Posts Tagged ‘blog’

Compass Points Symposium — Check out my blog
Questions for Jessica Ruano
Survey by Liz Truchanowicz

  1. Tell us about you. What came first Jessica Ruano or jessicaruano.wordpress.com?

I suppose I came first, unless we are referring to my public persona, in which case the answer to that question is debatable.

In Ottawa, I have worked as a publicist, arts journalist, photographer, drama coach, director, spoken word performer, and general arts enthusiast. I attended Canterbury High School for theatre, and have just completed an undergraduate degree in English and Theatre at the University of Ottawa. I return to the university in the fall for the new Masters program in Theatre Theory and Dramaturgy.

In addition to updating this website, I also have regular arts columns in Guerilla Magazine (www.getguerilla.ca) and the Ottawa Life Magazine (www.ottawalife.com), and I freelance with Capital Xtra.

Throughout high school, I wondered if I could find a career in theatre based purely on enthusiasm for the art form. Apparently, the answer is yes.

  1. Your Blog is called The Ottawa Arts Newsletter. However, you have been sending out Monthly Newsletters via email for a number of years now – so what’s the connection? And why the jump to blogging?

I started The Ottawa Arts Newsletter website mostly for archival purposes. I wanted an online outlet to store my past newsletters. I was also hoping to acquire more subscribers, and a website is a good way to spread the word. Since the wordpress format allows for several pages, I decided to expand my writings to include regular updates from the arts scene (press releases, audition notices, show announcements), commentaries and reviews, and listings of numerous Ottawa arts companies. I decided that this website could be an outlet for Ottawa arts patrons to find out more about their own community, and also a helpful page for tourists.

  1. With your blog, has this changed the style or substance of your monthly newsletters?

The website has certainly helped me increase the number of subscribers. And that means more people are sending me suggestions for events to promote. My newsletter, on average, contains 10 arts events to check out every month. Now I have to pick and choose, and I try to keep my descriptions quite brief. This newsletter isn’t intended to be heavy reading, but sometimes there is just so much to talk about!

I think I’ve also become a little more political recently. Before I start talking about the arts events, I usually write a little introduction that addresses issues I find important in the Ottawa community. Whether it’s lack of arts coverage from the print media, or difficulties in finding performance space, I think it’s important that these topics are made public.

  1. You are very supportive and involved in the Ottawa Theatre community. Where do you see the place of your blog within the Ottawa Theatre community?

I hope that my website gets people excited about what’s happening in the Ottawa theatre community. There are some people who think that Ottawa doesn’t have an arts scene. Other people think Ottawa only has a national arts scene. In my newsletter, I like to focus on what is available locally. I like to mention local performers, local theatre companies, and local arts exhibits. I think it’s important for our community to be proud of its accomplishments, and to strive for better things.

I do think arts coverage in Ottawa is absolutely pathetic. If people think Ottawa is lacking in arts events, it’s only because the media isn’t putting much effort into covering what IS going on. Newspapers are cutting down on their arts coverage all the time, and what they do cover is mostly celebrity gossip and Hollywood movies. The Ottawa Citizen, for example, has now combined the “Arts” section with the “Life” section, so now the theatre community is luck if it gets one article a week. The Ottawa Xpress is filled with advertisements and contains very little theatre content, at least in comparison with its sister paper, Voir in Montreal. I mean, their theatre writer – though she is a lovely person – doesn’t even live in Ottawa!

Point being: I like to offer a local, involved perspective on the Ottawa arts scene that I think is lacking is most popular media.

  1. Who reads your blog and who is your intended audience? The theatergoing public, the non-theatergoing public, other theatre artists?

It’s hard to know, actually! My newsletter is distributed to artists, non-artists, arts patrons, friends, family, media, and so forth. Most of my subscribers live in Ottawa, and some live as far off as Australia. There are over 500 altogether. I assume most of them read the newsletter by email (or on Facebook…) and some of them visit the website once in awhile. People have left only a handful of comments, but perhaps many of them are anonymous readers. According to wordpress stats, there have been over 5000 views in total. I’m not sure if that’s an impressive number or not.

  1. With your Theatre Across Canada series you are branching out beyond Ottawa – What are your thoughts on blogging helping to bridge the landmass gap in Canadian Theatre? Could the Internet help bring this country together artistically?

That’s a good idea! Well, to a point. I think the only way for the theatre community to connect is through meeting each other face-to-face, and to see one another’s live performances. Seeing Youtube videos just isn’t the same thing.

However, I think the internet is great for making preliminary connections. For example, before I left on this trip to Vancouver, I contacted a number of theatre companies via email and Facebook. Many of them wrote back and agreed to meet with me when I was in town. I’m going to be meeting with professional theatre companies in Vancouver, in Edmonton, in Saskatoon, in Winnipeg, and in Toronto. This would have been much more difficult to do if I had relied on phone calls or spontaneous visits.

Also, in terms of theatre blogging, perhaps if I keep reading blogs from people in Toronto (like my friend Kat Fournier at betweenlinestoronto.wordpress.com) I might be more inspired to visit Toronto and see more theatre there. Groups on Facebook could have the same general effect.

  1. You regularly review local plays in the Ottawa area – as both a critic and theatre artist how do you navigate between the two?

Correction: I irregularly review local plays in the Ottawa area. Although I am adept at writing reviews and I have the theatre education and experience to back it up, I am reluctant to publish critiques on my website. Why? Theatre artists don’t like theatre critics. And I want to be liked. It may sound shallow, but it is very important for me to be included as a member of the theatre community. I have listened to theatre artists rant about negative theatre reviews and get upset over the slight bit of criticism. I think this is a real shame. Theatre artists should want to improve themselves, and when a critic points out a flaw, I suggest they take it into consideration instead of throwing a fit.

However, I shouldn’t put all the blame on the artists. Some theatre reviewers are uneducated, inexperienced, biased, inane, sloppy writers. They are so focussed on offering up their own personal opinion (or wasting time on a lengthy plot synopsis) than actually talking about the production, discussing the decisions made by the director, analyzing the craft of the actors, and placing the show in the context of contemporary theatre as a whole.

For this reason, theatre artists are often rightly bitter against theatre reviewers. In an ideal world, reviewers would be not irritating downers on the road to artistic enlightenment, but members of the theatre community, knowledgeable advisors that provide helpful feedback and educated critical response. Theatre critics and artists alike should be working together with one common goal: the increasing improvement of contemporary theatre.

When that sort of relationship has been established in Canada, then I might be a more willing participant in the world of theatre criticism.

  1. So tell us – Why blog? Where do you see the place of theatre blogging in the Canadian theatre community?

Again, it’s an important way for artists to keep connected to their own community, to make connections with other communities, and to keep records of their work in the theatre. Plus it’s really fun seeing your name come up in Google search results.

  1. What are some possible pitfalls of blogging you have come across or avoided in the past?

I like to consider myself an emerging theatre professional. The word “blog” often implies something amateurish because, really, anyone and everyone can have their own website these days. You don’t need a theatre degree or any sort of credentials. You can just go for it. For this reason, I have tried to make my website look as professional as possible, and I try not to be overly colloquial in my writing.

  1. What advice would you give to students and emerging artists interested in starting up their own theatre blog?

Don’t be stupid. Don’t say stupid things on your blog if you want cool people to read it. Don’t try to make an argument for something you know nothing about. Someone I know tried arguing for the elimination of arts reviews, and I almost blew a gasket. And then I wrote my own response.

Once you have a website that you are proud of, promote the hell out of it. Tell everyone you know that it exists. Put a link on Facebook and other arts websites. Recently I’ve been putting notices in theatre programs along with arts listings. There should be a need in your community for what you have to offer. Write about things that people want to hear about, that they might not hear anywhere else.

Make sure you are passionate about your topic. If you are writing about theatre, you have to love theatre. Enthusiasm is contagious; people will catch on.

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