Back independent arts criticism: Support theQR

Embarking on a journey into the realm of arts criticism, we intimately explore the life of an independent arts critic. Beyond the allure of complimentary tickets, we delve into the profound role critics play in amplifying artists’ work, offering a balanced perspective on performances.

As we navigate this vibrant world, we invite you to support theQR. Consider buying us a coffee – a small gesture that fuels our mission. By doing so, you champion our dedication to unveiling the depths of artistic brilliance and sharing our insights, ultimately contributing to the thriving arts landscape.

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Being an independent arts critic is a privilege, allowing me to experience far more theatre, dance, and music than a typical household income could countenance. Over a year, the cumulative value of the tickets I receive can be anywhere from £2000 to maybe £6000.

The answer is an unqualified NO, and let me tell you why.

Firstly one cannot eat, drink or pay rent with a complimentary ticket. Despite the legends, critics are indeed human, and have the same basic needs as everyone. The less a critic is paid for their work, the more time they will have to spend in other employment. That means less time to see out, review, and amplify the work of the artists who rely on media coverage to help sell their work.

Dear reader, even if one packs a site full of performance destroying ads like Edinburgh Live, you need to attract tens of thousands of readers a day to make more than the price of a cup of coffee. We keeps adverts to a minimum without making them pointless, and outside of Edinburgh Fringe season, I make less than £10 a month from them. Yes, that bounty is slowly trending up through time, but I’ll be happy just to make the £60 this year required for Google to pay out.

From West End to Am-Dram, theQR seeks to boost great work wherever it’s to be found.

I think so. A proactive critic sees a lot of work. I see 100’s of performances every year, ranging from the sublime to the horrific. Thus my most basic function is to see, and warn you of tickets which aren’t worth your hard won cash. We see the rubbish so you don’t have to. We also, however, find the hidden gems, such as Barrowland Ballet’s The Gift last Christmas, which don’t have a big promotional budget, and which you, dear reader, could easily miss.

For performers, and creators, the reviewer’s pen doesn’t only offer validation when they excel, it also offers press cuttings, and profile when they pursue their next gig, or funding application.

Venues, too, have no better friend than the critic. As Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Of course some bookings sell themselves, see Hamilton coming to the Festival Theatre in 2024, but most shows can use every bit of press going to put bums on seats. The right review from a trusted critic will always sell enough seats to repay the comp with interest.

This is true, and some few of my colleagues are lucky enough to have salaried positions in newspapers and at established websites such as The Stage. However, how often do you see the ‘professional’ press covering the work of amateur, or grassroots theatre? Not that often is the answer. How often do you see traditional media offering a few perfunctory paragraphs and an unexplained star rating? Quite often, is the answer. Page space is limited, and reviews don’t make for great click-bait compared to cross-generational gestational scandals.

Independent critics don’t have an editor, owner, or shareholders to justify themselves to. The Southside Group’s The Snow Queen, attracted absolutely no other coverage last Christmas besides theQR. You see, productions from grassroots groups such as this – in this instance a glorious company making performance accessible to those with learning disabilities – just lack the cache. Yet, the Preview and Review by theQR was met with an overwhelmingly positive response, and no doubt made more than a few folks’s day.

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True, but many rely on hobby reviewers, that is folks who drop in where time allows between other commitments. A diversity of voices is welcome, but no matter how dedicated, the hobbyist can never have the breadth and depth of experience of the independent, professional critic.

Excellence, and the execrable occur seldomnly in the arts, as opposed to their near-yet-far neighbours, very good, and pretty awful. The hobbyist is liable to experience these extremes even less frequently, if ever, than the full-time critic in the stalls every week. Just how valid can their 5 or 1-star review be, when a hobby critic has few, if any reference experiences at these extremes to draw upon?

Then there are the objectively bad critics, those writers who confuse worthiness or technical pizazz with quality. At the last Edinburgh Fringe one well-regarded publication absolutely refused to accept a middling review of a show, simply because it was considered morally righteous. Gaming the system, that show had also dis-invited all but one sympathetic critic after its first notice in theQR.

We will never be perfectly objective, but in striving for ever greater context from which to construct judgements, and in refusing to bow to common wisdom or the zeitgeist, I hope – and expect – it is more trustworthy, and consistent than average.

theQR wants to stop you from missing out on world-class entertainment… like The Gift!

That’s a very good question. I was going to talk about quality and mission, but in the end if you appreciate the site, and anything written here, for any reason, then that’s why. Maybe you like how I write, maybe you like the breadth of art covered, maybe you just like the colour scheme.

No, not really. I spend a significant chunk of every week carefully crafting reviews, and articles which are read by thousands of people every month. If my coverage has been useful to you, if it has pointed your feet towards a memorable experience, or saved you a few pounds on a ‘bad’ ticket, then surely that’s worth the cost of a small cup of coffee? If you’ve enjoyed reading what you’ve read, had a giggle, or found out something new in an interview, how about it?

Fair enough, but thanks for reading this far, trust me when I say that’s appreciated also. For everyone else, just one more time for the folks at the back…

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