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. Just...trust 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
Labels: business, of interest, reviews, theatre, theory