You don’t publish 600+ reviews without learning a thing or two. In commemoration of UTBA’s 3rd anniversary—which the site celebrates today—I decided to compile a list of some of the things I’ve learned as managing editor for the site.
Avid readers of the site have seen some of these mentioned before; others are being talked about publicly for the first time. The one thing that all of them have in common is that they were things that few (if any) of UTBA members knew before they started volunteering for UTBA.
As I’ve mentioned before on the site and on our social media profiles, a good publicity photo is indispensable when marketing your show. Publicity photos can convey a lot of information to your audience: what play is being produced, the visual style, the director’s concept, the tone of the show, and more. An informative publicity photo can pique a person’s interest in your show and turn that person into an audience member. Good publicity photos are high resolution images with a small number of people in them who are dressed in costume and posing as their characters. A mix of portrait oriented and landscape oriented photos is best. This doesn’t mean that your publicity photo has to be taken by an expensive professional photographer. But it does mean that the photo must be eye-catching and informative. As the old cliché goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Diversity of theatrical offerings in Utah
When UTBA was first founded, I thought, “Well, if anyone ever wants a review of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, they’ll know where to go. That show will account for half the reviews.” But after out of nearly 650 reviews, only 6 have been for productions of Joseph. That’s right… we only review an average of two productions of Joseph per year. And almost any theatrical taste has a company that caters to it in Utah. There are edgy shows, experimental productions, new plays, religious plays, youth productions, old classics, and more. Of course, Utahns have their favorites. Over 1/3 of the productions we’ve reviewed are musicals and over 40 Shakespeare productions have been reviewed in our 3 years. But there is a great deal of diversity in the plays that companies produce in Utah, and I would be proud to hold up Utah as an example of a place where all tastes are valued and respected.
Reviewers’ opinions are not sacrosanct
As one of UTBA’s most experienced reviewers, I write approximately 30 reviews per year for the site. I have been inducted into the American Theater Critics Association, the nation’s foremost organization for professional-quality theatre critics. But I still botch reviews every now and then. Reviewers—just like actors, directors, doctors, engineers, and any one else—have good days and bad days. Not every play can be a winner, nor can every review be as insightful or professional as I wish. And even when I’m having a good day and am writing well, that doesn’t mean my opinions are right. My viewpoints on a show are no more special or important than the viewpoint of any other audience member. If I hated your show and other people in the audience were moved by it, then the production may be a great success.
Theatre practitioners value criticism
When I started to review heavily, I thought that I was going to be a pariah in the Utah theatre community. To my pleasant surprise, I found that many people valued the honest feedback. Although I’ve given negative reviews to friends, it has never ruined a friendship. Indeed, all of my theatre friends understand that I always have to be honest in my opinions. Otherwise, they wouldn’t know when to trust what I say (whether good or bad).
This experience reminded me of something that I was told by a director when I was a teenager rehearsing the second play I was ever in: “You don’t have to be paid to act like a professional.” Professional people—whether they are acting in an Equity or costuming an arts council production—use reviews to improve their work. The vast majority of Utah theatre artists take negative criticism in stride and take positive criticism without letting it go to their heads. I have been told by decision makers at theatre companies who have told me how a UTBA review encouraged them to make adjustments to a show or plan future productions. This criticism (even when it hurts in the moment) has made the Utah theatre community stronger, a fact that I believe that most theatre artists recognize. Of course, I’ve seen some people react negatively to a negative review. But this behavior is so rare in our state that it has made reviewing a remarkably pleasant experience.
So, there you have it: some of the things I have learned so far after working with over 600 reviews in 12 of Utah’s 29 counties. There are other things I’ve learned, but for now I think that this list will suffice. I’m interested in what our readers have learned from UTBA in their 200,000+ visits and 400,000+ page views. After all, the vast majority of people who have contact with the site are readers. If you have learned something about the site, let me know in the comments or by sending an email to russell (at) utahtheaterbloggers (dot) com.