Friday, September 14, 2007

Laura Axelrod

In a few clear, reflective, and ultimately painful paragraphs, Laura Axelrod looks back over her time as a blogger, paying particular attention to her time as a theatre blogger. As one of the earliest members of the theatrosphere, and as of a month ago one of those who has given up writing about the theatre, she offers some trenchant remarks about her experiences. The one that particularly lodged like a burr on a sweater was this: "I noticed how my very best entries got little response from [the theatre] community." I have noticed this as well. As someone who often checks my hit counter and tries to figure out what the readers seem to be responding to, the answer too often seems to be "dustups" -- my hit count soars the minute someone finds something I've written offensive. Nevertheless, posts that the recent ones Tom and I have been doing about theatre education have seen a consistent growth in readership. So I find it puzzling how few comments there have been both on my site and on Tom's. While I am frequently enjoined to provide thoughtful posts rather than jeremiads, the fact is that many members of the theatrosphere only seem to respond to the jeremiads. As a result, I am beginning to lose faith that blogging actually leads to dialogue. Increasingly, I see myself as providing "content," as if this were an academic journal and one never knew who was reading the material or what they thought about it. It is disappointing, because I feel that the exchange of ideas is what is most lacking in the theatre scene overall, especially for those who are not centered in NYC but rather scattered across the country and the world. My best and most responsive readers ar often Canadian, and I truly appreciate their interest and willingness to share. Perhaps the best way to encourage comments is to follow Isaac's model of short questions that open up a topic for discussions without the blogger initially taking a position himself or herself. This would be the Socratic approach to blogging. But blogging as, essentially, an exchange of letters seems to not be taking off. At the same time, I value the series Tom and I have been doing. We have begun a friendship that, I hope will continue once the final "publish post" button is hit. But it puzzles me why the theatrosphere is so different from the way theatre people interact in real life, which often is lively. I have no answers, and I include myself within the observations.


Paul Rekk said...

Dammit, Scott, my lengthy, thoughtful comment just disappeared into the ether. This is why I don't leave comments!

Alright, you get bullets instead. Sorry.

- My comments for you and Tom will be better suited as a post on my own blog.

- Many readers are also bloggers. Perhaps the most thoughtful responses are not those in the comments section, but those on other blogs (directly or indirectly linked)

- Isaac's style seems more suited to this real life interaction you speak of.

- While dialogue friendly, Theatre Ideas is pretty much eponymous, which seems better suited for digestion than quick response.

- Both, of course, work very well, albeit in very different ways.

- Then again, my blogosphere interactivity seems to come and go in waves, and you've caught me on a rising tide. So, grain of salt this.

Praxis Theatre said...

Hi Scott,

I have, on occasion, asked close friends and even other members of Praxis Theatre why they don't leave comments on our blog. The one answer that I find most interesting harkens back to an old scholarly anxiety: Some people don't put their hand up to speak because they're afraid the smart kids will laugh at them.

It's irrational, to a large degree, but I think it partly accounts for why comments sections have relatively low ceilings relative to page views.


RLewis said...

I find that often the best blog posts are often the longest. If a single post covers several points, after a while I no longer see a place for me to comment, because there's just too much there, and I don't want an award for boring others with the longest comment. Thus, the initial post loses me, and I give up. I'd love to see the longer posts broken up into several parts.

Also, often the best and longest posts seem to cover the topic well. There's no reason to comment on an iron clad post other than to say, "great post"; and I just can't stand to waste others time with useless one-liners. Though mostly not the case, maybe sometimes no comments is a compliment.

And lastly, those really good posts seldom have a single question mark in them ("Thoughts?" - doesn't count). There's little opening to get involved, if there's no doubt in the premise. That's why I like Parabasis so much. I love Qs of the D - I have an answer in my head before I click on Comments. I can compare other's responses to mine, even if I never post the thought. I have a dialogue and never type a word.

I enjoy Gasp, and still check in on it, if only to see if I can id the evolution of a person seeking out meaning. There's a sharp mind there, so maybe I'll learn something; and if not, maybe there's a good book to pick up on.

nick said...

Very honest of Laura to admit this:

“And then… There were the theater entries, which were phony. With those entries came the responsibility of belonging to a community and making sure that I could cover my bases if attacked. My sole focus had more to do with trying to get a few key people to like me. People who, in hindsight, I don’t think would ever like me. And in the end, I’m not sure I liked them. C’est la vie. I need to contradict here.”

This phony thing bothers me most. I’d like to think I can write honestly at my blog, but I can’t. For instance, I almost wanted to post something on the Showcase talks. I almost wanted to post on the Hunka affair. And I have been developing a nice rant to the Off-Off community. Instead I write in all three directions and post nothing. Meanwhile the hot button on all of these subjects disappears.

So no “writer’s block “in blogging, for me, just this new phenomenon of “publisher’s block.” This usually comes from me considering whose feelings or opinions (too often bloggers don’t differentiate between the two) I am going to offend and I post nothing.

Isaac’s place has developed into a strange kind of town hall. I was thinking of it as kind back stage area to try out rants and ideas before actually posting. I have been doing some of that. But then Garrett posts and brings my Equity thoughts and discussion there unto stage before its time. So, alas. It’s hard to maintain any control over this blogging animal.

Again, writing for me needs to be honest. For me it’s a struggle not to be wimp in this. And you know what? Bottom line. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

Laura said...

I was a little scared to read your entry and the comments afterward. I honestly thought that since only a smattering of theater people continue to read Gasp that I might be able to get away with saying something without anyone noticing. LOL.

Thank you for the nice comments. I do appreciate them.

And I want you to know that I wish everyone in the theaterosphere the best. Even the people who probably don't like me and who I probably don't like either. ;) My entry wasn't meant to be a criticism of anyone other than myself. The phoniness or whatever.

In the end, I think every community forces its members to give up a little piece of themselves to belong. I've always felt this way. I'm not happy about it. With the dynamics of my own personality, I'm particularly vulnerable to this type of thing.

Bleck. Anyway, just wanted to say hi. Heh.

melissa said...

Hi Scott,

I have been actively reading theater blogs for about a year now and commenting very seldom, so I will take your post as an added opportunity to express why I don't comment, in a comment.

First of all, as Ian expressed earlier, the theatrosphere can be a bit intimidating to outsiders. Much of blogging dialogue has a history and I feel awkward coming into a conversation half-way, without researching back posts to make sure I am not repeating someone else's idea or suggestion. And this takes time. So, while blog topics are a great place to spurn my own intellectual thought (as you remarked, more like a scholarly journal) commenting does require an added level of commitment.

Secondly, I believe that there is an issue with the theater blogging community, moreso than other arts blogs, that is inherent in the theater community itself. You mention in your post that there is a lack of the exchange of ideas in current theater. I believe that many theater artists are scared to voice their opinions and ideas in fear of offending someone who could be a possible job contact. We are taught to play nice and stay neutral when in undergrad training and this carries over to how we relate to the art form itself. We become assigned with labels "actor" "artist" "intellectual" and do not feel free to move about for the sake of having a defined role in the community. This transfers over to the theatrosphere, where people may be reading in order to know what the current trends are or what could be expected of them, but not willing to question these topics for themselves.

Alison Croggon said...

I'm a blog reader who is much more interested in substantial and thoughtful posts (like those you've been writing lately) than in dust-ups, which are ultimately boring. As a wild generalisation, I'd say that it's an American thing; English theatre blogs don't seem to have the same kind of meltdown, and Australian blogs neither.

Also, sometimes my more popular pages atttract no comments. As I learned in the poetry world, silence doesn't mean that people aren't reading.

raqqash said...

I think one possible good reason is the one espressed above: you produce nice posts that are self contained and it is not so easy or fitting to comment them.
I had the same problem with many of my posts on poetry. No comments. I think it is also a problem of how a post is produced. If it is explicitly interlocutory, it can help to produce a debate. But in a way, one could say you're too good to be commented sometimes ;)

Travis Bedard said...

I have my response to your education posts all ready to go... if you and Tom ever stop writing them ;)

And already my one true criticism of the series evaporated as you intend to address how you think a proper program behaves...

And I agree with the above... the well thought out, more column-like entries tend to be read and digested and leave little room for further expansion.

Which is fine, except for the author who wants feedback. :)