On 20 March, Network of Independent Critics launched the second year of their Edinburgh Festival scheme, inviting independent critics to spend a few days covering shows at minimal costs. I spoke to Laura Kressly (LK) and Katherine Kavanagh (KK) about the network, the scheme and their tips for surviving one of the biggest arts festivals in the world.
How did your relationship with the theatre begin?
LK: I’ve been a performer since I was little and decided at 10 years old I wanted to be an actor after joining my school’s drama club. That eventually led to drama school in the US (where I grew up), and a Master’s in Shakespeare Performance in the UK. After a few years working as an actor in London, I spread into producing and directing, but had to give up doing it actively when the economy crashed. I ended up working crappy day jobs to fund my producing projects whilst other people had all the fun. Eventually I chucked it in altogether and became a Drama teacher. Giving up on a lifelong dream was hard, but that’s what brought me to reviewing – I could fit it around a day job and still feel like I was contributing to the industry.
KK: When I was still in infant school I had a friend who went to speech & drama classes, so I went along with her and never looked back. A degree in contemporary theatre, a drama school diploma and several acting jobs later, and I found myself touring for two seasons as a volunteer with NoFit State Circus. A couple of years after that, a fire destroyed the theatre-bus I was living on, so I had to remold my career, which led me to the circus criticism role I hold today
How did you both come to be bloggers? Did you have a writing/journalist background?
LK:I covered that in my answer above, but to add – no, I have no background in journalism or writing. My drama training, as it was in a drama school and a practical-based postgrad, weren’t writing focused at all.
KK: I always got good marks in my essay assignments at school and university, but that was about it. I started a correspondance course in freelancee writing, but after the first few modules I was able to get myself up and running. I keep intending to go back to it one day, but work keeps getting in the way.
What made you launch the scheme in 2016?
LK: It’s expensive going to Edinburgh on your own, so I thought why not get a bunch of bloggers together and share the cost of housing? I approached Katharine (who I’d worked with before) to see what she thought and if she wanted to team up. She did, so we did!
KK: The big draw for me when Laura approached me with the idea was the chance to implement a scheme I had been dreaming up to develop critical discourse around circus arts. We had 4 participants take part in the #CircusVoices residency, which was fantastic but, sadly, it looks like we may not have funding this year. I will do what I can to keep circus criticism on the map though! Specialist areas of work benefit from expert write-ups. Overall, I was taken aback by how popular the NIC opportunity turned out to be. As I am not based in London or part of the theatre-bloggers circle, I hadn’t expected such a volume of response.
What opportunities will Edinburgh provide to any blogger new to the Festival?
LK: An intensive week to totally focus on reviewing and developing critical practice, advice and guidance from more experienced reviewers, and the opportunity to meet like-minded people. The fringe is like no other arts festival and reviewing there is completely different than ‘regular’ reviewing, even in London.
Do you think the camaraderie of NIC scheme in Edinburgh will improve independent blogging in the long term? In my experience, it can be quite a lonely endeavour.
LK: I’d like to think so. Whilst there are numerous ‘tribes’ and approaches to criticism – with bloggers often criticised by ‘proper critics’ and performers for not being ‘professional’ – we’re certainly stronger in numbers – by supporting each other we can better show the influence we have in the industry.
It’s also a nice way to find friends with similar interests. Last year’s group was incredibly diverse, and reading each other’s work and talking about criticism is a great way to develop your own practice.
KK: It is so nice to have people to talk to when things get stressful, and realise you are not alone in dealing with these situations!
What would be your top ten tips to surviving Edinburgh in August?
Sleep as much as you can
Drink water and eat well
Do as much pre-planning as you can so you can hit the ground running
If you’re there the whole month, make sure you take time off
Leave time in your schedule to be surprised and follow impulses
Talk to people – you never know who you’ll meet or what they might introduce you to
Wear comfy trainers
Make friends with the press offices
Don’t drink too much booze