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. But what if you run a company I haven’t visited? How might you lure me to come see you for the first time?
Here is an updated version of 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 annual season announcement to me as early as possible. If you send it to me well in advance of the public announcement, I promise to keep it strictly to myself.
• Basic requirements. I only review professional companies, not community theaters. In addition, I don’t review dinner theater or children’s theaters. (Sorry, but I have to draw the line somewhere, and that’s where.)
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. 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) Hawaii, 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 whose work I admire. Some names on the latter list: Alan Ayckbourn, Edward Bond, Liz Flahive, Brian Friel, John Guare, Adam Guettel, A.R. Gurney, Amy Herzog, David Ives, Kenneth Lonergan, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Itamar Moses, Lynn Nottage, and Tom Stoppard.
Regarding the classics, I already see a lot of Shakespeare, so it’s unlikely that you can lure me with Hamlet. You’d do better to try Chekhov or Shaw.
I also have a select list of older shows I’d like to review, many of which fall into the now-unfashionable “well-made” category, that haven’t been revived in New York lately or ever. If you’re doing The Beauty Part, The Chalk Garden, The Entertainer, Hotel Paradiso, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Side Man, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Visit (not the musical version), or pretty much anything by Jean Anouilh, S.N. Behrman, Bertolt Brecht, Rachel Crothers, N.C. Hunter, T.S. Eliot, Horton Foote, William Inge, George Kelly, Eugène Ionesco, Joe Orton, Harold Pinter, J.B. Priestley, Terence Rattigan, or John Van Druten, kindly drop me a line.
Incidentally, I love door-slamming farces, and I’m very specifically interested in seeing large-cast plays that no longer get performed in or near 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.
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: Absurd Person Singular, American Buffalo, Arcadia, Arms and the Man, Blithe Spirit, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Glass Menagerie, God of Carnage, Heartbreak House, King Lear, The Liar, The Little Foxes, A Moon for the Misbegotten, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Old Times, Our Town, Port Authority, Private Lives, A Raisin in the Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Trip to Bountiful, Twelve Angry Men, Waiting for Godot, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and You Can’t Take It With You.
• I love musicals. I’m especially interested in covering creatively staged small-scale revivals of the great musicals of the past, and I’m also a great fan of the post-Sondheim “serious” musicals of songwriters like Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChiusa. On the other hand, I loathe what I call “commodity” musicals—i.e., by-the-numbers stage versions of relatively recent hit films—and won’t review them for any reason other than that they’ve come to Broadway, which means that I have to.
• 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 want me to review your revival of Separate Tables, your best bet is to point out that another theater ten miles away also happens to be doing Lobby Hero that same weekend. Otherwise, I’ll probably go to Chicago instead.
• I almost never 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.
Oh, yes: I’m always looking for shows that open in November or December and run through the middle of January or later. (This allows me to see and stockpile a show, then review it in the famously dead week after New Year’s Day.)
• 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 full of typos suggests the opposite. 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 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—ideally within walking distance.)
• Please omit paper. I discard unread press releases sent via e-mail. Also, don’t send me routine announcements about (say) staff promotions. All I want to see is your season announcement and individual press releases about your shows.
• Write to me here. Don’t use my Wall Street Journal e-mail address. Savvy publicists will also know how to find out my personal e-mail address, and should use it instead.
• 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.