What is the Utah Theatre Bloggers Association?

The Utah Theater Bloggers Association is a non-profit organization comprised of a group of theater patrons and professionals dedicated to the creation and support of theater in Utah via the publication of professional-quality third-party reviews of theatrical productions. We’re local theatre lovers and practitioners, just like you.

What are the goals of UTBA?

UTBA’s primary goal is to provide a forum for news, reviews, and opinions about Utah theatre. Right now our mainstay is reviews of productions, but we also provide some non-review content to engage theatre audiences, professionals, educators, and practitioners in a meaningful way.

Who are the reviewers for UTBA?

UTBA reviewers are a diverse group of theatre lovers. Most have some sort of formal training in theatre, but insightful audience members are also reviewers. At any given time, we have approximately 20-30 active reviewers. Over 80 people have written at least one review for the site since it started. Our reviewers must apply by submitting a writing sample and filling out an application. Our president screens all applications before forwarding them to the vice president. If the president and vice president agree, then the applicant reviews a show for UTBA on a trial basis. If that person’s review is acceptable, then they are invited to join UTBA as a regular reviewer.

How do you decide which productions to review?

We have a limited number of theatre companies that our schedulers contact for permission to review their productions. These companies include the Equity theatre companies in the state, the summer theatre festivals, the leading semi-professional companies, and most colleges and universities. We expect other theatre companies that want a review to contact us and initiate the process. We cannot guarantee that we will review every production we are invited to, but we make a sincere effort to find a reviewer every time.

What kind of shows do you not review?

UTBA will not review dance and ballet productions, K-12 school productions, performance art, or remountings of productions we have reviewed in the past. We also do not review productions that the cast paid (e.g., a costume fee, a participation fee) to be part of. Other special types of performances — like staged readings, operas, musical revues, improvised productions, and foreign language theatre — may be reviewed, depending on the circumstances and the availability of qualified reviewers. UTBA also does not review productions unless a review is explicitly scheduled in advance with the theatre company, though we reserve the right to change that policy by reviewing a show after purchasing a ticket.

Do you review student shows?

We believe that some of the most innovative theatre in Utah is happening on the campuses of the state’s universities. Therefore, we review most university student shows as we would any other production. Currently, we do not review plays produced by K-12 schools, though we do review productions with teenage or youth casts if they meet the other requirements above.

What are the standards by which you judge a production?

We judge productions based on the highest realistic expectations for a show, given the circumstances of production. For example, we hold Equity shows and university productions to extremely high standards, because they have larger budgets, better trained actors and designers, and sizable casting pools from which to draw their actors. Amateur productions are given more leeway, because they have smaller budgets and often production staff with no professional training. Because most children’s shows are more for the benefit of the child actors than the audience, we are kindest to those (and we don’t want to discourage young talent by being overly harsh in a public review). To sum up, we judge a $6/ticket show by the standards of a $6 ticket, but a $40/ticket shows by the standards of a $40 ticket. (“Is the audience getting their money’s worth?”)

How do you choose which reviewers attend a production?

Sometimes reviewers are handpicked for a production, based on their expertise and the quality of previous reviews. Usually, though, we send out an email to all of our reviewers letting them know which productions are available for review and reviewers choose which productions they attend. This semi-volunteer system usually means that reviewers are members of the audience that the production is aimed at. We think that this match between reviewer and production encourages a fair review. We do not permit producing organizations to request a specific person to review their production, nor do we tell theatre companies who has been assigned to review their production.

How do you choose which performance to review?

Although we prefer to attend a production on or near opening night, we come to the performance that we are invited to. Some theaters like us to attend previews; others prefer later performances. Occasionally, scheduling issues make it difficult or impossible for a reviewer to attend the performance that UTBA was invited to. In such cases, we ask to attend a later performance, but never an earlier one.

I want UTBA to review my show. How do I do that?

Simply visit the Request a Reviewer page and fill out the form. Please be aware that we expect UTBA reviewers to be provided with 2 complimentary tickets to your production, preferably on or near opening night. Also be aware that we are more likely to be able to review your show if you give use plenty of notice, preferably at least two weeks. (Ideally, theatre companies should request a review as soon as they have the rights to a show secured and a location booked.) We also encourage you to advertise your show on the site. Email advertising@utahtheatrebloggers.com for more information.

How do I know that the reviewers will be fair in reviewing a show?

UTBA standards demand that members approach every production with an open mind, and our reviewers are very good about abiding by that rule. The UTBA archives are full of examples where a reviewer has panned a production and then written a positive review of that company in the future (and vice versa). Reviewers who cannot have an open mind about a production are asked to decline any invitations to review that play.

We also don’t permit any major non-financial conflicts of interest. We define a non-financial conflict of interest as a situation where any of the following apply to a reviewer:

  • Any type of involvement or attempted involvement with the production. For example, auditioning for the show and then not being cast means that the reviewer cannot review that production.
  • Donating a total of more than $100 to the company within the previous 12 months.
  • Being an employee of the producing organization. If the producing organization is a college or university, a conflict of interest exists for students who are majoring or minoring in the producing department or for employees of the producing department.
  • Any of the above situations apply that to a reviewer’s family member or anyone they live with (e.g., roommate, landlord, partner).

We also ask reviewers to excuse themselves from an assignment if they are not able to review the show fairly for any reason that is not listed above. Some UTBA members even impose on themselves higher standards about which shows they will not review. For example, some UTBA members refuse to review plays that have acquaintances in the cast.

What are the standards for your reviews?

We give reviewers a lot of leeway in writing a review, which maintains their individual opinions and voices as much as possible. However, we do have some firm standards:

  • We do not allow personal attacks on actors or artistic/technical staff in reviews.
  • Every review must mention by name the director, playwright (and composer and librettist, if the play is a musical), and at least one actor’s name.
  • For most types of productions, the review must be at least 750 words long. This requirement is waived for staged readings, very short plays (e.g., one-act plays), theatre for young audiences, and other similar productions.
  • Reviews must be written coherently and reflect the reviewer’s honest opinion about what they saw on stage.

Do UTBA reviewers have instructions on what to write in their reviews?

Beyond the standards above (e.g., no personal attacks), UTBA reviewers are given no instructions about what to write in their reviews. UTBA is built on the free expression of ideas and opinions, and nobody influences the writer. During the editing process, sometimes an editor will alter the review to improve clarity, correct grammar, or make other minor changes. But the editing process never changes the content or overall tone of the review.

Occasionally, a reviewer will write statements that are controversial, offensive, or unpopular. UTBA publishes these statements because reviewers must be free to give their honest opinion. Anything less than full freedom of expression is censorship. Without freedom from censorship, readers cannot trust UTBA reviews as being fully honest. Readers should understand, however, that UTBA board members and writers often disagree with one another. The opinions in a review are solely the author’s.

How long does it take for a review to publish?

We ask that reviewers submit their review for editing within 48 hours of a performance. Editing takes approximately 12 hours, and then the review is published. As a general rule, our goal is to publish a review within 3 days of a performance. Sometimes the whole process goes much more quickly and a review is published the morning following a performance.

On occasion, a review can take longer to publish. This may happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes reviewers do not submit their review within 48 hours, which may occur because the review is difficult to write or because the review has to fulfill their day job or family demands. An editor may request changes or rewrites from the reviewer so that the review can meet UTBA’s standards. Also, in busy weeks UTBA may delay publication so that a large number of reviews are not published all at once (which would reduce the attention that any one review gets).

The performance was a disaster! Can I remove a review?

If something goes wrong at a performance or you suspect that the review will be negative, your theatre company can ask us to kill a review only if the review has not yet published. Once a review has published, we will not retract it. We never reach out to companies and let them know that a review will be negative and offer to withhold it.

Why do you review productions that only run for one night?

Even though a one-night production would close before our audience is able to read the review, we think that a review is nonetheless an important aspect of the show. Reviews provide honest feedback to theatre artists and may help them with their next production. Also, our audience may become aware of the type of short-term productions that certain groups produce. This may cause them to try to attend the next production. UTBA also believes that a review is an important part of a historical record, and leaving a written record of a performance is important in its own right.

What are your guidelines for publicity photos?

While UTBA will almost always publish publicity images that theatre companies provide, we have found that the best theatre publicity photos meet the following guidelines:

  • Are high-resolution
  • Depict actors dressed in costume, posing as their characters
  • Do not show more than five individuals
  • Include no words; if the image does include words (e.g., theatre company name, photographer credit), then they are small and unobtrusive
  • Do not consist of wide shots

Please send several photos — preferably at least four. If possible, the collection of images should include some in landscape orientation and some in portrait orientation. If a photographer is to be credited, please include that information when sending the images. If a production is double cast, then please only send photos of the cast that the reviewer will see (or, at least, label photos so that the editor knows which cast is depicted in the image). Whenever possible, please send the photos as a link to a Google Drive (or other file sharing service) or a URL where images can be downloaded.

Include a caption that indicates each actor’s name and character name. Standard UTBA practice is to list individuals in photos in the format of “Actor’s Name as Character’s Name”. If multiple people are in the image, the caption should unambiguously state who each person is. This is easiest by starting the caption with “Left to right:”, “Clockwise from top left:”, or “Top row: . . . Bottom row:” Details about these recommendations (and others) are available in a blog post published in March 2022.

If possible, images should be sent before the reviewer sees the production. If images are sent after the review has published, we cannot guarantee that the images will be added to the review after publication. UTBA reserves the right to crop images to fit our format or for best use in social media.

Can I be a reviewer?

If you meet the requirements, you’re welcomed to apply.

Are UTBA reviewers and staff members paid?

From 2010 to 2017, UTBA was an all-volunteer organization, and the only remuneration that reviewers received were the complimentary tickets that theatre companies provided. Beginning in 2018, we took steps to pay our reviewers and editors. We are currently engaging in fundraising to pay these individuals for their hard work. The tentative plan is to pay editors a flat rate for each review they edit and to pay reviewers their transportation costs to each production. Our ability to meet these goals depends on our fundraising success. Board members and schedulers are not paid for their work.

Can we use your review in our advertising materials?

Theaters, media outlets, and people affiliated with a production may use quotes from the review as long as the author and “utahtheatrebloggers.com” are cited as the source. Each quote must be no more than 60 words long and the total amount of quoted material in any given press release, advertisement, or other material must be no more than 150 words. To reprint an entire review or to quote more than 150 words, please contact us to make arrangements. Links to reviews and other material on the UTBA site are always acceptable.