Tag Archives: Culture

The Things an EdFringe PR Cannot Do and Other Observations by an Absent Critic

27 Aug
Image by Anne, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Anne, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe finished yesterday, on Bank Holiday Monday, which meant, as Edinburgh regulars like John Fleming know, that all the shops in the city were open, but all the banks were closed. Welcome to Edinburgh, we do things differently in August.

This year, I also decided to do things differently by taking a year out from the Fringe after five consecutive years of reviewing at the festival. I popped a quick “I won’t be at the Fringe, sorry” notice on my Contact Me page, and cleared my diary for the entire month of August for the first time since 2009. It felt good.

Despite the much-needed break, my absence gave me a mild case of the fear of missing out, and so, I often sauntered through Bristo Square, Fringe Central, North Bridge et al, to see what was going on. On one of these trips, I met my friend Beryl for coffee. There are two things that you need to know about my dear Beryl: Beryl is not their real name but they are A Very Good Theatre PR.

“The thing is, ” began Beryl, after inhaling her colourful cardboard cup of frothy, overpriced coffee, “that a lot of the national critics have stayed away from the Fringe this year, which some clients are finding very hard to accept.”

“I have this one client; they have a great show, they’ve had consistently good reviews, but they want the national press in, and I can’t contact journalists who aren’t at the Fringe and have no intention of coming to the Fringe.”

The lack of well-established broadsheet publications at this year’s festival has not gone unnoticed, and some of the biggest names in theatre criticism, such as Ian Shuttleworth and Mark Shenton have chosen to stay at home.

“But, they just won’t listen.” Continued Beryl. “I’ve sent them emails carefully explaining why the National press aren’t coming to review them. If they hadn’t had any reviews then I would understands, but they’ve had over 10 reviewers so far, and that’s still not good enough. In fact, they’ve started demanding that I do things that I just can’t do, it’s not my job and it’s not how PR works.”

“What kind of things?” I asked, cradling my own freakishly expensive cup of joe, “I’m impressed that you’ve managed to get 10 separate publications to review their show, that’s incredible! There are people at this festival that dream of getting just one review!”

Beryl gazed miserably into her spent cup of corporate pick-me-up and explained: “Most of our contact has been via email, but the other day the producer phoned me, he’d just finished reading The Scotsman‘s review of the show and he didn’t like that they’d given it 3 stars.”

“You need to phone The Scotsman,” he said, “and get them to change it to 4 stars.”

“That isn’t how it works!” I cried.

“I know,” sighed Beryl, “I tried to explain How It Works, but he was having none of it. He also didn’t like it when he ‘discovered’ that the reviewer was – shock horror – a freelance journalist – not a staff writer and that they were – gasp – only 24.”

“I explained that the writer, despite the mortal sin of being younger than 25, was, in fact, a well-respected critic and an award-winning reviewer who writes for several national publications, but he still wasn’t happy.”

“And they haven’t paid me.”

I slammed my coffee down. “So, in a festival of 3,193 shows, performed in 299 venues, in a year when critics seem to be abandoning the Fringe, you and you alone, have managed to convince 10 critics to review this one show, and they haven’t paid you?”

Beryl nodded. “They paid a deposit but they were meant to pay the first instalment on the 1st of August, which they haven’t. I’ve been emailing the producer about it, and he’s ignored me.”

A few days later, I sent Beryl a text message to ask if the producer had coughed up the money.

“Nope.” She replied, “But I did get a phone call saying the lighting designer hadn’t been paid and the producer had given them my number…go figure.”

Beryl, like I said earlier, is A Very Good Theatre PR. But even Very Good Theatre PRs can’t control reviewers because reviewers have free will whether we like it or not.

You can control the show, you can control advertising and you can control yourself, but you cannot control the reviews.

There will always be things that your PR cannot do, so don’t demand the impossible and pay your staff, for God’s sake, because bad press travels fast before, during and after the Fringe.

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The Fallacy of Banning Children From Museums and Theatres

2 Apr
Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit

Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit

It’s as we’ve feared; Other People’s Children are just terrible. Look at them, misbehaving in museums and being disruptive in theatres instead of silently appreciating the best of the UK’s culture like us uptight adults. We are in danger of being wiped out by a cuddly wave of prepubescent anarchy, there’s agony in the aisles, there’s cursing in the cinema and there’s panic in the stalls! Clearly, the only solution is to send them to theatre etiquette lessons! Let’s put age restrictions on all the museums and galleries! Then we’ll send them to bed without any dinner! That’ll teach the little uncultured sods.

Before the powers that be actually do decide to BAN ALL CHILDREN FROM EVERYTHING we need to lead by example and start by dealing with the adults that continually disrupt performances, screenings, exhibitions and annoy fellow patrons with shoddy, selfish behaviour, because the arts should be for all; not for just for a select and privileged few.

If children are merely small people with no sense of decorum, then surely adults are merely overstretched toddlers that can’t plead ignorance for their actions. They not only should know better, they do know better, yet, some of them continue to flout the rules. So then, if the problem also applies to adults, then why aren’t we calling for them to be given etiquette lessons, or muting rules that would see them banned from all cultural institutions? Because they have something that children don’t: money.

More cash means more spending, which means more investment and more profit, so museums, theatres, cinemas and other cultural attractions can stay open and accessible to all.

The thing about kids is that they are in actual fact, the world’s best critics. They’re brutally honest, easily bored and they’re not afraid of telling you so. We’ve all sat near an excitable child in a theatre or a cinema who excitedly chattered along to what they were watching, acting as an unofficial narrator to the piece, usually to their parents’ utter embarrassment and whispered pleas of “Will you be quiet?!”

This is what children do. They test boundaries so they want to know what they can get away with. If they discover that they can get away with doing something, then they’ll continue doing it until someone puts them right. Children don’t know that it’s not proper to climb a piece of modern art worth millions. They see something that looks like it can be climbed, and unless someone stops them they will attempt to climb it. The parent or guardian’s role is to teach their child about boundaries and how to behave properly in public, because funnily enough, kids aren’t born with any idea of boundaries or ‘proper behaviour’. This isn’t an easy task, but that’s because parenthood is hard.

No matter what happens, children will always be awful to someone, somewhere in some way. But banning children outright from all theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries and the like goes against every reason they were created. These cultural institutions should be accessible and open to all, not just to the elite.

The arts are the legacy that we can leave the next generation of enquiring minds and passionate creators. That includes the youngest people in our society and also the overstretched toddlers that act like them.

Trash’s 20 Arts Criticism Tenets

15 Jan
Image by GabeWW, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by HeyGabe, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Sit down and shut the fuck up.

2. Your phone is not important during a performance.

3. Separate your personal feelings about an artist from their work. Love the art, hate the artist.

4. Write for the reader.

5. Listen to criticism of your work, but brush off the abuse.

6. Stay humble, no one wants to work with an asshole.

7. Be passionate about your work.

8. Fact check, fact check, oh dear Lord, fact check.

9. The only thing that should restrict your review is the word count.

10. A good critic can work around any word count,.

11. Going to a performance with an open mind and no expectations can lead to great experiences.

12. Remember that a review is not a stagnant piece of prose; it is a fluid work, it adapts, evolves and grows as you do.

13. Resisting change is futile.

14. Refusing to travel to “the regions” to see “regional work” will be your downfall.

15. Pay attention to what you’re reviewing; an alarming amount of ‘critics’ don’t.

16. Don’t write about yourself; the reader wants to read about the show, not your memories.

17. However, if you have a very relevant story to share, then by all means, share it. Just make sure that it’s relevant to the piece.

18. If you attempt to write a review that spends more time discussing how attractive or unattractive you find the actors in the piece, then you shouldn’t be a journalist, let alone a reviewer.

19. Try to keep on top of your emails, because some people will only email you once.

20. Don’t draw attention to yourself while you’re working. It’s off-putting to performers and it makes you look like a tool.

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