Young Critics at Hat Fair

Young Critics Get Involved in Hat Fair, Winchester’s Outdoor Arts Festival

Young Critics

A new generation of young theatre critics will be putting their reviewing and writing skills to the test in the exciting arena of outdoor arts. They will be let loose at this year’s Hat Fair (3-5 July) and will have exclusive access to interview the artists and performers.

As part of the three day event the Young Critics will be offered professional development with prolific blogger Megan Vaughan, who writes as Churlish Meg. They will also meet critics from the National Association of Street Arts.

All reviews will be uncensored and uploaded to a blog that Megan has created especially for the event.

Megan Vaughan adds: “The Young Critics Scheme from the Theatre Royal is new, but it’s going from strength-to-strength already. It’s fantastic that those opportunities are being rolled out for the young people at Hat Fair too, meaning they’ll get experience of responding to work in an intensive, festival environment. I’m looking forward to supporting them through the whole weekend but, to be honest, I’m mostly excited about reading all the brilliance they come up with!”

Young Critics is a scheme for under 25s aimed at inspiring a new generation of theatre critics to stimulate interest in performance, run by Theatre Royal Winchester and A Younger Theatre. So far participants have been mentored by journalist heavyweights Lyn Gardner, Catherine Love, Mark Shenton, Natasha Tripney, and supported by Jake Orr, founder of A Younger Theatre.

Scheme founder and organiser Carl Woodward commented: “”Reviews and coverage are a critical part of the creative process. We are thrilled that our young reviewers can feed in to the debate around outdoor arts and respond to a diverse range of performances, from headline acts, to pop-up-performances and unconventional hatters. The extension of this project into Hat Fair says a lot about the importance of critical writing, and encourages more coverage responding to the surprise and playfulness of the outdoor and street arts sector.”

Young Critics

The media landscape is changing faster than ever as there is such a wealth of opportunities to write and be heard. How does one make a living reviewing theatre and how does one stand out above online noise?

Matt Trueman (Whatsonstage) talks about critical culture
Matt Trueman (Whatsonstage) talks about critical culture

One immutable fact remains: whatever the mechanism for theatre criticism and reviewing, a critical culture is essential to stimulate interest in the arts and to keep audiences alert to the diversity of productions in the capital and across the country.

At Theatre Royal Winchester we have launched our own Young Critics scheme, an opportunity for aspiring critics aged 18 to 25 to participate in masterclasses with some of the foremost figures in theatre criticism and journalism. As a freelance theatre practitioner I have delivered a variety of community and education projects and believe that theatre should engage people through different methods.To me it was logical to provide a learning opportunity to educate, inspire and inform young people and to uncover new talent.

Participants with editor of The Stage newspaper, Alistair Smith & Jake Orr, Director of A Younger Theatre
Participants with editor of The Stage newspaper, Alistair Smith & Jake Orr, Director of A Younger Theatre

This project is financially sustainable and doesn’t rely on any funding streams, though we are exploring sponsorship to continue in the long term. The participant fee covers the running costs and we have been fortunate that most critics were willing to contribute to their own expenses. We don’t want anyone to miss out due to financial constraints so we have bursaries available for those in receipt of means-tested benefits.

To me it was logical to provide a learning opportunity to educate, inspire and inform young people and to uncover new talent. Participant Charlotte Nelson from Chandlers Ford in Hampshire, said: “I signed up because I see a lot of musical theatre and write reviews for my blog but they weren’t to a professional standard. I am hoping the course will expand my writing skills.” Another participant Bethany Rimmer from Evesham, said: “To my knowledge there’s currently nothing else like this available. It’s exciting to know that there are people out there who care about the future of criticism and who want to help nurture those who are enthusiastic about the industry. The workshops so far have been insightful, and it’s a valuable opportunity to get feedback on our writing.”

Participants with Mark Shenton (The Stage)
Participants with Mark Shenton (The Stage)

The arts thrive in a climate of provocative debate, so the primary aim of the scheme is to develop new reviewers, broaden critical writing at a grassroots level and afford participants the opportunity to hear first hand from the experts. They have the opportunity to see three shows across the south west of England and receive feedback on their reviews.

Group photo with Lyn Gardner (The Guardian)
Group photo with Lyn Gardner (The Guardian)

Lyn Gardner, one of our team of experienced critics, said: “I’m delighted to be taking part in the scheme. It’s terrific to see a theatre encouraging young people not just to engage with performance but to think and write about it too. Supporting a critical culture is good for theatre as a transferable skill that can be applied in many areas of life.”

Former Daily Telegraph Chief Theatre Critic, Tim Walker
Former Daily Telegraph Chief Theatre Critic, Tim Walker

Following a successful pilot and overwhelming response from the industry, we are extending the project into our summer season and looking at expanding its reach across the region in partnership with other key venues. The Southern Daily Echo and Big Issue South West have agreed to publish reviews so the future looks bright for the next generation.

www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk

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Theatre practitioner, writer and creative learning specialist