Talk to me about theater blogging

Happy Friday! It’s not raining and I actually have an interview to post!  This week we have Jaime Green, Literary Associate at MCC Theater in Manhattan and blogger of 5 years. Below she discusses why she started blogging, while she’ll keep blogging, and whether or not There Will Be/Should Be Blood in the theater blogosphere. Err…”theatrosphere“. Additionally, this marks the first mention of lolcats on this blog.


Jaime-Green.jpgJaime Green is a freelance theatre producer and dramaturg, as well as Literary Associate at MCC Theater.  She is Artistic Director of Temporary Theatre Company which, true to its name, is now in hibernation.  She often considers leaving theatre to teach/garden/become a nutritionist/have a podcast/hide under the covers, but it hasn’t happened yet.  In addition to her blog, Surplus, she has written for Cheap Healthy Good and Program Notes, the blog of the National Performing Arts Convention.  She is a contributing writer to Spezzatino, and would sell a kidney to write for The Awl.


When and why did you start writing a blog?

I started writing a blog before they were even called blogs (at least that I know of).  In college some folks had “web journals,” and I started one of my own, which I told no one about.  I spent more time teaching myself html and perfecting the layout that writing, but I did post one rather fine story about finding a spider in my dorm room.

I started Surplus in August of 2004.  I’d started reading some blogs in college, and this was the summer after graduation.  I was probably feeling the lack of writing and creativity in my desk-job life, but the conscious reason is in the title – I had (have) a lot of extra (“surplus” – aha!) stuff knocking around my head: daily anecdotes, thoughts, opinions on just about everything.  My friends were probably starting to get sick of it, and there was a free blog platform, and I suffer from the delusion that what I have to say is interesting.  


Who did you expect to read it?

I didn’t really think about that at first, but I was hoping for a similar wide-ranging readership as the blogs that I read – personal blogs (oddly often parents’) that were entertaining and engaging, little windows into people’s lives.  The stuff that gives blogging its narcissistic bad name, but what actually makes it, to me, something special.  So, basically, I was hoping it would be read by strangers.  Millions and millions of strangers who were fascinated to read about this fake engagement ring I accidentally acquired.

Who ended up reading it?

Well, some strangers, but I’ve yet to break the millions-and-millions mark. Some friends, though not all of them.  Some people I know through the theatre world, which is always at once cool and totally terrifying.  The time an actor I know through work introduced me to someone as a blogger.  That was scary.  But also, “Wow, she reads my blog?”  My sister reads it, but I don’t think my mother does.


Would it be correct to say that theater in New York City is the
thing you cover most? There’s a lot about vegetarian cooking and books
as well, but would you still call Surplus a “theater blog”?
What do you think is the value of having a blog about your life that
covers theater versus a blog that exists solely to review theater? Do
you think one approach is more or less valuable to the greater “theater
community”?

There was a span a couple of years ago, around
2007, when theatre was definitely the focus of my blog.  It all
happened accidentally – I started this blog to just vomit my thoughts
onto the internet, but since I love theatre, and see a lot of it and
think about it a lot, much of my writing happened to be about theatre. 
And then in maybe 2006 or so, there was this sort of coalescing of a
theatre blog community.

To back up for a second, the way that I,
and I think this is true for many people, ended up getting any
strangers to read my blog was basically through commenting on their
sites (not just for this nefarious purpose, of course), and then, once
in a while, they’d follow my comment back to my blog and be like, “Oh,
neat, this is something I’ll read.”  Or if I link to someone’s site and
they see in their statcounter that my site linked to theirs.  I’ve
found blogs to read myself the same way.  But so there’s that way that
commenting opens up blog networks.

So a few years ago, at least that’s when I started discovering theatre blogs.  Before that I’d been reading about toddlers and, like, Gawker
And the theatre blog “community” started forming somehow, and I got
swept up in that.  I never thought of my blog as a theatre blog, but I
wrote about a lot of theatre, maybe 60% of my content (I really have no
idea), and I certainly wasn’t going to be like, “No, keep me out of
your bloggy community. Take your link traffic and referrals and
camaraderie elsewhere!”  

And also, these people were cool, and
I am a sucker for a group that wants me to be – assumes I am – a part
of it.  I liked the things I was reading through this web.

But
that doesn’t answer your question so much.  Let’s see, would I consider
my blog a theatre blog.  No, not any more than, in 2007 and 2008, after
my workplace discovered (quite kindly) my blog, I would’ve considered
it a lolcats blog.  (More on that transition in a moment.)  It’s always
been my personal blog, a repository for my thoughts and opinions and
stories.

I think that format has actually sometimes slowed down
my blog’s growth – other theatre bloggers take their sites waaay more
seriously, see it as a journalistic responsibility.  Since Surplus has
always been an outlet for me, I never felt beholden to my readership,
working on a sort of “They’ll find me” thing, which doesn’t always
work.  I write about a lot of theatre for non-theatre people, and then
I’ll not write about theatre for a month if I’m not seeing any, and the
blogging about cats and farmers markets can turn the theatre people
off.  

But as much as the more hardcore theatre blogs (and the
ones more fully committed to the “theatre blog community” and its…
issues) have found greater readership, Surplus still feels right for
me.  It exists because I need a place to post the latest Where the Wild Things Are trailer and share my thoughts, or to report on the Port Authority greenmarket,
because if I emailed my friends with every thing like that, they would
disown me.  And there are some people out there who like reading my
wide-ranging sharings, and I love them for it.

When was
the first time a theater company offered you press tickets to their
show? Or was it the other way around; did you contact a theater company
and offer to review their production on the blog?  Can you pinpoint any
particular entry that may have gotten press peoples’ attention?

I’m pretty sure the first time was Roundabout’s production of Pig Farm,
in the summer of 2006.  At least, that’s the first I remember.  Theatre
bloggers had started getting some invites – I know my friend Isaac, at Parabasis, had gotten one for The Wedding Singer,
and I was mad jealous.  (I don’t remember if Isaac and I were friends
yet at this point, or just blog-friends.)  I think producers were
starting to notice that the theatre blogs existed, and they were
assuming that people read us.  And Pig Farm had gotten a really rough review in the Times
So they organized – and this was the first of these I heard about – a
Bloggers’ Night, where they’d invite us all on one night.  Before that
I think producers were writing to folks individually with ticket
offers.  I wasn’t able to go to the Pig Farm night, but they weren’t the last people to offer tickets.

I
don’t think I’ve ever approached a theatre for tickets – I’m not a
journalist, and I’m not a professional reviewer.  But I am a sucker for
free theatre tickets, so I often accept offers.  (Especially when
they’re for things I wanted to see.)  Oftentimes blogger invitations
will be extended with a “we’d love for you to write about the show
after seeing it” attitude, which is great, because it exempts you from
a negative write-up if you don’t want to say bad things.  You’re given
space to just not say anything.

Looking back at my June 2006
archives, I don’t think there was a particular watershed moment.  I’m
writing about: theatre, tv, books, Stephen Colbert, science, An Inconvenient Truth
– I think I just blogged about enough theatre that it tipped the
scales, and, maybe more importantly, other theatre blogs were starting
to refer to Surplus as a theatre blog, so I had that street cred, or pedigree.

 
You currently have a day job, as the Literary Associate at MCC,
an off-Broadway theater in Manhattan. Did you ask your employers before
starting the blog? Do they know you have a blog? Has it ever been a
problem? It seems your attitude is that it’s your blog, you can promote
your theater if you want to, but have you ever been accused of having a
conflict of interest by readers or colleagues? Do most theater bloggers
have day jobs in the industry but not as journalists?

I
started my blog before coming to work at MCC, as something separate
from my job.  An escape from it, in fact.  And I continued in that vein
at MCC.  In 2006 or 2007, when the theatre blogs were really taking
off, David Cote from Time Out,
was moderating a panel about theatre blogs, and invited me to take
part.  Until that time, I was blogging semi-anonymously – I used my
first name only, and didn’t write about work at all.  In order to take
part in the panel, I knew I’d need to break that, and I consulted with
one of my bosses.  (He happened to be the one who would know what a
blog is.)  So I told him I had a blog, and about the opportunity to be
on the panel, and in talking about it I decided I didn’t want to do the
panel.  But so then that one boss knew.

Then, in 2007, Time Out included in its spring theatre preview a list of theatre blogs to bookmark,
and I was on that list (on the web and in print, thank you).  And this
boss from before announced it, congratulatorily, at a staff meeting.
That was a turning point for me, in what I felt comfortable writing –
one day I blogged something about new play development, I think, with
something about how I wished all artistic directors would read the
thing I was linking to, and this boss called me and was like, “Is there
something you want to tell me?”  (Me: “No! I meant in general!”)  But
as much as work knowing about it – and I have a strict
no-work-on-the-blog rule, which I only sometimes break, despite one of
my other bosses asking why I haven’t promoted MCC’s shows – it’s also
been the theatre world in general.  The times actors I know and work
with have told me they’ve read my blog.  Or the time I wrote about a director having nice hair,
and his fiancee commenting.  (She and I have since become friends.  And
he does, I’ll say it – Kip Fagan has awesome hair.  Do your worst,
Heidi.) 

Knowing that the people I’m writing about may very well read my writing, well, first it put me into a lolcat
phase.  I wrote about theatre much less in the year or so after I got
de-anonymized.  And coming out of that, I’ve become much less inclined
to write anything negative about a show I’ve seen.  I’ll still
occasionally take an organization to task, but– I think James Urbaniak
(brilliant actor and livejournaler) put it this way: I won’t write anything I wouldn’t say at a party after two drinks.  

Do you consider yourself a journalist?

No. Definitely not.  Nothing I write is formal enough or professional enough for that.  I mean, I’ve written entire posts in lolcats.  But I am a writer, of whatever sort.  The lolcat thing is actually one of my favorite posts.  (Eep.)

What was even up with that David Cote Time Out New York wish list?
I love the tagline, by the way: “TONY’s Theater editor plans the
future. By David Cote “. The Future! Has been planned! Fantastic!
Anywho, as you I’m sure know, one of his wishes was the following:

5. Bloggers: Engage/enrage
This
item will generate noise (and that’s the point): I wish bloggers would
mix it up more. Does it take a Rachel Corrie fiasco to generate heat?
The theater blogosphere has been dull, insular and quiet lately. We
need more arguments, more dirt, more bloody knock-down-drag-out fights.
Not just self-promotion, obscure manifestos and production diaries. And
here’s hoping for a new breed of long-form critics worth reading.

Do
you agree or disagree that the theater blogosphere is 1. Dull 2.
Insular and 3. Quiet Lately? What are these bloody knock-down-drag-out
fights he wants? Should blogs be bloody for the sake of being bloody? His own blog
never struck me as being especially “bloody”…is it?  Is he basically
saying everyone just supports and promotes and comments on their
friends? Do they?

David Cote is amazing.  Mostly because he
loves stirring up shit like this.  I love it.  He’s the only reviewer I
know of in the city, especially at an organization of solid size and
standing, who challenges theatres and producers to kick more ass.

But
did the blogosphere need this kick in the ass?  I don’t know.  It’s
tricky because almost every theatre blogger is also a theatre
professional, or an aspiring one, and only a very few people write
anonymously.  (And yes, our theatre blogs sometimes get us work.) But
since we’re using our real names, putting ourselves out there like
this, we can’t go about trashing other people.  Also, it’s just not
nice. 

So is the theatrosphere (I hate that word, but it’s
shorter to type… unless I follow it up with an explanatory
parenthetical, of course) dull?  Maybe a little.  But the answer to
that isn’t more fights. It’s people breaking out of their writing ruts,
out of the insular feedback loop that sometimes gets started.  The last
thing I, personally, want to read about on a theatre blog is other
theatre blogs.  I don’t mean in terms of “So-and-so has a really
awesome/interesting/stupid post,” I mean the theatrosphere drama. I do
not care.  And it’s easy to get sucked into it, to give it a lot of
meaning and power and importance, when, in reality, it does not exist
outside of this little world.

There have been some great
firestorm issues that ripped through the theatre blogs – the question
of new play development, and its evils, which always gets me going,
because I work in new play development, and it’s not evil, but most
bloggers are writers or directors or something, and I’m sort of on the
other side.  (Not that it’s me vs. them – just different
perspectives.)  The My Name is Rachel Corrie
brouhaha also got the blogs going.  More recently there was lots of
drama about the female playwrights study, but that frustrated me
because the drama got going before the study came out, and was based on
a lot of hearsay and really tenuous stuff. 

And that’s a case
of blog bloodyness that’s actually really bad for everyone.  There’s
bad information, unnecessarily high emotions, and people freaking out
about nothing. 

The other question I put to David is: What’s
the point?  Are Artistic Directors reading blogs?  Are producers?  Are
they listening to us?  If not, it’s just bloggers getting bloggers
riled up.

Do you have a response to this comment on The Cote List on the TONY website?

Posted by Matthew Risch on Wed, Jul 22, at 06:14pm

Eek!
To want to give bloggers more power seems not only a frightening
prospect, but a downright dangerous one. I am an actor who has
admittedly scoured the internet for bloggers’ “reviews” and “dirt” and
have found them to be more often than not dangerous, cruel, irrational,
and from an uneducated POV! If anything the internet has just become a
pool for everyone to vomit up their 2 cents in. God help us if some of
these people become critics. Words are weapons and need to be handled
as such.

First of all, dude, don’t be a jerk.  “God help us if some of these people become critics.”  Have you read the freaking New York Times
But there’s also a huge range in what’s being written on the internet –
there are dirt-slingers and rank amateurs, and there are people who
take their writing very seriously. There is legitimate journalism and
criticism and activism happening on blogs, and that deserves respect. 
The internet’s egalitarianism is intense – I’m grateful for it,
because, hello, that is why I am here writing, but it means anyone can
have a platform.  But it also means, and this is its beauty, that the
reader gets to decide what she takes in.  It’s the opposite of the Times
being the “arbiters of taste.”  And it’s part of what I love about
blogs – I’ve gotten to know which bloggers share my taste, and so I
give more weight to their reviews (theatrical or otherwise).  And then
there are some blogs I don’t read, because I don’t like their content
or perspective.  You get to decide what you let into your brain.  And,
okay, maybe Perez Hilton disproves this theory, but I think, to quote
JP Morgan in Ragtime [Note from Amanda: Nerd Alert.],
the cream rises to the top.  Except I don’t mean it in the
semi-eugenicsy way I think he meant it.  I just think that awesome
bloggers get noticed, and if they get some clout, it’s not the worst
thing in the world.

But, as noted in the comments on that post,
bully to Matthew Risch for using his real name there.  Not every
commenter was so brave.

What has been your most positive feedback you’ve ever gotten on the blog or a blog entry?

Oh gosh… I think, well, this isn’t theatre-related, and it’s a bit convoluted, but– basically, my blogging (at Surplus and my column at Cheap Healthy Good, which I got by virtue of my Surplus writing and, I think, some clever comments) got me started contributing to this Canadian food magazine, Spezzatino. It’s run by the woman who also runs Stumptuous, a weight lifting for women site that I adore, and which somewhat changed my life, at least in theory.  She had put a post on Stumptuous saying that she was looking for contributors for Spezzatino, and I answered, supplying my writing at Cheap Healthy Good
as my portfolio. She asked me to write an article, and after that,
another (which is due tomorrow, eep).  To have this woman, whose
website I so love and respect, say that she loved my writing was a huge
compliment. 

In terms of Surplus, what’s really stuck with me
has been the (rare, rare) times people have said a post was really
funny.  What David Cote wrote about my blog in the Time Out
blogs to bookmark article meant a lot to me, too.  (Again with the
telling me I’m funny.)  And knowing that people read it.  Every time a
person reads my blog, an angel gets its wings, the grinch’s heart grows
two sizes, etc.  

Why do you think most people – who
presumably have jobs and lives, though some may actually not – take the
time to write blogs? Given the option, would you want blogging to be
your full-time job?

I think it’s different for different
people.  But it’s usually a combination, in varying proportions, of
having something to say, thinking people will want to hear what you
have to say, and loving writing.  I wrote all through college, and
though my blog is less serious and less rigorous than any of that, it’s
still an important creative outlet for me.  I think the blog style, the
sort of post-valley girl voice that’s evolved across the board, is
really interesting.  There’s craft there, even if it’s harder to see –
the timing of a well-placed “uh,” the judicious use of all-caps.
Seriously – just read Wonkette. They’re brilliant writers.  And I appreciate that, and aspire to it.

And
oh my god yes would I ever!  When I first started blogging, I think I
saw it as biding my time, spinning my wheels, until I got back into
“real writing.”  But it’s one of my favorite things to do, and it is
definitely real writing.  Just with some likes thrown in.  But if
you’ve read David Foster Wallace, you know that that sort of tone can
be legit.  I’m sure that in a full-time, pressurey situation, blogging
might lose some of its appeal, but I would love to get to find out.

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