If you read the Friday Wall Street Journal or this blog with any regularity, you probably know that I’m the only drama critic in America who routinely covers theatrical productions from coast to coast. 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 starting to work on my reviewing calendar for the fall of 2009. 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 The Foreigner 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 America’s drama critic. Right now Colorado and Texas loom largest, but if you’re doing something exciting in (say) Mississippi or Montana, 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 that I’ve never seen to review a play by an author of whom I’ve never heard. What I look for is an imaginative mix of revivals of major plays–including comedies–and newer works by living playwrights and songwriters whose work I’ve admired. Some names on the latter list: Alan Ayckbourn, Brooke Berman, Nilo Cruz, Liz Flahive, Brian Friel, Athol Fugard, Adam Guettel, A.R. Gurney, David Ives, Michael John LaChiusa, Kenneth Lonergan, Lisa Loomer, David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Itamar Moses, Lynn Nottage, Stephen Sondheim, and Tom Stoppard.
I also have a select list of older shows I’d like to review that haven’t been revived in New York lately (or ever). If you’re doing The Beauty Part, The Cocktail Party, The Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, The Iceman Cometh, Loot, Man and Superman, On the Town, Rhinoceros, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit (the play, not the musical), or anything by Jean Anouilh, S.N. Behrman, William Inge, Terence Rattigan, or John Van Druten, kindly 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 Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them or reasons to be pretty 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 four- or five-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 Dancing at Lughnasa, your best bet is to point out that TheaterSlobbovia also happens to be doing The Playboy of the Western World that same weekend. Otherwise, I’ll probably go to Palm Beach 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 front page of your Web site contains the following easy-to-find information and features:
(1) The title of your current production, plus its opening and closing dates.
(2) Your address and main telephone number (not the box office!).
(3) A SEASON button that leads directly to a complete list of the rest of the current and/or upcoming season’s productions. Make sure that this listing includes the press opening date of each production!
(4) A CALENDAR or SCHEDULE button that leads to a month-by-month calendar of all your performances, including curtain times.
(5) A CONTACT US button that leads to an updated directory of staff members (including individual e-mail addresses, starting with the address of your press representative).
(6) A DIRECTIONS or VISIT US button that leads to a page containing directions to your theater and a printable map of the area. Like many people, I now rely on my GPS unit when driving, so it is essential that this page also include the street address of the theater where you perform. Failure to conspicuously display this address is a hanging offense. (I also suggest that you include a list of recommended restaurants and hotels that are close to the theater.)
This is an example of a good company with an unattractive, poorly organized Web site on which much of the above information is hard to find.
This is an example of a good company with an attractive, well-organized Web site on which most of the above information is easy to find.
• 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 flood of random press releases. As a result, I no longer recommend that anyone write to me there. 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 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.
UPDATE: I’m not the only theater blogger with a bee in his bonnet when it comes to badly designed Web sites.