It looks as though Broadway may be shuttered for some time to come–but if you read my Wall Street Journal drama column, you know that’s not likely to faze me. I’m the only New York-based drama critic who routinely covers productions all over America. In addition to covering Broadway and off-Broadway openings, I either reviewed or am planning to review three dozen other companies located in thirteen states and the District of Columbia during 2007. I expect to range even more widely next year.
As I wrote in my “Sightings” column a year and a half ago:
The time has come for American playgoers–and, no less important, arts editors–to start treating regional theater not as a minor-league branch of Broadway but as an artistically significant entity in and of itself. Take it from a critic who now spends much of his time living out of a suitcase: If you don’t know what’s hot in “the stix,” you don’t know the first thing about theater in 21st-century America.
Suppose you run a regional company I haven’t visited? How might you get me to come see you now that I’ve got some extra time on my hands? Here’s an updated version of the guidelines I use for deciding which out-of-town shows to see–along with some suggestions for improving the ways in which you reach out to the press:
• Basic requirements. I only review professional companies. I don’t review dinner theater, and it’s unusual (though not unprecedented) for me to visit children’s theaters. I’m somewhat more likely to review Equity productions, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and I’m strongly interested in small companies.
• You must produce a minimum of three shows each season… That doesn’t apply to summer festivals, but it’s rare for me to cover a festival that doesn’t put on at least two shows a season.
• …and most of them have to be serious. I won’t put you on my drop-dead list for milking the occasional cash cow, but if you specialize in such regional-theater staples as The Santaland Diaries, Tuesdays With Morrie, and anything with the word “magnolias” in the title, I won’t go out of my way to come calling on you, either.
• I have no geographical prejudices. On the contrary, I love to range far afield, particularly to states that I haven’t yet gotten around to visiting in my capacity as the Journal‘s drama critic. Right now Florida, Ohio, and Texas loom largest–I hope to hit all three states next season and/or this summer–but if you’re doing something exciting in (say) Mississippi or North Dakota, I’d be more than happy to add you to the list as well.
• Repertory is everything. I won’t visit an out-of-town company I’ve never seen to review a play by an author of whom I’ve never heard. What I look for is an imaginative, wide-ranging mix of revivals of major plays–definitely including comedies–and newer works by living playwrights and songwriters whose work I’ve admired. Some names on the latter list: Alan Ayckbourn, Nilo Cruz, Horton Foote, Amy Freed, Brian Friel, Adam Guettel, A.R. Gurney, David Ives, Michael John LaChiusa, Warren Leight, Kenneth Lonergan, Lisa Loomer, David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, Itamar Moses, Lynn Nottage, Austin Pendleton, Harold Pinter, Oren Safdie, John Patrick Shanley, Stephen Sondheim, and Tom Stoppard.
I also have a select list of older plays I’d like to review that haven’t been revived in New York lately (or ever). I’ve been able to check a couple of them off the list since you last heard from me, but if you’re doing The Beauty Part, The Cocktail Party, The Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, Loot, Man and Superman, Rhinoceros, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit, or anything by Jean Anouilh, S.N. Behrman, Noël Coward, John Van Druten, or Terence Rattigan, please drop me a line.
• BTDT. I almost never cover regional productions of new or newish plays that I reviewed in New York in the past season or two–especially if I panned them. Hence the chances of my coming to see your production of Blackbird or All That I Will Ever Be are well below zero. (Suggestion: if you’re not already reading my Journal column, you probably ought to start.)
• I group my shots. It isn’t cost-effective for me to fly halfway across the country to review a single show. Whenever possible, I like to take in two or three different productions during a three- or four-day trip. (Bear in mind, though, that they don’t all have to be in the same city.) If you’re the publicist of the Podunk Repertory Company and you want me to review your revival of The Seagull, your best bet is to point out that TheaterPodunk just happens to be doing Hedda Gabler that same weekend. Otherwise, I’ll probably go to Minneapolis instead.
• Web sites matter–a lot. A clean-looking home page that conveys a maximum of information with a minimum of clutter tells me that you know what you’re doing, thus increasing the likelihood that I’ll come see you. An unprofessional-looking, illogically organized home page suggests the opposite. (If you can’t spell, hire a proofreader.) This doesn’t mean I won’t consider reviewing you–I know appearances can be deceiving–but bad design is a needless obstacle to your being taken seriously by other online visitors.
If you want to keep traveling critics happy, make very sure that the home page of your Web site contains the following easy-to-find information:
(1) The title of your current production, plus its opening and closing dates (including the date of the press opening)
(2) A link to a complete list of the rest of the current and/or upcoming season’s productions
(3) A CONTACT US link that leads directly to an updated directory of staff members (including individual e-mail addresses–starting with the address of your press representative)
(4) A link to a page containing directions to your theater and a printable map
(5) Your address and main telephone number (not the box office!)
• Please omit paper. I strongly prefer to receive press releases via e-mail, and I don’t want to receive routine Joe-Blow-is-now-our-assistant-stage-manager announcements via any means whatsoever.
• Write to me here. Mail sent to me at my Wall Street Journal e-mail address invariably gets lost in the kudzu of random press releases. I get a lot of spam at my “About Last Night” mailbox, too, but not nearly as much as I do at the Journal.
• Mention this posting. The last time I ran a version of this posting on “About Last Night,” I got an e-mail the same day from a sharp-eyed publicist in Maryland–and I reviewed the very show she was flacking a couple of months later. Go thou and do likewise.