Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reviewer or Consumer Advocate?

Art & Photo © Susan B. Glattstein

I have decided to start specifying where I sat--and how much I paid to sit there--at the end of every review I write. And here's why:

Have you ever gone to see a well-reviewed show, only to discover that (a) it didn't work from the cheap seats or (b) it didn't justify the cost of the good seats? And did you ever think, well, if I sat where the critics sat, with free tickets, I also might have loved it?

Me too.

There is a saying that where you sit is where you stand, and it can be literally true when critics for
the mainstream media receive comps for the best seats in the house. It doesn't matter to them if there is a dead spot in the back of the orchestra under the mezzanine or if the lead actor's performance doesn't register past the tenth row. They also never have to experience the pain of spending a small fortune to see a show that, well, kinda sucks.

Most of us in the blogosphere are lower on the food chain than the mainstream critics (some of us much lower). Yes, we are fortunate enough to receive comps to some shows, but we still pay to see others. Our seats, like yours, can be anywhere in the theatre.

Theatre is more enjoyable from good seats. That's why they call them good seats. And even a terrible play is not quite as painful when you haven't paid for it, while seeing a wonderful play for free can make you feel like the luckiest person on earth. On the other hand, paying a ton of money can skew an audience member's response to a show. It makes some people determined to have a good time--no matter what. Me? I get angry. That's why I have largely stopped buying expensive tickets. I have yet to see Billy Elliot or Jersey Boys and will probably never see Spider-Man. Is any one show really worth $141.50? (Okay, the Sondheim Celebration at the New York Philharmonic was worth every cent we all paid, but that was an exceptional, exceptional evening.)

As a reviewer, I am vigilant not to let comp tickets influence how I review a show. I admit that I occasionally worry that a negative review will get me blacklisted, but I write the negative review anyway. Otherwise, what's the point? And as I write about shows for which I received comps, I keep their real-world ticket prices in mind. The bottom line is that I strive always to acknowledge the actuality of theatre-going for most theatre-goers.

I guess I've come to feel that being a reviewer is a consumer-advocate position. I know that some critics posit theories that expand one's theatrical experiences, open one's eyes, and blow one's mind, and more power to them. I'm more of the "it's good, here's why, give it a chance" school. And I want my recommendations--and un-recommendations--to be as useful to my readers as possible. And that is why I made the decision to start specifying at the end of each review where I sat and how much I paid to sit there.

One other thing: when I am given reviewer tickets, I will of course honor the embargo not to publish my review until opening night. When I pay for tickets for a preview, I will generally wait until opening night to post, unless there are particular circumstances (e.g., the show is already good or has become news in some way). And if I see an early preview, I will say so.

Here's hoping that the extra information at the end of my reviews will make my reviews more relevant and useful to you.

To readers: Do you have any suggestions on other ways to improve the utility of reviews for you? Please share them if you do.

To other reviewers: What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Wendy, thanks a lot for your efforts! I quite enjoy reading your review. Sharp and right to the point. Keep up the good work :-)

Wendy Caster said...

Thank you!

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