Introducing a new segment to both Theatrefullstop and New Ottawa Critics. As two independent blogger collectives, we are both inspired by what theatrically is happening beyond our borders. Each month, we will correspond with all the latest happenings in our cultural cities. This is an opportunity to learn, be inspired, communicate and collaborate!
To London, England and our new friends at Theatrefullstop!
It is with great excitement that I am writing this letter from across the pond. There’s a lot of talk about how the internet and social media are “killing” arts criticism, yet it is because of those two things that this exchange is even happening. You see, I run the New Ottawa Critics – a small organization of theatre critics based out of Ottawa, Ontario (Canada’s capital) that not only embraces the digital era wholeheartedly, but is constantly looking for ways that criticism can adapt to this ever-changing cultural landscape.
Now, I first started keeping tabs on UK-based theatre critics when I had the pleasure of meeting “occasional Guardian contributor” Maddy Costa at a colloquium on theatre criticism hosted by Brock University in St. Catherine’s, Ontario. Following that meeting, I would occasionally read the reviews of Michael Billington, Lyn Gardner, and Mark Fisher; and, thanks to Twitter algorithms, I eventually found my way to Lucy at Theatrefullstop. To be honest, when Lucy first contacted me I felt really humbled – it’s really special to have your work acknowledged by a peer (on an international scale, no less), particularly in a field so often vilified as theatre criticism. When she presented me with the idea of a cultural exchange, I was immediately drawn in by the opportunity to share our stories with brand new readers, and hopefully inspire some new conversations.
The classic link to make between theatre in the UK and theatre in Canada is, of course, Shakespeare; but our hope is to dig even deeper than that and flesh out attitudes and trends towards things like (though not limited to) diversity in theatre; independent theatre journalism, and redefining the professional theatre critic; and independent or local artists versus professional artists at the Fringe.
I am very much reminded of my own journey with the NOC when I look at the history of Theatrefullstop. They are an organization that is dedicated to covering the local scene by regularly producing high quality theatre criticism, not to mention their continued efforts towards highlighting productions and/or arts practitioners who might not get the coverage or recognition they deserve. The New Ottawa Critics are also working towards the same goals: we strive for depth, nuance, and thoughtfulness in our writing, which allows us to dive into the nitty-gritty of a piece, and our reviews are often much longer than most. We’ve also recently launched a Community Voices series, where we will feature content produced by various members of the theatre community as a way of highlighting a specific topic or discipline that might not normally be featured in a traditional review. For example, our inaugural article was written by a local professional artist and arts administrator about her less-than-ideal experience at a very prominent Canadian theatre school. An upcoming Community Voices piece will feature poetry surrounding the blatant sexism many women face as venue technicians (a traditionally male-dominated field).
Ottawa was once famously branded “the city that fun forgot” (a label most Ottawans will vehemently protest), but in truth, there is so much to do here and not nearly enough people to cover it all. It certainly doesn’t help that our daily newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen, just recently laid off all of their freelance writing staff, and now employ only two writers to fill the entire arts section. This is another reason why I feel a cultural exchange with Theatrefullstop is necessary and important – it will give Ottawans a view of a community that actively supports independent bloggers. As it stands, there aren’t very many of us currently working here, and we see progressively fewer new critics pop up every year.
That being said, we are very much looking forward to being digital pen pals with Theatrefullstop, and we hope that this will bring our communities closer together through the thoughtful conversations and observations about theatre arts that are sure to rise out of the correspondence. On a personal note, I am excited to learn more about the London theatre community and what aspects Ottawa can take away from these letters.
Until next time!
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
The New Ottawa Critics
To read a review of Elephant Girls on the New Ottawa Critics website, visit here...
To read a review of Burnt and the Magic of Theatre on the New Ottawa Critics website, visit here…
To find out more about New Ottawa Critics, visit here…