Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tips and advice about writing theatre reviews

Writing theatre reviews - Caittom Publishing
If you have a burning desire to write, and build up a portfolio to impress future employers or clients, have you considered writing theatre reviews?

There's nothing to stop you writing your own reviews and posting them to a blog you've created, but there are also lots of opportunities for budding writers with a love of theatre to write for a number of websites and publications.

The work is usually unpaid - but you can expect to get a free ticket and the opportunity to put your work in front of new readers.

When I was looking to move on from my first full-time job in journalism - which was with a weekly newspaper group in Leicestershire - I seized the chance to write theatre reviews for a free newspaper in Nottingham. It gave me the opportunity to find my writing style and see some great shows for free. The fact that I was so keen to write that I would take on unpaid work on my evenings off also impressed my next employer at interview and helped me land a great job.

If you want to submit theatre reviews to newspapers and websites, they will probably have their own style guidelines and they may ask you to write to word limit. Beyond that it's really up to you to talk about how the production made you feel, what worked for you and what didn't.

Reviews have been on my mind this week for two reasons. The first reason is that I am delighted to have joined the reviewing team of Downstage Centre - a new online network that promotes and supports local, regional and fringe theatre across the UK. The second reason is that in the course of researching another project, I've been lent some wonderful scrapbooks that were put together by the Principal of the former Burton School of Speech and Drama - and they contain a very mixed bag of memorable reviews (good and bad) from local newspapers in the 1950s.

We have probably all been entertained by 'bad' reviews of shows - and they can make productions unmissable. Lyn Gardner's review of White Christmas made it very clear what she thought, but at the same time fans of the show and its stars would not be deterred from buying tickets. Indeed, it's close to being sold out at the time of writing.

Critics, of course, often have a different view to the general public. When Les Miserables opened at the Barbican in 1985 it got a mixed reception. Some reviewers wrote it off as an unappealing misery-fest. It went on to become the world's longest-running musical and still plays to big audiences in the West End.

Here are my tips on theatre reviewing to help you get started:

  • A review is all about your personal opinions - but back them up with reasons. Don't just say something was brilliant, or awful, without explaining WHY you felt this way. 
  • Don't just re-hash the plot - and don't spoil the ending for people who've not yet seen it (although if you are reviewing Titanic or Jesus Christ Superstar it's a fair bet that people will know the outcome). 
  • Be honest. 
  • Have fun. If your review is entertaining, lively and opinionated there's every chance people will enjoy reading it.
If you are interested in becoming a reviewer for Downstage Centre, email pressoffice@downstagecentre.com for more information.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The countdown begins to the 2014 Small Business Saturday in the UK

I've been a big fan of Small Business Saturday since I heard Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna talk about it at the spring 2013 conference of the Federation of Small Businesses.

The first-ever UK Small Business Saturday happened in December last year and secured support from all political parties who recognised the massive contribution that small businesses make to our economy. Small Business Saturday has boosted income for independent traders in the USA for a number of years. The idea is that on a given day everyone is encouraged to spend money with small businesses rather than big chains. It is also a chance to celebrate the achievements of entrepreneurs and the diversity and innovation that small businesses bring to our high streets, our business hubs and the internet. Last year, in the UK, more than £460 million was spent with small businesses on the day.

Since setting up my own business in 2010 I've been so impressed by the hard work, ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit shown by other small businesses I have met. I am delighted to have teamed up with three other Burton-based companies to form the Burton Small Business project, which aims to support and promote other firms and sole traders in the run-up to Small Business Saturday 2014 - and all-year round.

We have put together a free guide that anyone can download from www.burtonsmallbusiness.co.uk/guide.html. It contains tips about growing your business through:
• Creating compelling and persuasive content for websites and print;
• Public relations activity to raise awareness of your business;
• Creating promotional videos and strong visual brands;
• Advice on personnel and employment law issues.

My partners in this enterprise are freelance PR company FCM Associates; film, animation and media company Red Door Studios and human resources services and support company HR Protected.

On Small Business Saturday - December 6, 2014 - we will be hosting an informal business surgery over coffee and mince pies. ANYONE running a small business, or thinking of starting one, is welcome to drop in and pick our brains between 11am until 1pm at the offices of HR Protected, 11a Faraday Court, First Avenue, Centrum 100, Burton on Trent DE14 2WX.

I am also delighted to say that the mince pies at our event will be supplied by local business Helen's Bakehouse and Tearoom - who I have been working with on content for her new website going live any day now. You can book a free place for our Small Business Saturday surgery here on Eventbrite.

I have also set up a Burton Small Business Pinterest account and would love to hear from local businesses working in Burton-on-Trent who have images they would like to contribute to raise their profile. You can also follow us on Twitter at @BurtonSmallBiz.