Spotlight On… Katharine Kavanagh & Laura Kressly (Network of Independent Critics)

Network of Independent Critics return to Edinburgh Fringe 2017

•    Providing accommodation for independent critics to cover Edinburgh Festival Fringe without
      breaking the bank.
•    Enabling increased media coverage of niche interest and emerging work, which struggles to
      find representation in the mainstream press.
•    Not a publishing platform, but a support system for established and developing critics who
      work independently for little or no pay.
•    Participants will be selected based on passion, knowledge and a proven track record within

      their chosen area of the performing arts industry.

Applications open today for participants to join the Network of Independent Critics for their second season at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, from 4th-28th August 2017.

A city centre apartment will become home to up to 24 selected arts commentators over the course of the Fringe, allowing for networking and social opportunities as well as a cost-effective base from which to cover the Festival. Each participant will focus on a specialised selection of the Fringe programme, which could range from puppetry to solo performance, new musicals to street busking.

Last year, over 400 reviews were produced by 19 participating critics, as well as additional Social Media content and reportage. These represented interests including LGBTQ work, children’s theatre and female-led performance. The NIC scheme was launched in 2016 by Laura Kressly and Katharine Kavanagh to support the work of independent critics and facilitate their continued practise, and to generate visibility for arts that regularly slip below the radar of the mainstream press.

‘By ‘independent’, we mean someone who produces arts criticism unsalaried, and maintains their own platform for doing so – although they needn’t be producing content for this outlet exclusively,’ explains Kavanagh, who runs the UK’s only publication dedicated to circus critique at TheCircusDiaries.com, and also writes for The Stage and Exeunt. ‘We’re keen to open up the Festival to those working primarily in online media, which means those who produce video and podcast reports, as well as those who run their own blogs and websites for written reviews.’

Whilst this coverage is an increasingly valuable resource for the arts industry, the work remains largely unpaid and the cost of visiting Edinburgh during Fringe season can be prohibitive. By joining forces to rent an apartment as a group, the costs are considerably lowered, and participants can seek their own funding to cover the remainder if they wish. Following feedback from last year’s scheme, a choice of shared or private rooms is being offered, catering for different budgets and preferences.

Application forms are available from NICritics@mail.com until the deadline of 9th April, and successful applicants will be notified by 17th April after an anonymised selection process. The NIC will also be running free, open networking events as part of the Fringe Central programme, continuing their mission to seek out, disseminate and create opportunities for independent critics.

I think this is a fantastic initiative and so I asked the lovely ladies, Katharine (KK) and Laura (LK) more about it, here’s the exclusive interview…
Thanks for chatting to Break A Leg, ladies. Tell me about Network of Independent Critics and where the idea originated from.
LK: It came out of a simple idea after going to the fringe a couple of years ago: Surely I’m not the only blogger out there who wants to go to Edinburgh, but it’s so expensive to go it alone. Why not get a group of us together in cheaper, shared housing and crowdfund it? I spoke to Katharine, who is someone I’ve worked with before as well as a friend, and she was game to help me give more shape to that question. That initial idea developed into using individuals’ strengths and specialist knowledge as the NIC’s USP from Katharine’s circus expertise and using applications to find committed participants.
We crowdfunded the cost of housing last year but didn’t raise as much as we hoped compared to the amount of time we put into the campaign, and some participants engaged with it more than others. This year, instead of running a campaign, we will help selected participants who want to run their own.
What was feedback from the critics who joined at last year’s Edinburgh Festival?
KK: I have a whole spreadsheet! See the attached report for full details.
(Here are a few quotes that I have taken from the report – Editor):
‘Arts criticism is a sector which is shrinking in print but thriving online, and the NIC scheme enables intelligent arts criticism to develop and be safeguarded in the future.’
‘I commend you guys on a brilliant proactive step to support criticism, especially younger critics covering less established forms.’
‘Reviewing is a job; it’s incredibly hard to get paid but it certainly shouldn’t cost too much. Encouraging people that it’s accessible to everyone is super important’
‘Diversifying the range and style of voices writing about theatre at the Fringe is a very important step forward.’
‘It has been so essential and a catalyst for me to raise my profile’
How did you both get started as critics?
KK: After a fire destroyed everything I had ever owned (dramatic right?!), I realised that I could either retrace the same steps to get back to where I had been in my career plans, or change it up and do something new. I have worked in theatre all my life, but the desire to write has always been there under the surface. This was the kick up the but I needed to shift. Plus I was really fed up of never being able to find anything knowledgable to read about circus, and figured other people might feel the same!
LK: I had to stop freelancing in theatre because of financial reasons and found myself working in the education sector. As time passed, I felt myself becoming increasingly detached from theatre, but couldn’t afford to go as often as I liked – so I looked into reviewing. I found a couple of sites that accepted reviewers (Remote Goat and everything theatre), applied and was accepted. I haven’t looked back since!
What do you enjoy most about the festival?
KK: The chance to cross paths and chat with so many others in the profession. Especially for those of us based outside of London, this can be a big deal! I have also been an assessor with the Total Theatre Awards for the last couple of years, and the rigor with which shows are seen and analysed as part of the process is brilliant. It helps keep me on top of my game.
LK: It’s hard for me to get out of London often so it’s a great opportunity to see work from all over the world and meet other people passionate about theatre. It also has an incomparable energy that whilst exhausting, is totally addictive.
Finally what would you say to encourage people to apply to join Network of Independent Critics in Edinburgh this year?
KK: I just looked at AirBnB rates, and the cheapest room I can spot in the city in August is £63 per night… By clubbing together our rooms beat that by a loooooong way!
LK: It’s a great way to meet other critics from across the UK and is a lot cheaper and more supportive than doing it on your own. We accept people from all ages, backgrounds, styles and levels of experience so even if you’re young/old/new to criticism/been doing it for ages/respond unconventionally, we’d love to hear from you!
Thank you to Katharine and Laura for their time, I might apply to join them next year!
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