Network of Independent Critics

Currently deliberating over this year’s Network of Independent Critics cohort, independent critics Jo Trainor and Daniel Perks know all too well just how beneficial the experience can be for content creators looking to pursue a career within arts journalism. The world’s largest arts festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe attracts the best globally and just under 3 million arts goers. With so much going on, covering as much as possible can prove difficult; however creating the opportunity for independent critics to cover different genres of performance helps to diversify the arts journalism landscape. This is the Network of Independent Critic’s aim, to offer opportunity to underrepresented writers. Both Jo and Daniel have now taken over from co-founders Laura Kressly and Katharine Kavanagh to organise this year’s experience; they both talk to us about the introduction of well being sessions for this year’s participants.

Applications have now closed for freelance journalists, vloggers, bloggers, critics and reporters to take part in this year’s NIC scheme. How are you both feeling ahead of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

Super excited. We are currently drinking copious amounts of wine and gorging on a celebratory pepperoni pizza, going through all of the incredible applications and trying to give as many people the opportunity to be part of this year’s network as possible. The fringe is one of those events that we look forward to months in advance, and sitting here with butterflies (or maybe it’s just the wine…?) and the words from these incredibly talented freelance individuals makes it all the more real. Bring it on!

In terms of choosing this year’s network of critics, how is it decided who will be attending this year’s festival?

We closed our applications process and have been reading through each of the individual forms. We’re looking for people with a genuine passion for the arts, for writing and commenting and most importantly, people who want to network and interact with the largest arts festival in the world. The chosen applicants represent the best in independent criticism, a real mix of opinions and passions. We can’t wait to meet this year’s contingent and continue having all-important critical conversations around theatre, dance, musicals and cabaret. Edinburgh fosters this like nowhere else in the world!

This year sees you both take over from founders Laura Kressly and Katharine Kavanagh. Have you worked together to organise this year?

Laura and Kate have been amazing at giving us the reigns this year – we look to them constantly for advice, but they’ve let us really run the scheme ourselves. It’s a real honour to take on this mantle and add our own ideas that help shape the future of the NIC.

We both knew how important mental health and wellbeing were to our own personal experiences in Edinburgh, so were really keen to make this a centrepiece of the network this year. Taking some time for yourself in an environment that constantly pushes you to see more, write more, contribute more – it’s so important to the whole atmosphere. This should be a celebratory festival where we champion quality work through quality writing. That’s what we want to make the NIC about this year.”

The scheme has helped many independent journalists gain access to Edinburgh Festival Fringe; both of you have taken part in previous years. What did you both take away from the initiative?

Daniel: The NIC gave me real opportunity over the last three years to shape my critical voice. If I hadn’t had this in the past, I wouldn’t have written for Fest or expanded my journalistic practice over into the USA. NIC was the chance I needed to focus on my craft in a supportive environment.”

Jo: I genuinely don’t know if I would stil be reviewing without NIC. After meeting Laura nearly four years ago I was given the opportunity to cover the VAULT Festival for her and now I’m an Associate Editor for The Play’s The Thing UK. I used that work to successfully apply for the Noises Off magazine at NSDF, and was lucky enough to write for Fest last year as well. And really I’m not sure there’s anything better than seeing your stars on a poster at Edfringe.

And pals! I’ve made some wonderful, lifelong friends from NIC.”

This year will focus on mental health and wellbeing with weekly wellbeing sessions taking place. What inspired a focus on this?

Daniel: “For me personally, Edinburgh has always been a rollercoaster. It’s a place where I challenge myself, a place that I desperately want to be and contribute towards. And yet over the last few years I have felt the pressure to constantly write, to analyse, to critique and do everything I can to further my own career. Without the mental health and wellbeing support, without giving myself the space to take a breath and take focus on my own happiness, I have self-medicated with drink and drugs and pills and ultimately suicidal tendencies. Now I place a greater value on my own wellbeing and want to make sure that the critics in my care have a safe space. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through in the past.”

Jo: “I think Edinburgh can be quite lonely as a critic. You have your own schedule, you’re not necessarily staying with people you know, in fact it’s possible to go a day without talking to anyone, and that’s bloody grim. We’re having to produce work incredibly quickly, often watching shows that can be challenging and you need support to do that. There can be a lot of pressure on critics, and we just want everyone to know that there’s things in place to help them out for the month. Daniel and I will be around if anyone wants to write with us, grab a coffee with us, or, in infamous NIC tradition, eat an entire chocolate cheesecake for breakfast.”

What are your hopes for the scheme in the future?

We would love for the NIC to continue and grow as a fully funded experience. Having more developmental opportunities, such as mentoring schemes from industry experts, and specific opportunities that fund places for critics of colour, as well greater levels of access for a wider spectrum of journalistic inputs. The flat we inhabit each year, for example, has no lift, so the logistics of that automatically rules out a number of incredibly talented individuals for the wrong reasons.

On a wider note, criticism is at risk without a suitable funding source. We would love to be able to mimic the American model, such as found in their National Critics Institute, and offer fully funded scholarships for each of our posts. Maybe one day!

How can journalists/reviewers follow this year’s coverage?

Follow us! Twitter: @NICritics; Facebook: Network of Independent Critics; Instagram: nicritics.

And follow our successful applicants too! We’ll post all their website and social media details over the coming months, so keep tuning in to see all the exciting content we’ll be promoting.”

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

The Network for Independent Critics will now choose this year’s cohort, to find out the latest NIC news, follow them on social media!

Written by Theatrefullstop