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Michael Boyd. Photograph: Gary Calton

Michael Boyd, announcing the artistic direction of the Royal Shakespeare Company for the coming three years this morning, suggested that theatre was in rude health in this country – not just because of regular, decent funding from the government, not just because of the healthy filtering upwards of energy and inventiveness from the fringe into the mainstream – but also because the very nature of theatre means that it is the artform that speaks most powerfully to the Zeitgeist. “It is the artform for now, at this fragmented time,” he said. “It has to do with how we can connect with each other. In theatre you deal with that – that is why theatre is important right now.”

“It is on its way to reasserting itself as the most urgent artform now, at a time when we are so disconnected. I cannot remember a time when the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the Royal Court were so ‘on song’. The hit rate at the moment is tremendous.”

I suppose he means that as communities become more fragile, the pull of sitting in a theatre and being part of a group of people engaged in a communal experience is all the more powerful. What he said reminded me of something Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Spoonface Steinberg) said to me in an interview the other week: “In miniature, drama is like a metaphor for how life and politics should work – you come together to create a common entity and you try to express yourself with and through other people. Whether you are a writer or an actor or a stage manager, you are trying to express the complications of life through a shared enterprise.”

Theatre, of course, is the medium of debate, of getting-to-the-bottom-of-things, of hammering things out – unlike more visceral and emotive performing arts, such as dance and classical music. It’s an intriguing idea of Boyd’s – that, above all other artforms it is theatre’s time and theatre is what we need now: not just because there are some good people making and directing plays and running theatres, but because of some deeper cultural forces. I’m not sure I entirely buy Boyd’s position – but it is one to chew on.

Charlotte Higgins
Guardian


Photograph: Martin Godwin

After years as an art critic in print publications, Charlotte Higgins has announced that she is becoming a full-time blogger.

So after four years as this paper’s arts correspondent, a reporter who tried to fit blogging in around the edges of my life, I’m about to move online. From this week, blogging will take its place at the heart of what I do. Why, apart from all of the above? Well, as a form, the blog is fantastically elastic – a quality that cannot fail to be seductive to a writer. Everything is up for grabs. A blog can be everyday, whimsical, deeply serious or all three; it can be published instantly (clearly a boon to journalists); it can be experimental.

Alex Ross, the classical music critic of the New Yorker who blogs at therestisnoise.com, has described his own gradual discovery, some years back, of blogs that weren’t just repositories for trivia about Star Wars (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but which contained serious writing about music. There was Jeremy Denk, for example, a professional pianist who, aside from posting hilariously eccentric pieces about yoghurt or waiting in airport queues, also offered in-depth musicological analyses of work he was approaching as a performer, alongside musical quotations and sound files. Ross has said he found the tide of these blogs by performers particularly intriguing, as potentially distant figures were gradually demystified through their presence online…

This new journey is not one that will be undertaken in isolation, but in the company of you, the readers. I don’t expect this to be a comfortable ride. For a long time, journalists have been largely insulated from the direct reactions of readers, and to find your loose arguments or baggy thinking being painfully held to account can be a shock to the system. On the whole, I’ve found this part of the experience a rewarding one. Who wouldn’t want a stream of ideas and arguments to come their way? The benefits of conversation and community outweigh any demerits; I’d rather be in the thick of things than loftily dispensing words into an apparent vacuum.

My blog is, of course, a small and extremely insignificant part of a revolution in the arts, and in the way newspapers now cover them. One consequence has been the ongoing debate about the status of “amateur” bloggers compared with the work of “professional” critics: will bloggers make critics redundant? Will critics increasingly fetch up as bloggers? In the US, this debate has been accompanied by the sacking of an enormous number of arts reviewers from newspapers. But I don’t think the two are polar opposites. For a start, many bloggers are professional critics, not least Ross and his colleague at the New Yorker, pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones; and not all professional critics offer uniformly excellent criticism.

When I wrote about the RSC shows, one of the cast said: “It’s like being reviewed as we go through.” I was shocked: I felt I was offering a response, as valid as anyone else’s – but, bluntly, not as a reviewer. Everyone can offer a response to an artwork; real criticism requires knowledge, experience, time, literary skill and insight. I see no signs that criticism is under threat in the UK, and if ever it were I would be the first to the battle line. For now, though, I am very happy to be breaking down boundaries, stepping on toes, genre-bending and throwing everything up in the air – all in a blog.

Charlotte Higgins