If you read the Friday The Wall Street Journal (or this blog) with any regularity, you probably know that I’m the only New York-based drama critic who routinely covers theatrical productions all over America. As I wrote in my “Sightings” column a couple of years 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.
But suppose you run a company I haven’t visited? How might you get me to come see you? Now’s the time to start asking that question, because I’m already working on my reviewing calendar for the 2008-09 season. So 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 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 Barefoot in the Park is your idea of a daring revival, 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, but if you’re doing something exciting in (say) Alaska or South Carolina, 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, Brian Friel, Adam Guettel, A.R. Gurney, David Ives, Michael John LaChiusa, Kenneth Lonergan, Lisa Loomer, David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Itamar Moses, Lynn Nottage, 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 Deep Blue Sea, The Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, Loot, Man and Superman, Rhinoceros, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit (the play, not the musical), or anything by Jean Anouilh, S.N. Behrman, William Inge, or John Van Druten, 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 The Little Dog Laughed or The Year of Magical Thinking 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 Lower Slobbovia Repertory Company and you want me to review your revival of The Glass Menagerie, your best bet is to point out that TheaterSlobbovia just happens to be doing All My Sons 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 SEASON button that leads directly to a complete list of the rest of the current and/or upcoming season’s productions
(3) A CONTACT US button 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. I’ve come to see shows solely and only because publicists who read my blog wrote to tell me that their companies were doing a specific show that they had good reason to think might interest me. Go thou and do likewise.