Mark Shenton: The Man Behind The Stage

In the first of a series of interviews with the West End’s top Theatre writers and bloggers, we meet Mark Shenton. Mark co-founded with friend Terri Paddock, a site which is building a big network of great bloggers and has some terrific contributors.

My Theatre Mates – definitely a must read for all thespians!

Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including a daily online column.

Hi Mark and thanks for the interview. When did you start writing a blog and what do you wish you’d known back then?

I started filing a daily blog column for The Stage back in 2005 — so have been blogging regularly for ten years now. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously and has become an anchor part of my journalism – a daily discipline but also a part of my journalistic identity.

I’m glad I didn’t know then that I’d still be doing this ten years later. But now I can’t stop! It’s addictive!

How much of your time do you spend on blogging?

About an hour a day doing the work. But I think about it throughout the day, as I read and see different things, wondering if they would be good subjects to engage in.

Mark's regular contributions make The Stage a must read for the Theatre Industry
Mark’s regular contributions make The Stage a must read for the Theatre Industry

Have you turned your blog into a profitable business or do you write it for just for fun?

I am in a fairly unique position as I’m paid to write my Stage columns, just as I am for any other journalism. I make it a point of principle not to work for free.

The blog I write on my personal website doesn’t pay, obviously, but then I’m doing it for me, not a 3rd party publisher to earn revenue from.

Which other theatre blogs do you read?

The West End Whingers, of course, who proved early on that you could make an impact by being witty, irreverent and a little dangerous. They would famously review previews, thus jumping the gun on the regular press, which they were perfectly entitled to do since they had paid for their tickets. But an early lesson was that, as their influence grew, wise managements co-opted them and started inviting them to press nights and first night parties. Their importance rapidly dwindled as they were no longer first with the reviews.

West End Whingers: Proud to be "full of trivial"
West End Whingers: Proud to be “full of trivial opinions”

Like all journalism, blogging is a long game. You gain credibility and respect from being around. You can’t change the rules of engagement midway through and expect the following to remain as steady and engaged.

What advice can you offer someone who is thinking of starting a theatre blog?

There are a lot of us out there now. But if you have something interesting to say, people will listen.

Which show is your guilty pleasure?

There are plenty of shows I love seeing again and again. Right now I can’t keep away from BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM and CLOSE TO YOU.

If you could have dinner with any actor, living or dead, who would you choose?

Elaine Stritch. She was witty, gritty and unbelievably forthright. I once interviewed her and will never forget her insisting on ordering a diet coke even though we were in a restaurant that was closed but they’d let us hold the interview in. She started shouting ‘Fire! Fire!’ to get someone to come!

[Elaine Stritch] started shouting "Fire! Fire!"
[Elaine Stritch] started shouting “Fire! Fire!”
The curse of mobile phones in theatres – any thoughts on how we can tackle the issue?

It’s a lost cause, I fear, but I’m trying not to give up! We need to educate and re-educate that it is unacceptable.

Which performers do you think will head the Olivier nominations for 2016?

Impossible to second guess…but Imelda Staunton‘s name should be on one of the statuettes already.

You can follow Mark Shenton online as well as on twitter @shentonstage and through his regular features in The Stage.