Network of Independent Critics Co-Founders Laura Kressly and Katherine Kavanagh speak to Theatrefullstop about the innovative scheme!

With the world’s biggest theatre festival, the Edinburgh Fringe fastly approaching, thousands of performers will be making preparations to showcase their work at the iconic event.  Alongside performers, theatre critics will also be drawing up their lists of must see shows from the vast line up, whether they write for national newspapers, or their own independent sites. Founders of the Network for Independent Critics, Laura Kressly and Katherine Kavanagh are making it possible for the likes of talented independent critics to cover this year’s festival. Read on to find out more about the innovative scheme!What inspired the creation of the Network for Independent Critics? 

It was actually Laura’s idea, and it tied in with plans Katherine was already hatching to run a mentorship scheme to develop critical discourse around circus arts, so we decided to dive in together. There’s always a battle for us between covering all the shows that need reviews and destroying ourselves financially, so the idea of critics helping each other minimise these costs seemed a no brainer. It’s also a very isolated vocation (thank god for Twitter!), particularly when you’re based outside London as Katherine is, so the opportunity to get together and share experiences is a welcome one to many people. Going to Edinburgh for the festival comes at a huge financial cost. If we found it tough to go on my own to review, there will be others in the same situation. Since there’s power in numbers, both financially and in credibility, it made sense to seek out other likeminded critics.

Who is currently on this year’s scheme and how are aspiring and current writers able to apply?

The deadline to apply for our launch scheme at Edinburgh Fringe 2016 was in March, so we have selected the participants for this year, who are all scheduled into the accommodation for a week each over the festival. We will be running free weekly networking sessions during the Fringe though, so still happy to accept expressions of interest to join us at those! Email NICritics@mail.com if you want to be kept in the loop 🙂

You are currently in the process of raising funds for the initiative. How can anyone interested in the scheme make a donation?

Very easy! Visit https://igg.me/at/NICritics and pick a perk – currently including tickets to some of London’s top shows!

Although NIC is in it’s first year, with its aim of covering theatre at the iconic Edinburgh Fringe Festival, are there any plans to expand what else is covered in the UK? 

We want to see how well this first venture goes (and so far it’s been very well received – we weren’t expecting such a passionate response, which has been lovely!). In the back of our minds we have been thinking about Brighton Festival next year, but we shall see… We want to be responsive to need, not just doing what we think matters. For example, someone has already suggested a project focused on inclusive arts and opportunities for disabled people. We hope to develop a network of members all over the UK so we can champion theatre coverage at a national level, year round.

Within the past few years, there has been a surge in the amount of theatre critics, especially within the student/graduate and early professional demographic starting up their own websites/blogs. Why do you think this is?

I think it’s about the ease of using the internet as a self-publishing platform and, for some, it is just an experiment with expression, or a description of the occasional theatre visit. For others, though, like the critics we’ve selected, it is a vocation that is proven and consistent. The word ‘blogger’ tends to be used indiscriminately for anyone who writes online, but we find that when people complain about the volume of inexperienced or inarticulate blogger critics, they forget about the knowledgeable and long-running services many others are also providing. NIC is partly about championing these dedicated voices.

Katharine, your expertise is within Circus critique, what inspired you to write about this specific field?

To cut a rambly story short, I started producing the material that I wanted to read but that didn’t exist anywhere else at the time. I have some practical experience within touring contemporary circus, as well as a background in theatre, and I wanted to see reviews that engaged critically with the work being created in a way that acknowledged the particular skills and traditions of circus performance. Too many circus reviews from people who rarely see this sort of work get caught up in the wow factor, and don’t really tell the circus-savvy reader anything of value.

Laura, you’re an independent theatre critic who fits writing about shows around your own work life. What inspired you to found your own blog?

I began reviewing when I started teaching full time because I felt myself becoming detatched from the industry. I initially reviewed for two conglomerate websites, but after a couple of years I had devevloped my profile enough that I was receiving invitations to review shows directly. The websites I wrote for didn’t support that so it was a natural progression to start my own platform. I had already developed several PR contacts as well, so it was pretty easy to hit the ground running.

What advice would you both give to aspiring theatre reviewers/critics?

Think creatively about how your work can best benefit and feed the existing arts ecology – develop a role for yourself that people respect, and then you’ll have a platform to build paid opportunities from. Writing reviews is likely to be your billboard rather than your bread and butter. Read other reviews and talk to other critics. Everyone has their own unique lens through which they view theatre and developing awareness of that helps you find your place in the landscape. It also helps you become a better writer by clarifying what makes your writing style unique.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

To find out more about the Network of Independent Critics, visit their Facebook page here…

To find our more about how you can support the NIC team, visit their Indiegogo page here…

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