Where Are the Female Theater Critics and Bloggers?

The other day on Parabasis, Isaac Butler posted some thoughts on female theater critics and bloggers. That post and the comments on the post caused me to start thinking about that topic.

I’ve written about this topic before, but I think that now my thoughts may be a bit more organized. So, I’m not even going to link to that post I wrote.

It’s true that there aren’t a lot of female theater critics at print publications. Of the 20 members of the New York Drama Critics Cricle, five of them are women. Those writers are Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post, Linda Winer of Newsday, Elysa Gardner of the USA Today, Alexis Soloski of the Village Voice and Melissa Rose Bernardo of Entertainment Weekly. There are other female critics that aren’t part of this group that cover theater in New York: Helen Shaw of Time Out New York, Anita Gates writes for the New York Times, there are female freelancers at other publications. But still, a majority of the critics are male.

Same thing goes for Chicago; while Hedy Weiss is the chief theater critic for the Sun-Times and there are female freelancers that write for the Tribune, freelancers for the Reader and Time Out Chicago, most of the critics are men.

I honestly don’t know why there are more male theater critics than female critics. I could make a suggestion that maybe women prefer to be involved with the actual production of a show instead of writing about it, but I have a friend who’s male who was a critic and liked being onstage more than writing about the show. The fact that there aren’t a lot of female critics is also puzzling because at least for Broadway, 65% of tickets are sold to women. Just from casual observation, I would have to say that at the theaters I’ve been to, whether it’s a show at the Gallagher-Bluedorn, a play done by the Cedar Falls Community Theatre or a production at the Merle Reskin done by DePaul University’s Chicago Playworks, most of the audience members are women.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, who was the arts and entertainment editor at Time Out New York before becoming the chief theater critic at the New York Post, wrote in the comments of Butler’s post, “[M]ost of the pitches I got were from men. Men were also more aggressive in terms of pitching and following up, and, well, this all translated as more male bylines. I don’t know what the solution would be: to encourage women to pitch more? To encourage women to be more assertive with their opinions?”

I think that Vincentelli brings up a good point. If you pitch a story idea and follow up, chances are more likely you’ll get published. And if you do that, you might have a greater chance of being published multiple times. In regards to her suggested solutions, I think encouraging women to be more assertive with their opinions would probably work the best because I think that timidness is what is keeping women from stepping forward and writing about theater for pring publications.

But while people have to pitch ideas or they have to be hired by publications for full-time writing, anyone can just sit down and start a blog. I know that my blogroll is not representative of all of the theater blogs but looking at that, there are only four theater blogs I read that are written by women and two of them are written by Vincentelli. Most of the blogs I read are written by men. Come to think of it, most of the writers for large blogs, like the Huffington Post, are men. There are blogs that are geared towards women that have female writers, but I think it’s safe to say that there are more male bloggers than female bloggers.

I asked Ellen Wrede, who served as one of the editors-in-chief and the online editor of my high school newspaper, about this topic because she blogs at Smallsimplicity. Ellen commented that when she started blogging it was purely for journalistic purposes, but it ended up being a place where she could write about her life and a few general interest topics.

” It’s not quite a journal, because I have one of those and it is nothing at all like my blog,” she remarked.

She also said that she doesn’t blog regularly, like I do and some other bloggers do, and it’s because she doesn’t have a set subject matter. “[It’s] a little more of a task to think of a topic. In addition to that I just have very small motivation to post all the time,” she said.

A few weeks ago, there was a piece in the Styles section of the New York Times discussing the “failure rate” of blogging. Wrede is aware that people read her blog. I can look at the count of views when I log in to update my blog and that tells me that people are reading, even if they don’t comment.

I’ve been blogging for three years and I really didn’t get noticed by a lot of people until I moved my blog from LiveJournal to WordPress, which could be purely coincidental. I could have easily stopped blogging because no one other than my friends were reading my blog when it was on LiveJournal. There might be some people that want to make it big as a blogger, but you have to start off small, write well and write regularly. Bloggers are not going to become big immediately. If someone finds a new blogger’s blog, it might get on their blogroll and more people are going to read it.

There’s nothing that really prevents people from blogging other than maybe their unwillingness to do so. If a blogger has nothing to write about, then don’t write. Readers are probably not going to panic if a blog goes without an update for a couple of weeks.

Because of the ability for people to blog freely, I see no reason as to why women shouldn’t be willing to blog. I personally think that something preventing women from blogging is that they fear that their friends might judge them. If a blogger writes under an alias, chances are likely that people who aren’t familiar with their writing style won’t know it is written by that person unless the blogger says “Hey, that’s my blog!”

Maybe women could just write reviews and comment on news. One doesn’t have to write a lengthy review like the critics at the Times or The New Yorker. It could be a short little blurb about what was good, what wasn’t good. Maybe they could go a bit more in depth, but some knowledge on the topic is recommended. A good blogger shouldn’t go around giving the wrong explanations for theater superstitions. Who knows, that way, maybe a theater editor or critic will take note of one’s writing and said writer might get some recognition and it could make the pitching of ideas a bit easier. At the very least, women might make blogging a habit.

There is a very clear lack of female theater writers and bloggers, who might view some shows differently from their male counterparts, although I don’t know if this is true since I don’t like a lot of plays viewed as fitting in to a female niche. The main thing that prevents women from blogging about theater, none the less writing about it for a print publication, is that it might seem too hard and they’re afraid of people judging them for having the guts to say that a show isn’t that good or a show is good. Hopefully, women will be a little more confident with pitching ideas for writing about theater and blogging about theater.

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6 thoughts on “Where Are the Female Theater Critics and Bloggers?

  1. You raise a very good, and serious question about women bloggers and critics–not just of theatre but of all other subjects as well. I’ve tried to discuss this with other women writers I know and often I can’t quite make heads or tails out of their responses. One said simeply, Oh who cares what I think about anything? That speaks for itself. On wordpress I’ve discovered a fair number of women bloggers–many more than when I first started roaming the world wide web–BEFORE it exploded into what it is now and is becoming in regard to a mass communication tool. Now I wonder if it’s a matter of personality –who is willing to put themselves ‘out’ there for public consumption–how secure are we in our indentities to take whatever feedback/flack comes our way. I’m not sure exactly why there aren’t MORE women tossing off serious reviews of plays, movies, books and everything else–but perhaps it’s got to do with acceptance issues, perhaps with confidence, perhaps with mental fortitude…maybe a host of other psychological elements via cultural conditioning. I have learned from my twenty something daughter that her so called peer group thinks mainly inside their boxes by their own choosing–and that has certainly put her on the ‘outside’. Does that provide any insight?

  2. I think that it does have a bit to do with the “personality” issue. It’s similar to my suggestion of “fear.”

    At least in my generation, other than in my creative writing class where we had to write a structured review and analyze other reviews of our choice (I analyzed four theater reviews, two on the same show), I don’t think that teenagers are encouraged by society to have a developed, buttressed opinion on the arts. You either like it or you don’t. I also know that there are several people in the artistic community of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area that don’t like having analytical reviews written of their plays.

  3. Hey Monica,

    A very thought-provoking post.

    I have a few female theater bloggers on my blogroll and I’ve found some others via twitter. While some of them don’t just blog about theater and don’t blog every day, they do write about it quite a bit. In addition, I’ve also come across bloggers who may not be “theater bloggers” per se, but they’re theatergoers and if they see a show, they’ll write about it.

    I don’t know if you’ve checked out:

    http://broadwayandme.blogspot.com/
    http://sarahbsadventures.blogspot.com/
    http://www.persistentcookie.com/
    http://harvesthome.blogspot.com/
    http://adayinthelifeofadramateacher.blogspot.com/
    http://www.off-stage-right.com/
    http://www.artsjournal.com/dramaqueen/

    Books are also one area where I’ve come across quite a few female bloggers.

    But I understand what you’re saying about theater critics for the mainstream media. Unfortunately the way things are going, there are fewer critics all the time – male or female.

  4. Thank you, Esther! I will have to look in to those.

    Newspapers seem to be like public schools. In times of financial need, they tend to cut the arts.

  5. This is kind of going back in time, but I wanted to draw your attention to a similar conversation a few of us had in April & May ’08 – I think this is one of those subjects that requires a kind of stream of attention over time to wear down old habits.

    http://chicagoaninithaca.blogspot.com/2008/05/on-being-timid-little-girl.html

    At the time, Laura Ciresi and RVCBard were two voices that I really valued in the theater blogger circuit. We came up with some interesting theories for why the male voice tends to overpower the female voice online that are I think similar to what you have come up with.

    And yes – you ABSOLUTELY hit on a more extensible platform when you moved to wordpress. It’s the difference from going from a private system to a public system – there’s a lot more traffic, feedback, and cross-pollenation that is possible.

  6. Thank you for pointing that out. This has actually caused me to start thinking about the issue again because I now have a new perspective since moving to Chicago.

    When you think about the “Alpha Bloggers” that are female, they’re still not as widely followed as Isaac Butler, for example. I think that there is some timidness, which I even admit to suffering from.

    I think it is interesting that Laura mentioned being judged by appearances. I haven’t encountered that yet, but I also don’t look very feminine and I look a lot older than I really am. Although, the validity of my opinions have been dismissed because of my age.

    I wasn’t familiar with either of those blogs, although I see that Laura Ciresi’s hasn’t been updated in a while.

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