Sunday, September 20, 2009

Three years of View From The Stalls

Three years? Really? It doesn't seem like we've been doing this for that long... although thinking about it, there were one or two nights in the theatre when it certainly felt like we'd been sitting there for a couple of months. But yes, this week marks the start of our fourth year of running the site, and by coincidence we'll also reach the milestone of commenting on our 250th show. So it seems a good moment to take a look back... and maybe answer a few questions.

Why do you bother?
Our reasons for posting our thoughts on the shows we see remain pretty much the same as they were when we started back in 2006. Even major theatrical productions in Scotland can find themselves receiving only two or three press reviews, and many of the smaller scale shows we see can be lucky to get one. While we have great respect for Scotland's community of professional critics, we felt this left room for other, and possibly different, voices.

Does anyone really care what you think?
Well, over the last three years we've only upset a handful of people to the extent that they responded on the blog or contacted us by e-mail. We never set out to be mean, but we have to be honest in our responses and every so often we do see shows that leave us feeling less than charitable. On the up-side, we get a fair amount of positive feedback from those involved in shows who appreciate our posts and take them in the spirit they are intended - even the unfavourable ones.

Why should anyone value your opinion?
Good question... but with a fairly simple answer. We're the paying audience. Remember that bit at the top about us having seen 250 shows over three years? Well, that adds up to a rather tidy sum in ticket sales - much more than we like to think about. If that's not enough and you'd rather read the thoughts of a critic who'll academically dissect a production then you can find that elsewhere. But if you're looking to see what enthusiastic theatregoers, with no ties to the industry, make of a show we'll do our best to oblige. And as we've been doing this for some time now, regular readers should have a feel for how our tastes match with their own - even if only to the extent of thinking that if we hated it it must be good.

You pay for tickets? Isn't the whole point of running a theatre review blog to get free tickets?
We decided from Day One that in the unlikely event of us being offered free/press tickets we would always decline. View From The Stalls is intended to be about us giving back something to the people that give us so much pleasure - not taking from them. Paying for our tickets with our own hard earned cash also focuses our thoughts on what we have seen and acts as a threshold ensuring that we only see shows we want to see - and not anything that's on just because it hasn't cost us anything. We do regularly get offered complimentary tickets, and companies are often surprised when we decline - but they also recognise it as a sign of our good faith.

Why didn't you see XXXXX? Everyone is talking about it. Will you come and see my show?
Despite seeing so much theatre we are actually rather picky about what we see - there are plenty of productions that I'm confident are absolutely brilliant but just not our kind of thing. There are times when we've been persuaded to add something to our plans at the last minute because it's been getting wider attention, but more often than not we end up wishing we'd gone with our initial instincts. We're always happy to consider requests/recommendations, particularly if they include a bit more info on a show than we would have got from a flyer/poster etc. but we do still need to be convinced that it's something we'll have good prospects of enjoying.

Who are you? Why don't you use your names?
When we started out this was partly a safeguard in case anyone took serious exception to our comments. That's something that over time we've come to realise isn't a concern, but anonymity has other advantages that we are keen to maintain. Being able to slip in and out of shows without drawing attention to ourselves means we never build up any real relationships with the theatrical community, so we are saved any attacks of conscience when we have to be critical about someone we've come to know.

Don't you ever get fed up with it all?
Not really. We do this because we choose to, and know we could stop any time - this lack of pressure keeps things fun. There's still plenty of theatre out there we want to see, and we hope to be here commenting on it for years to come.

But blogs are so last year - when are you switching to Twitter?
Not happening. Not now, not ever.