nytheatre mike Weighs In – Part 2

Picking up where I left off on Monday, I’d like to address something Isaac brought up: reviewers reading the script of a play they’re reviewing before they go see it. This is both a good and a bad idea, I think. On the good side, there is much potential for discerning, as Isaac pointed out, “how much of what’s going on is based on choices…made vis-a-vis bringing the script to life on the stage.” (Which also ties back to what Matt wrote about directors being choice makers and problem solvers.) On the bad side, there exists the very real possibility that reading the script beforehand will blind the viewer to the production on stage in favor of the one already created in his or her head. I don’t think there’s any way one can read a script without doing this to some degree. Which can be very beneficial for anyone who’s working on the production. But, for a reviewer to attempt this with a new play, I think, is ultimately very dangerous.

Then, there’s the whole matter of reviews as marketing. As a former producer myself, I understand the need for a good pull-quote. But, reviewing, in and of itself, is not a marketing technique. Theatre reviewers certainly don’t think of their work as such; producers do. Which is as it should be. But, to think of reviews only in those terms is perhaps a little reductive. Yes, it’s true, a review is only one person’s experience of a given production. But, it’s an experience that theatre artists could potentially learn something from. If the artists look to the audience as their ultimate constituency, then I think they need to include reviewers in that, as well, because reviewers are audience members, too. Isaac hit the nail on the head when he said that “we absolutely cannot look to reviews for any kind of validation.” Definitely not. An artist must validate themselves first, before anyone else tries to do it for them. But, I do believe that theatre artists can (and should) look to reviews to gauge their measure of success.

Reviewing is an imperfect art (or science, depending on how you want to look at it), just like many others. But, I think if it’s approached in a healthy way, it can turn into a conversation between the artist, the reviewer, and the audience that benefits all three. I know I’ve already grown as a reviewer just from having this particular conversation here on the blog, and I’m grateful to Isaac, Don, Matt, and everyone who commented for helping me do that.

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3 Responses to nytheatre mike Weighs In – Part 2

  1. Martin says:

    So, here’s nytheatre i aka The Boss aka Martin weighing in… just a bit…

    First of all, this has been a tremendously interesting thread, one that has taught me a lot about what I do and hopefully has done so for others as well. I hope this conversation continues.

    Second, with regard to reading a script. I would unequivocally say that a reviewer should NEVER read a script before seeing a show, whether it’s a new show or a revival. This isn’t school, it’s entertainment, and reviewers need to have the same experience that everyone else in the audience has (as much as possible). Why deprive yourself of whatever surprises the playwright and director and their collaborators have planned for you?

    But you should feel free to read it afterward. And you can probably make the same kind of judgments that Isaac speaks about when you do the job in this sequence; probably you can make those judgments more accurately, in fact.

    Regarding reviews as a marketing tool: yes, of course they are. I suspect that some reviewers actually do write reviews with the conscious intent of providing pull-quotes. I never do. Honest. Here’s an example: I wrote about a show called “Things You Shouldn’t Do Past Midnight.” In my (mostly negative) review, I said the show was like “Seinfeld” with sex scenes. I didn’t mean it as a compliment. Next thing I knew that quote was in the ad in the NY Times.

    Regarding reviews as validation: yes of course they are. The best emails I get (and I’m proud to say I get several of these every year) are the ones where an artist has written to say, thank you, you got what I was trying to do in this play, you communicated what I was going for perfectly. That’s validation for the artist and the reviewer. It feels wonderful.

  2. Here’s an interesting case.

    We’re doing a production of the First Quarto Hamlet at the Brick’s Pretentious Festival. Everyone knows Hamlet. But they mostly know the Folio version or usually a severely cut version of the Folio/2nd Quarto version. Uncut, the First Quarto is just shy of half the length of the uncut usual version. So in many ways it’s a different play. Even as an actor studying my character “Gertred,” I have to be careful not to conflate Q1 with what I know about Gertrude. She’s a different person in Q1.

    Do you think even in this case a reviewer shouldn’t read the Q1 before seeing it, which odds are, s/he never has; i.e., is there likely to be any baggage and assumptions brought into the theater with the reviewer that may cloud judgment?

  3. Gabriele–

    An interesting case, indeed. “Hamlet” is one of those plays I think everyone has an opinion about, or a preconceived notion of. Audience members bring that with them whether they know it or not. I know I do that whenever I see “Hamlet.”

    But, since the First Quarto differs so much from the standard version everyone knows, I think it’d be more fun to go into your production completely blind. I haven’t read Q1, and wouldn’t dream of doing so if I were reviewing your show. How often does one get introduced to “Hamlet” all over again for the first time? That’s an experience I’d prefer to have in the theatre instead of on my couch with a book in my lap.

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