Professional Cultural Surveyors
The Mumble are in the vanguard
Of the 21st Century reviewer
The 1880s saw the dawn of a new breed of footballer – the professional one, the one that got paid to play. The old boys of the public schools, who founded the game in the first place, were in total uproar. Despite such protestations, growing public demand declared an appetite for the better players, & began to happily pay to observe sustained quality throughout their beloved game. By 1888, twelve clubs from the Midlands & Lancashire – including that of my home town, Burnley – had conjoined themselves into the first professional football league. Roll on a century & a third & a Women’s World Cup is just kicking off where the best female players are being paid healthy sums of money to perform, & most of all inspire, on a global stage.
Reviewers need paying and – as this week’s developments at the Evening Standard show – the publications that employ them need to see a sustainable future in theatre criticism or it will continue to dwindle
A similar state of affairs has just been illuminated through an article & editorial from the Londoncentric The Stage, who were absolutely choking on their biscuits to hear that the Mumble asked artists for £25-£30 to cover our reviewers’ expenses. Maybe decades-old publications like The Stage can still afford to operate on a model that pays its reviewers via advertising and subscriptions, but newer publications need to find fresh ways to break even in an increasingly demanding market.
As is generally the case with these things, a spiteful attack from a member of a common body proves the innovation. The actual story is weak journalism. A rake through twitter found an ‘expert witness’ in a gentleman who has ‘been doing the fringe for six or seven years and have not encountered this before.’ He cannot be talking about the Edinburgh Fringe, for it is common knowledge among performers that most publications exchange coverage for cash during the Edinburgh August in various guises. The Mumble openly charges £25 or £30 to mobilize our reviewers, a figure kept low in order to preserve the integrity of our journalism. You cannot just magic a review out of thin air, they must be laboriously crafted. Reviewers need to get to & from town, to eat & drink while they are there.
You’ve got to ruffle a few feathers to break a few eggs
To make an omelette
During the Fringe the Mumble publish both paid & unpaid reviews. Of the latter sort, we cherry-pick the better offerings from the publicists paid thousands to get reviews for free. Of the former, the paid review, we offer a clear & professional service. This is not London rules anymore, we are in the heat of an Edinburgh August, when our mostly local reviewers take on the role of cultural surveyors. If you’re trying to sell your house in a crowded market, you get the surveyors in. The same applies to the Edinburgh Fringe and its thousands of shows.
£30 might not seem a large sum for theatremakers keen to sell tickets at the fringe
The Mumble is based in Edinburgh all year round, & delights in the fact that the cream of the world’s performance art permeates our gorgeous city’s nooks & crannies every August. The reviews we bounce back off these thousands of fabulous artistes are read, appreciated & disseminated in every country across the planet. To some, thousands of miles away, they are an eyeglass into the beautiful operations which encompass the Edinburgh Fringe. To others, these reviews are validations of months, years even, of hard work & rehearsal to produce a show they always hoped the random public would enjoy.
The falling away of the number of critics who can afford to come up to the festival has a cumulative effect. It is hard for us to get the word out about shows during the festival without the help of the star ratings given out. These sell the shows to the crowds when there are so many to choose from when we put them on the posters and leaflets. The word of proper, quality reviewers really matters.
For each of our seven years at the Fringe, the Mumble team has gone from strength-to-strength, being enabled & enriched with an ever-widening pool of experience reviewing each of the performing arts. Our perfectly impartial reviews are sent pinging across the world to family, fans & friends of the performers. Despite this, the journalists at The Stage would rather people saw a Mumble review & quibble, ‘that’s been paid for, its not right.’ Instead let them say, ‘that’s been paid for, that is valuable;’ & see a positive Mumble review as a mark of quality from a diligently honest company of Professional Cultural Surveyors.