MI INTERVIEWS: ANDRZEJ LUKOWSKI
Welcome to the MI Blog, a space where we invite different industry professionals from a variety of artistic fields and backgrounds to share with us and our readers their thoughts, experiences and advice. For today's interview Elena is chatting with Andrezej Lukowski, Theatre Editor for Time Out.
First of all, how did you become a journalist?
Basically I really enjoyed writing about theatre at school and university (I did English BA and MA at Leeds), but it never occurred to me at all that I might be able to make a non-academic career out of it. I wanted to be a music journalist, did mostly music stuff starting with my student newspaper, and specialised in music in my first job, which was as staff arts writer for Metro's long-shut Birmingham office. But the job was multi disciplinary and after I went freelance (lost the Metro job in the credit crunch) I moved to London to freelance and sort of drifted more and more towards writing about theatre until I started at Time Out and sort of mostly became a theatre writer.
How did you become passionate about theatre criticism?
I think I've always appreciated the vicarious power of reviews – music reviews were maybe the bigger one for me: there was no streaming in the ’90s and I was a teenager without much money for CDs, so reading about music was often my only window into it, and there were many occasions when I ended up enjoying the words more than the records! I read fewer theatre reviews growing up but it was the same thing: I experienced the big London shows by reading about them, it didn't matter that I never saw them. I think that always really impressed me.
What was the last show you reviewed before quarantine?
It was Robert Lepage's The Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National Theatre, the Friday before the theatres shut. There was definitely a weird feeling that this might be the last 'normal' night at the theatre, though I think a lot of us thought it was more likely that venues of a certain size would have to shut, rather than everything all at once.
What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most and what are the pressures you face?
I'm actually the theatre editor of Time Out, which mean I am in charge of the magazine's theatre content generally, and (in normal times) I do a couple of reviews a week, I wouldn't quite call myself a theatre critic. But the reviews probably are the most fun. I suppose the biggest pressure/challenge is writing about theatre in a way that connects with a generalist Time Out audience.
How would you describe your job in three words and why?
An office job – it's not quite true because I'm out a lot, and there is of course the massive caveat that I don't know when I'll actually go to the office again, but in normal times I'm in the office every day working, attending meetings etc because I'm a magazine editor with a fulltime job. I think a lot of people imagine I'm a freelancer who sleeps all day and heads to the theatre every night.
What skills do you think a theatre critic has to develop that differentiate him/her/them from a different type of journalist?
I think it varies a lot - some critics are much closer to academics than journalists, some are more like diarists, it's quite a broad church. Personally regardless of anything else they may be trying to communicate I see reviews as a form of written entertainment, a performance in and of themselves, and I think it's important the reviewer can write entertainingly, which is something you often can't really do when you're in news journalism. I think knowledge of theatre helps *somewhat*, but I don't think being a walking theatre dictionary especially matters.
What thoughts did this prolonged period of time away from the theatre and writing about it have arisen to you as a professional?
Well, most of my connection to theatre now is following theatre people on Twitter, and I think amidst the fear I have observed a lot of energy and utopianism, the sense that it might be desirable to use this pause as a pretext to change the industry for the good. I'm not sure how much will change for sure, but it does feel the Black Lives Matters protests have offered some focus to this – if nothing else changes, I think a lot of theatres will really struggle to justify a lack of black representation on their stages and backrooms. It does make me reflect that to an extent theatre can exist purely as an ideal, it kind of doesn't have to be a thing that is always physically happening.
Personally I of course don't work in theatre, am currently furloughed, and have basically spent the entire time looking after my kids. I've dipped into a bit of digital stuff, and have been impressed by the audiences these things have attracted, but I have to say I've not watched a single show all the way through! I'm anxious about the government's apparently imminent plan for rescuing the industry, and hope it does the trick. I am impatient for theatre to come back, or at least for there to be enough clarity for theatres to say when they are coming back, but I of course understand why it's gone away, and I suppose I ‘miss it’ less than I would if it was continuing without me.