Friday, April 06, 2007

Blog Reviewing

UPDATE: Here are links to Isaac's and MattJ's posts on the subject, which features the Time Out quote I obliquely refer to.

Well, our opening night for Suburban Peepshow is finally behind us and I for one am happy with the results and am looking forward to the rest of the run. This also means I can spend some time (since the reviews aren't yet out) to actually write about something other than the damn play (yes, even I get sick of my blatant plugging, but in all fairness, what else do you think is on my mind?).

There's been a weird discussion going on within the theatre blogosphere and Time Out New York about bloggers getting free tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows on the understanding that we write about said show. I don't presume to speak for any other blog or blogger (for obvious reasons that I will get into in a moment) but I figured I'd explain my policy for this page and getting the swag from plays.

First, for those of you who don't know how "bloggers nights" started, Isaac Butler saw Roundabout's production of Greg Kotis's play Pig Farm and thought it was really good and worth getting audiences. Charles Isherwood gave it a scathing review in the New York Times, which Isaac thought was unfair to a show that he thought deserved attention. So, through the management of Roundabout, he arranged for several New York bloggers (myself included) to see the show for free under the condition that we write about it on our blogs. We were not obligated - explicitly or implicitly - to write positive things. In fact, I had no contact with anyone from the production's publicity or management team. Isaac said we could write whatever we wanted about the show, only asking us to post by a certain date.

So we did. Some liked it, some didn't and some were in between.

Since then, other bloggers nights have been organized with varying degrees of success. The big overarching idea behind bloggers nights and blogger reviews is to offer an alternative critical outlet to plays beside the monolith of the Times. It wasn't (and isn't, I don't think) an attempt to overhaul or undermine the reviewing system: just another option for companies to get their work reviewed and discussed.

The subject of ethics in getting free tickets and writing about a show (or refusing to write about it) has now come up. (Most of this has come up in various comment threads in blogs and in private email threads so apologies for having no electronic links to reference. me; it's come up.) There's been some flack about bloggers getting free tickets to see a show because that makes us part of the PR marketing machine or some such nonsense and questions of whether or not it's right to accept free tickets to a show if you don't blog about it.

Again, I'm only writing about my personal viewpoints on the matter and my policy. I don't presume to speak for any other blog or blogger, nor am I trying to convince any other blogger to change their attitudes. My blog is my own and I can do whatever the hell I want with it. Other bloggers can do whatever the hell they want with their blogs. It is, after all, their damn blog.

I like the idea of writing reviews. I don't think I'm particularly good at it, simply because it's a new series of skills I'm just now learning to develop. I flatter myself into believing that I'm starting to get good at it (and will continue to improve with experience and time). The ability to review a work honestly and fairly is a skill I don't mind having. Some bloggers have an aversion to it and find reviewing to be a conflict of interest. I don't. I have yet to be convinced that I'll be pegged not as a playwright but as a critic (or why that would be so awful) or that I'll hurt my playwriting career.

(One of the true perks of being a self-producing playwright is that you don't have to worry about being obsequious - or hell, even polite - to potential bosses/companies/producers to get your work produced. I'm not trying to get an "in" with any Off-Broadway house).

My policy for Jamespeak is very simple: if a company gives me free tickets to see their show, I will review it. Period.

For people who think that I'm somehow a tool of the PR machine who's being "bought" by that free ticket, I'm sorry, I don't know how else to put this, but you're a moron who doesn't know what he's talking about. Getting the ticket for free in no way shapes my opinion of the show: it only gets me to actually see it (if I'm expected to write about a show, pay the $70 to see it and not get paid, then guess what? I ain't seeing the show).

(It should be noted that most PR reps for theatre companies worth a damn are professional enough to keep schmoozing with the reviewer to a bare minimum. The ones I've been involved with have been polite and accommodating, but in no way have tried to act like my "buddy." They help me confirm my ticket, make sure I get a press packet, say hello, and leave me alone. That's how they often work and - more to the point - that's how they should work.)

As for giving bloggers free tickets to see my show (which I have offered for the opening weekend of Suburban Peepshow), I understand certain bloggers find reviewing to be a conflict of interest (especially since many of them know me quite well, which prevents the above parenthetical relationship between the press rep [me] and reviewer). Again, I have no interest or intention of making them believe otherwise (it's their blog). I obviously want them to write about my show and, more to the point, I want them to write positive things about it. However, I also want Katharine McPhee to dump her boyfriend, move to New York and fall in love with me.

I won't be disappointed or angry if neither scenario happens.

It is important for bloggers to consider ethics in reviewing and getting free tickets to do so. So far, I've seen no major stumbling blocks. Then again, this is a very new experiment. Since I can't-and won't-speak for anybody else, I'll just try to adhere to my policy of reviewing any show I'm specifically given free tickets to, because, hell, I'd like to write about stuff on this site besides plugs for my own damn show.

Anyway, those are my five cents on the subject. Feel free to comment or email me to give your five cents on the subject and have a good weekend, folks. I hope to see some of you this weekend at the Red Room.

Just part of the machine,

James "Useless PR Tool" Comtois

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Blogger Joshua James said...

Blogging, just like anything else, is all about the audience . . . same with MSM critics . . . they build up an audience and their regular readers know already how the writers tastes matches (or doesn't) with the reader . . . hence the success, years ago, of aint it cool news (which I cited on Parabasis) which wrote for fanboys . . . fanboys writing for fanboys . . .

Each of us with our blogs have our own audiences (usually, other bloggers) who we spend the majority of the time cheering each other along or squabbling . . . sometimes both at the same time.

So that's why the whole "controversy" is a bit ridiculous (and it was sloppy that TONY got the blog thing wrong, using PIG FARM as an example of what to watch out for and a reader of criticism, then stating Parabasis, who organized the PIGFARM night, was a blog to trust) and overblown . . . and not what any writing is about . . . if a blog or a reviewer burns the audience one too many times, they stop showing up . . . if a blog deviates from its path, same thing . . . and one reason I don't do much reviewing . . . it's not really what my blog is about, my blog is pretty personal about my process and interests . . . and my blog readers (both of 'em - LOL!) know this already . . . which is also maybe why I get linked to some blogs and not to others . . . I'm not aspiring to write elegant criticism like Brantley or Isherwood (not that there's anything wrong with aspiring to that) but there's room for the personal as well as the other . . .

Certainly ethics is always a part of any endevour, but ethics rears its head whether one tries to acknowledge it or not . . .

Shoot, James, it's Friday and I'm ranting . . . if most of what I just dashed off doesn't make any sense, forgive me in advance . . . I'm pulling in long days and late nights on my project . . .

Hope the show kicked ass!

2:20 PM  
Blogger MattJ said...

Cheers. My thoughts posted on my site.

Um. If you get McPhee can I have Kelly. We'll all have a big pillow fight and sing to each other. Promise.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Adam said...

I'll give you 5 bucks to say something nice about me on your blog. oh, and those seats for me tonight are comped, right?

2:32 PM  
Blogger Jason Grote said...

As much as I like the TONY reviewers, they tend to put hyped-up nonsense on the cover to sell magazines - few of the "dirty secrets" on that list were dirty, or secret, and a few were just wrong. Are there any "infomercial" blogs that misrepresent themselves that anyone would actually read? I don't know that the writer of the piece in question sees blog reviewing as much of a scandal.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Hi, Jason. Yeah, I think this is one of those "rules of the game" when you have a cover story (which is, in this case, a blatant advertisement for the movie "Grindhouse") that dictates the angles on all the articles in a weekly magazine that has tight never-ending deadlines.

You get a cover story in March saying "Theatre is Dying" because, well, you need a cover story and a cover story that'll be attention-getting. Then you get a cover story in May saying "Theatre is More Alive Than Ever." It's not like anyone reading these magazines has a particularly long attention span. Often, what's written in March is completely forgotten in April.

The Time Out article got a lot of things wrong (as happy as I am that they're gettting attention, anyone who's ever seen a Vampire Cowboys show could tell you they are not even remotely underground or grindhouse-y). But hey, they needed to plug the Rodriguez/Tarantino movie, and filter the rest of the content through that angle.

Also, you're right. There's no equivalent of an Earl Dittman in the theatre blogosphere. If there was, he or she would be ignored pretty quickly.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Floyd said...

Who is earl dittman? I want to be earl!!!

5:36 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

5:42 PM  

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