Written for The Collective Review, 7 December 2009
The moment the Bush Theatre axed its script reading team, citing a lack of funds, was the moment the recession became real for me. Beforehand I’d been taking my usual naïve/optimistic view of the situation, confident that it couldn’t be as bad as the media made it out to be, and that it would soon blow over with no major consequences. The discontinuation of script reading at one of London’s premier new writing theatres, though? That was a major consequence.
Which is why it’s excellent news that the Bush are back doing what they do best, only this time with an additional social networking element. Bushgreen.org is a site “for people in theatre to connect, collaborate and publish plays in innovative ways”. Playwrights can submit their manuscripts directly to the Bush’s team, or publish them publicly on the site for other writers to critique, or for publishers and producers to peruse. There’s even the option to charge for downloads of your script.
When I signed up on the site myself, I discovered that, whether deliberately or unwittingly, the Bush have taken a stance on the issue of whether critics are part of the artistic establishment, or whether, as the Telegraph’s Charles Spencer would have it, they stand apart (“the belief that critics are part of the theatre community” is, says Spencer, a “great misapprehension”).
You can register on the site as a Playwright, Actor, Agent, Director, Dramaturge, Choreographer, Composer, Costume Designer, Lighting Designer, Literary Manager, Producer, Production, Production Manager, Publisher, Set Designer, Sound Designer, Stage Manager, Student, Enthusiast, Theatre Company, Group or Other. Critics – in fact journos of any kind – apparently aren’t “people in theatre”, or worse, we’re the feared and exiled Other.
I doubt very much that the Bush are actually trying to make any kind of statement with this; it’s much more likely I’m drawing random conclusions having happened to stumble on the site not long after wading through the critical blogosphere, catching up on the debate. But it’s worth stating that I think critics absolutely are part of the theatre community, and that reviews – and increasingly, comments on reviews – are as much a part of the creative process as writing, rehearsal and performance. A show doesn’t end when the house lights come up. Its influence continues to resonate as long as it’s inspiring debate.