In Autumn 2015, I read an open-access volume of collected essays by scholars working across a range of fields called How We Write. They reflected on their critical practice in relation to the subjects they write about, where they work best, how they motivate themselves, what exercises they use and who they talk to. The essays ranged from theoretical pieces to longitudinal Facebook updates. If it sounds like academics talking about being academics, it was, but there was some valuable contemplation about process and inspiration which crosses disciplines [you can read the anthology for free (and/or donate) here].
I started to think about how this type of sharing could be reconfigured when writing critically about live performance. There are lots of ongoing public interventions opening up our discipline, such as Dialogue Theatre Club, Something Other, Reading the Internet, young critics collectives, the many blogging republics which have emerged over the past ten years, experimenting with zines, Patreon, audio-visual reviewing, and so on. More often than not, Exeunt is heralded as the holiest site of new wave online theatre criticism in Britain today, with a kernel of contributors at its heart.
Whilst these strategies try to reframe our approach to criticism as a constantly mutating assemblage, the common goal surrounds dialogue. How do we make better use of the spaces we occupy to talk, share, evaluate, learn, grow and collaborate? What threads can be sewn together through the process of critical writing and how do we make sure they weave beyond the neoliberal knots which choke original thinking?
Many critics are hesitant to write about being a critic or to “write about writing”. What good will it do? What will it add to the conversation? I share that concern but I think to be transparent about our processes is also to critique how free we are, who we are writing for and why we write at all.
This question of How I Write seems also to ask, How I Write Depending On the Space. Within this are environments with radically changing climates and circumstances which dictate our success. What does exposure to wider readerships, the distance we have to or from an artefact, blogging v journalism, financial sustainability, spatial, editorial and creative freedom, and the proximities and depth of our conversations all do to the way we approach writing about live performance? These questions inform our outlook on the discipline and the art we consume, and ask us to keep talking about how to make sense of the conditions under which we write.
Here, I ask critics to share their methodologies and writing habits, however broadly, technically or creatively they wish, in an attempt to tackle this fuzzy interaction between space and practice. Writers have been doing this indefinitely – and certainly in more resourceful ways than essay form – but we censor a lot of our opinions to avoid pissing off our friends, colleagues or the people who might employ us. The idea is that this rather vulnerable sharing can exist in different spaces online but also connect and point toward each other’s responses: on the Something Other website, critics’ own blogs, academic/creative/literary portals and wherever else.
Maddy Costa, The Challenge of Difference
To contribute your own essay, please contact Maddy: maddy[at]welcometodialogue[dot]com