Theatre in London: a manifesto

About four years ago I wrote that “theatreinlondon, like theatre in London, is very much alive!” Today I want to breathe new life into the online incarnation with a public declaration of my until-now unstated goals and aims for Theatre in in short, a manifesto.

Call for writers

For over a decade, Theatre in has been about and for the London theatre community. One of the goals I had when I assumed ownership of the site in 2008 was to add “by” to that list, and that’s the biggest place where I feel I’ve failed. If it weren’t for frequent contributors Kenneth Chisholm, who recently posted his 200th review, and Mary Alderson, who reviews productions at the Grand, TiL since 2008 would basically be “Peter’s theatre blog”, which is exactly what I didn’t want to happen. Why’s that so? In large part, I believe, because I’ve never made it clear that it’s anything other than that.

So please consider this a call for writers. I know you’re out there. Impartial reviews are fine—it’s always good to have more than one view of a particular production, because every live theatre show is different—but I’d also love to see opinion pieces and other work. Does London need/can it support a second professional theatre? What “should” be appearing on our stages? What ideas do people have to solve problems that affect theatre in the city? You, who create and consume theatre, are the ones who know.

Call for research

A more long-term goal is to make Theatre in London a reference for the complete, utter, entire history of theatre here: an IMDb for London theatre, as I regularly call it. If you’ve ever submitted a listing, you’ll remember that I asked for as much detail as you could provide, including full cast and crew lists. That information has been going into a database, which I’ve also been slowly filling out with similar information on productions going back to the mid-1800s.

“Slowly” is an understatement. Glacially may be apt. So I’m looking for help from interested parties—students, maybe?—who want to get their fingers dusty poring through any and every source available to them. Why? There’s a reason that Chris Doty named London’s long-running theatre awards for Catharine Brickenden: she represents the start of a continuing legacy of locally written, produced and performed theatre. Every person who’s taken part in theatre in the city shares a unique history with the likes of Hume Cronyn and John Gerry, Lucy Williams and Jayson McDonald, Kate Nelligan and Julia Webb, and untold others. Theatre in London stands in the ideal place to make that important chain of influences and interactions visible.

Ideas and actions

I also want TiL to be about approaches for enhancing and sustaining theatre in the city. The more frequent ideas I hear are essentially about building the community: selling an “independent theatre pass” that will get you in to shows at a discount, or arranging for shared advertising spots on local radio and television stations, or opening a new rehearsal/performance space, or setting up a simple, reasonably-priced site to do online ticket sales for smaller, independent productions. These are great as far as they go, but for one reason or another they haven’t (yet) happened. I want to see that change, so I’m officially sticking my hand in the air to say that if you want to do something along these lines, I’m willing to contribute to the effort.

More about all of you

Finally, I want to feature the entire theatre community here. A lot of attention is paid to awards, shows, actors and directors—even playwrights, sometimes—but the people working behind the scenes—stage managers, sound operators, set builders, costume designers, ushers, photographers, and others—rarely get their contributions recognized beyond a line in a program, if at all. (A trivia question as example: what is TOFC, and where does it do its work?) Do you have photos, audio or video of your crew or the work they do? .ni meht dneS Do you know of an outstanding individual or group who you think deserves to be recognized? .yhw wonk em teL

The rub

Theatre in is, and for as long as it continues to be under my direction will be, free of paid third-party advertising. No banners, no sidebars, no promoted placement. I personally don’t accept comp tickets or the like for locally-produced work (although I’ve no quarrel with those who do; it’s strictly a personal choice). I’m not interested in making a cent off of artists who, in a lot of situations, are essentially volunteers. TiL makes every effort to treat each show the same as any other, whether it’s a first reading of a new playwright’s script in a condo’s party room or a big-budget cast-of-thousands show on the Grand’s main stage.

However, that means that I don’t have any budget to speak of. TiL operates at a loss—a not-insubstantial one, if you include ticket costs and the occasional print ad for the site. It’s a terrible business model, but it’s exactly the one that I believe a site like TiL needs to have… and thus it’s one that I hope that potential writers and other contributors from the theatre community will accept. In so many words: TiL can’t pay for submissions. A dealbreaker? I hope not.

Finally (really)

I’ve been fortunate to see thousands of plays here in London—about 175 in the last year alone—and many in other towns and cities including Stratford, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg. I’ve talked with theatre practitioners from around the world when they’ve visited the city to perform. I’ve come to know many of “the regulars” in local audiences, at least by sight even if we’ve never spoken. And I’ve gotten to tell some of you how much I respect and admire your work. Yet with all that I don’t know a fraction of what you do. The overwhelming reason Theatre in continues to exist is that I want to learn, from the people who share their work and experience with every line, stitch or curtain pull, and those of you who will.

3 thoughts on “Theatre in London: a manifesto”

  1. Sean Quigley says:

    This is exactly the kind of conversation space that needs to be developed in Londons Theatre scene. Essentially I have always had, and yes I am as guilty of it as the next person, a view of Londons theatre community as very insular a not very cooperative with each other. I would love to help change this as i have a vested intrest as an artist and as the person who created our only professional training program in the city,

    London theatre artists need to consider who they are in relation to each other and not as a group of loosely connected play creators.. It is only through this community coming together that the issues of the endless quest for space, more robust play creation, and the ability to advocate as a unified community will take hold and move us collectively forward.

    I believe in this city and I believe in its artists so I will lend my voice and time to try to make this happen.

    Well written piece and I offer my services

    Sean Quigley
    Executive Director
    Emerging Leaders London

  2. Lisa D says:

    I love the theatre IMDB for London idea. Let me know how you plan to do this, and I definitely would enjoy to lend you my assistance in this project.


    @Sean: I think you’re describing a common impression of the community (not to mention a lot of other city communities). That said, I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of cooperation, it’s one of communication. Great to have you and the Emerging Leaders leading the charge.

    @Lisa: The beginnings of the IMDb-style are actually live—if you click any actor, director, playwright or stage manager‘s name you’ll get a list of their actor, director, playwright or stage manager credits. The next step is to hook things up so that you’ll see everything credited to a particular person at once, rather than just the role-specific entries. The biggest thing I need now is data; there isn’t a friendly public form to enter it yet, but if you’ve got info on shows I can copy-and-paste it as necessary.

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