This week we speak to Tim Bano, Joint Lead Critic at The Stage. We discuss the trials and tribulations of working in one of the hardest hit industries by the pandemic, where to find inspiration for content and how to get high traffic stories online.
What made you want to work in publishing?
It was more a case of wanting to write about theatre, which then led me to work in publishing. I started writing for the student paper when I was at university, reviewing student theatre productions as well as getting involved in the editorial side, and after graduating I didn’t want to give that up. After scrabbling around and building up a portfolio I started writing for The Stage and have continued that while also branching out into radio production, too.
What was it like working for a publication representing the theatre industry over the pandemic?
I was in a slightly strange position as I am freelance, but the staff at The Stage did an absolutely extraordinary job not only covering the desolation of the theatre industry during the pandemic but campaigning for support and providing a space where discourse about how to navigate this very troubling period in history could take place. They also really looked after their freelance writers, finding work for us and checking in to make sure we were ok. So it was a strange mix of misery at the state of the industry and having to think and write about that, and pride at working with a publication that cares so deeply.
You were responsible for some of the highest traffic stories on The Stage in 2021, where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
It tends to start with a conversation between me and my editor. Sometimes I will take ideas to him and sometimes he will suggest things to me. When it comes to one-on-one interviews, they tend to be people whose work I am aware of and it’s a matter of presenting their life and thoughts in an engaging way, trying to uncover a new angle. For more in-depth or investigative features, they are often sparked by a news story that The Stage has already been covering, and that we feel needs some more focused digging. The other strand of my work is theatre reviews, and the reviews that get the highest traffic are often the big name shows, like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical Cinderella. People are interested to know what the verdict is from the critics - and I think our readers are aware that reviews in The Stage have quite a strong industry angle, so it’s not just a matter of sticking a star rating on it; there is also in depth analysis and a sense of how a show fits into the wider theatre ecology.
How did it feel to win the PPA Independent Publisher Award for Writer of the Year?
Even though I was desperate to attend the awards ceremony, I had an unshiftable work appointment that afternoon so I heard that I had won while I was sitting in traffic on a bus to Peckham. I got a text from my editors with a picture of the award and a very full glass of champagne (at least they were having fun!). It was quite surreal, and I didn’t have much chance to think about it as I jumped off the bus and went straight to a meeting but as it sunk in I felt very proud - of myself, but also of the incredibly tireless work that The Stage has been doing in one of the most difficult periods the industry has ever faced.
Our judges were particularly impressed with your understanding of your readership. As a B2B journalist, what do you think the best way is to connect with your audience?
It’s about knowing and loving your industry, and putting care into the work you write. I’m not on social media, which is sort of a heresy for journalists today, so it means the only way for me to connect with people is through my work. People connect with a piece when they know that the writer cares about their subject.
What are your goals for 2022?
Hopefully it’s to track the speedy, healthy recovery of the theatre sector and to see the effects of the pandemic start to ebb away.
What magazine do you stockpile?
I’ve got a lump of London Review of Books - some read but a few too many untouched - and as a keen cook I’m also a fan of BBC Good Food Magazine.
What’s on your radar?
In terms of reviewing, there are some exciting shows coming up in 2022 including Mike Bartlett’s play Cock with Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey, the tenth anniversary revival of Jerusalem with Mark Rylance, and a big production of the classic musical My Fair Lady. But in terms of thinking about the industry, I think the big question is what recovery looks like, and how it translates to the stage. Will we be seeing lots of old classics as people look for a bit of familiarity? Or will we be more experimental, daring and forward-looking than before the pandemic?