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. Don’t take my word for it, thoughask Howard Sherman of the American Theatre Wing, who recently blogged as follows:
To get a regional show to Broadway, one must find a producer who wants to champion the show and take it on as a major commitment. Unfortunately, producers aren’t flying to theatres around the country constantly checking out every possible new play and revival for their next Broadway success. And unless you’re in a major city and you have a preponderance of positive reviews by long established critics (whose numbers are in decline), your own entreaties aren’t likely to cause anyone to jump on a plane unless you already have a relationship with them.
As for “national press” discovering your work and bringing it to the attention of New York bound producers, your only real option is luring The Wall Street Journal‘s Terry Teachout to see your show (and Terry regularly publishes his guidelines for what he’s likely to be interested in). While The New York Times ventures out of town on occasion (though most frequently to the Berkshires, Chicago or London, it seems), it’s rare even for the country’s largest newspaper, USA Today, to see work outside of New York; attention from television and radio is even rarer.
So what if 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 just starting to work on my reviewing calendar for the summer of 2011. Here, then, is an updated version of the guidelines that I use for deciding which out-of-town shows to seealong with some suggestions for improving the ways in which you reach out to the press:
• Get your 2011 summer schedule to me as soon as possible. That means, if possible, prior to the public announcement. I’ll keep it to myself. My travel plans for the coming summer season are usually pretty firm by the end of February, so don’t dally.
• 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 two shows each summerand one of them has to be serious. I won’t put you on my drop-dead list for milking the occasional cash cow, but if The 39 Steps is your idea of a daring new play, 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 Alaska and Colorado 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 playsincluding comediesand 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, John Guare, Adam Guettel, David Ives, Michael John LaChiusa, Kenneth Lonergan, Lisa Loomer, David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Itamar Moses, Lynn Nottage, Peter Shaffer, 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 Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, The Iceman Cometh, Loot, Rhinoceros, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit (either the play or the musical), or anything by Jean Anouilh, Bertolt Brecht, Horton Foote, William Inge, or Terence Rattigan, kindly drop me a line.
Finally, I’m very specifically interested in seeing large-cast plays that no longer get performed in New York for budgetary reasons. One of the reasons why I came to Florida last January, for example, was to see Life of Galileo and You Can’t Take It With You.
• BTDT. I almost never cover regional productions of new or newish plays that I reviewed in New York in the past season or twoespecially if I panned them. Hence the chances of my coming to see your production of Elling are well below zero. (Suggestion: if you’re not already reading my Journal column, you might want to start.)
In addition, there are shows that I like but have written about more than once in the past couple of seasons and thus am not likely to seek out again for the next couple of seasons. Some cases in point: American Buffalo, Arcadia, Awake and Sing!, Biography, Blithe Spirit, Endgame, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Glass Menagerie, Into the Woods, The Little Foxes, A Little Night Music, Our Town, Private Lives, Speed-the-Plow, A Streetcar Named Desire, Waiting for Godot, and West Side Story. (I am, however, going to keep on reviewing What the Butler Saw until somebody gets it right!)
• 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 Show Boat, your best bet is to point out that TheaterSlobbovia also happens to be doing The Real Thing that same weekend. Otherwise, I’ll probably go to San Diego 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 youI know appearances can be deceivingbut 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 or NOW PLAYING 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 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. Any e-mail sent to me at the Journal that contains attachments will be discarded unread.
• 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.