shown an interest so far,

Elizabeth

Don’t forget to follow me on:

Twitter: @alwayst4theatre (please also follow @TheatreBlogRT)
Instagram: @alwaystimefortheatre
Pinterest: AlwaysTimeForTheatre
Bloglovin’: AlwaysTimeForTheatre

You can always ping me an email, too! It’s: alwaystimefortheatre@yahoo.com

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