Features Published 9 November 2018

Opportunity: British Council bursaries for bloggers

A new British Council project will support UK bloggers to discover and write about international work.
Alice Saville

The British Council is funding three new international bursaries for bloggers [image supplied by British Council]

Dr Kirsty Sedgman’s recent piece for Exeunt explored one of the central debates in theatre criticism: what is ‘good’ theatre, and who gets to decide? Historically, it’s been a tiny handful of broadsheet newspaper critics. She writes on the need to “set cultural discourse free from the iron grip of gatekeepers: a cabal traditionally made up of politicians, arts funders, theatre-makers, and critics – historically an overtly white, male, privileged community. At the same time as we’re mourning the cull of arts criticism from our newspapers, then, we should also rejoice at how the erosion of mainstream voices is being balanced out by a groundswell of audiences, using online platforms to reflect carefully and arrestingly from a multiplicity of subject positions.”

There’s definitely plenty to rejoice at. But there are still a couple of stubborn and intractable problems. One is that many venues, artists and audiences don’t treat non-mainstream voices with the respect that they give to the dwindling pool of establishment outlets – a four or five star review from a broadsheet newspaper is still seen as the gold standard. And another is the huge inequalities in the resources and opportunities available. Tenured broadsheet theatre critics are pretty much the only people who make a living from writing about theatre, and it’s rare for people who write in non-traditional forms, for non-traditional outlets, to get paid for writing about theatre.

Things are gradually changing – last month, Exeunt started paying all its writers, thanks to the support of its Friends Scheme members. And today, the British Council is announcing a new international bursary for theatre bloggers. I’m excited to be a small part of it (as part of a nine-strong panel of judges) because it’s a solid step towards addressing both of the above problems. Firstly, it’s a strong gesture of support towards marginal voices, and an affirmation of the value of the perspectives bloggers bring. And secondly, it offers a generous package of financial support (up to £4,000) which will fund writers to do their very best work – the kind that comes from being able to travel, to see new kinds of theatre, performance and dance, and from being paid to dedicate whole days to theatre criticism, in a way that currently, only a tiny handful of critics are able to. It’s earmarked for people who only write for their own blog and/or small indie publications, with a specific focus on underrepresented groups, with extra accessibility funds available for d/Deaf or disabled applicants.

There are three separate international opportunities to apply for, all of which will take place in Spring 2019. One gives a writer an opportunity to write about Lagos Theatre Festival. Another will send a writer to discover Romania’s theatre scene. And a third lets the writer follow a self-set itinerary to their choice of the 100 countries that have a British Council office. Applications will be judged by a panel that includes Lyn Gardner (The Stage), Thom Dibdin (The Stage, alledinburghtheatre.com), Colin Hambrook (Disability Arts Online), Sophia Jackson (Afridiziak Theatre News), Arusa Qureshi (The List), Gary Raymond (Wales Arts Review), Sanjoy Roy (freelance critic) and Alice Saville (Exeunt), and winners will also be offered a two hour mentoring session with the panel member of their choice. Crucially, they can also choose whether they want to publish the writing they produce following their trip on their own platform, on the British Council, or with another publisher – meaning they’ve got control over what they write, and how. 

For full info on the three British Council opportunities, view the brief HERE. The deadline for applications is Thursday 28th November. 

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Alice Saville

Alice is editor of Exeunt, as well as working as a freelance arts journalist for publications including Time Out, Fest and Auditorium magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Raddington_B