What do we actually want from a theater review?
New York Times Critic Watch is a research project designed to analyse the tone, temper, and trends in theatre reviews of new work from the field’s top cultural print outlet during one calendar year. What do we actually want from a theatre review?
Here's a catalogue of desires from a few sides:
Theatre Producers and Practitioners
Theatre producers and practitioners want more publicity for their production. A picture in the paper. A headline. They want a good review—something that they can excerpt for their e-blasts, websites, or postcards. They want a review that takes their hard work, experience, and specific artistic goals for the production into consideration. They want to help audiences prepare for the show. They want the show's surprises to be kept surprises. They want biases to be fairly aired—if a reviewer has always hated musicals (or the Midwest), that should be noted in their review of Oklahoma! They want individual achievements to be noted—a particular mention of a good performance, design, or score helps individual artists secure further work. They want to keep their jobs and their theatres open. They want to grow their patronage. They want to grow as artists.
Readers want a sense of what's going on in their community. A picture. A headline. They want to know what they should see and what they shouldn't waste money or time on. They want to know what's cool, what's relevant, and what's going to be fun. They want to know what kind of play it is and what kind of person might like it (is this a play they could take their kids, work friends, or grandparents to?). They also want a sense of bias—they might love musicals (and the Midwest) and wouldn't want to miss a good Oklahoma! because of a biased review.
Reviewers want to tell the truth. They want to communicate their experience accurately. They want to be able to stand by their published review. They want to keep their jobs. They want their opinion to matter to the community. They want to write well and be readable.
Do readers actually want to have a reviewer decide if they should go see a show? Or do they just want to know about the artists and stories from an unjudged perspective?
Questions We Have
Do theatre producers and practitioners actually want feedback? Do they actually want to be reviewed? Or do they just want free press to sell tickets? Do readers actually want to have a reviewer decide if they should go see a show? Or do they just want to know about the artists and stories from an unjudged perspective? Do they actually want to be a part of the theatre community or outside of it? Are they writing for the theatre community or their readers or both? Do they want their reviews to be considered helpful criticism or simply a thumbs up/down? Do reviewers want feedback for their reviews? These are some of the higher level questions we're trying to answer. If you're interested in helping out, consider taking a few minutes to help us by completing a short survey here. Your participation and answers will be anonymous and used only for mapping trends and systematic analysis.