Now that I’m starting to plan my fall travels in earnest, it’s time for a newly revised repeat performance of this perennial posting. If you’ve seen it before and aren’t interested, my apologies!
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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, though. Ask Howard Sherman, formerly of the American Theatre Wing, who blogged as follows earlier this year:
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 lure me to come see you for the first time? Now’s the time to start asking that question, because I’m hard at work on my reviewing calendar for the first half of the 2011-12 season. Here, then, are the guidelines that 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:
• Get your schedule to me as soon as possible. That means well in advance of the public announcement. I’ll keep it to myself.
• Basic requirements. I only review professional companies. I don’t review dinner theater, and it’s very unusual for me to visit children’s theaters. (Sorry, but I have to draw the line somewhere.) I’m 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 seasonand two 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 Santaland Diaries 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. Alaska and Colorado continue to loom largest, and I’m also way overdue for a repeat visit to Texas, 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 on a first visit 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, A.R. Gurney, David Ives, Michael John LaChiusa, Kenneth Lonergan, Lisa Loomer, David Mamet, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Itamar Moses, Lynn Nottage, Peter Shaffer, Stephen Sondheim, Shelagh Stephenson, 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, Man and Superman, No Time for Comedy, Rhinoceros, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit, or just about anything by Jean Anouilh, Bertolt Brecht, T.S. Eliot, 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.
• 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 Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo 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 few seasons and thus am not likely to seek out again for the next few seasons. Some cases in point: American Buffalo, Arcadia, Awake and Sing!, Biography, Blithe Spirit, Dividing the Estate, Endgame, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Glass Menagerie, Guys and Dolls, Heartbreak House, Life of Galileo, The Little Foxes, A Little Night Music, A Moon for the Misbegotten, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Our Town, Private Lives, She Loves Me, Speed-the-Plow, Twelve Angry Men, Waiting for Godot, West Side Story, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (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 Upper Nowheresville Repertory Company and you want me to review your revival of Six Degrees of Separation, your best bet is to point out that TheaterNowhere also happens to be doing Lobby Hero that same weekend. Otherwise, I’ll probably go to Chicago instead.
• I don’t travel in the spring. Broadway is usually so busy in March and April that I’m not able to go anywhere else to see anything else. If you’re going to put on a show that you think might catch my eye, consider doing it between September and February.
• 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 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.
(Really smart publicists will know how to find out my personal e-mail address, and will use it instead of writing to me here.)
• 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.