Within the next few weeks UTBA will publish our 800th review. As this milestone approaches I am humbled that so many theatre companies in Utah have invited UTBA members to see their shows—and that the invitations keep coming. After 3 and 1/2 years doing this, I think that it’s safe to say that the Utah theatre community is stronger because of the UTBA community’s commitment to honest feedback. However, when I schedule reviews, I am occasionally asked a question:
“Why should we invite UTBA back to our next show? You gave us a negative review to us last time.”
This question sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable because it puts me in a bind. Do I apologize for the reviewer’s words and say that they were wrong? Or do I tell the person that their show was bad? What if I hated it and I tell them that? UTBA might not ever review there again because UTBA never reviews a production without making arrangements in advance. (That means if the theatre company doesn’t want a reviewer there, we won’t show up.)
So in order to avoid any awkward moments for me or UTBA’s other scheduler, here are five reasons to invite UTBA to your play . . . even if you got a negative review last time.
Most UTBA reviews are positive; my tally of a set of recent reviews in 2013 indicates that about 10% were mostly negative, about 20% were mixed, and the remaining 70% were positive. Those are pretty good odds that the reviewer will have great things to say about your show.
But even if the review is negative, it’s still advertising for your production. Utah has a very saturated arts marketplace, so anything that gets people thinking about your show and theatre company is helpful.
Everyone gets a fresh start
UTBA is a large enough group of reviewers that it’s often the same reviewer doesn’t revisit a theatre company for several months. Therefore, a negative review from one reviewer often will have nothing to do with the next review.
Even if a reviewer returns to a theatre company, UTBA members are extremely professional at evaluating a production on its own merits and not letting their impressions of other productions influence a new review.
Requesting a reviewer sends a message
Requesting a reviewer for a production tells your audience that you are serious about the production. When public feedback comes with a real risk of negative comments, the implicit message is that the theatre company takes their work serious enough to subject it to careful scrutiny. Therefore, the audience knows they should take the play seriously also.
Plus, savvy audience members notice which theatre companies invite reviewers and which ones don’t. For that minority of audience members not requesting a reviewer send an even stronger message about the company than getting a negative review does. After all, if UTBA reviews over 200 plays every year, then some audience members may ask why your play isn’t among them.
A review is a historical record
A review is a historical record of an ethereal event. Theatre by its very nature does not survive past the end of the performance. Even recorded plays lose much of the magic and feeling that accompany a live performance. Although the performance in its entirety will be lost forever, a review records the event for posterity and preserves the perspective of an audience member—which is often the most important perspective of all.
Reviews make future performances better
This summer I attended opening night of a play that I didn’t review because a family member was on the production team. The show was nice, although nothing special. The review was mostly positive, but the reviewer pointed out a number of weaknesses in the performance. When I returned on closing night the show was much better, and the director told me that he used the review to show the cast what they needed to work on and improve for the rest of the run. This sort of story is not uncommon; multiple times per year I get emails from directors and others who tell me that a UTBA review helped them improve their production.
So, there are the five reasons that every theatre company in Utah should request a UTBA review, even if they have received a negative review in the past. If you want to request a reviewer for your production, click here.