Before the performance
- Choose a production to attend by seeing what productions are available on the calendar. To see the calendar, login to the web site. In general, to attend a show in Salt Lake, Weber, or Davis counties, contact Amber Peck by email or Facebook. To attend a show in Utah County, contact Russell Warne. To attend a production at Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, Plan B Theatre Company, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Broadway Across America, or the two Hales, you must get approval from Dave. In general, shows are assigned on a first come, first serve basis. However, Dave, Russell, and Amber have the authority to deny your request to see a production for any reason.
- Examine whether it is appropriate for you to evaluate the production. You should not attend a production if you auditioned for the show and were not cast, if you or a family member are working on the production, or if you have a financial or artistic conflict of interest. You also may not review a play at a theatre company where you have donated more than $100 in the past year. Please also do not volunteer for a production that you cannot approach with an open mind (and do not accept an assignment for such a production).
- Post on your Facebook/Twitter account or on your blog that you will be reviewing a play and encourage your friends and family to look for your work.
- Dress semi-professionally. You are an official representative of UTBA. Business casual attire is appropriate.
- Bring a few pens and a notebook. Do not bring a laptop, iPad, or similar device because the typing and light from the screen will be distracting to other patrons and the actors.
- Show up early! Nothing is worse for your review (and UTBA’s image) than a reviewer who misses the first scene.
- Introduce yourself to the staff. Also chat with other patrons and let them know about UTBA and your review.
- Get a program!
- Prepare your notes as you wait for the show to start. If you will be in the dark, it may be helpful to divide up the paper into regions for each type of note. For example, notes about directing would go in the top left quadrant, acting notes in the top right, etc.
During the performance
- Sit close to the stage if you can. You won’t want to miss anything. Also, it is easier to take notes in a dark house if you sit close to where the light is.
- Be attentive to all of the elements of production. You are our readership’s eyes and ears.
- During intermission do not talk about your impressions about the show with anybody else. Instead, encourage them to go to UTBA’s site the next day to see your review.
- Stay for the entire performance. Even if the show is bad and you want to leave, the cast and crew are entitled to an evaluation based on their entire work.
After the performance
- Keep your program! You’ll want to refer to the director, lead actors, and some of the production staff by name. Do not throw the program away until your review posts.
- Go through your notes. Undoubtedly some of the things you wrote down are more important than others. Eliminate the minutia and decide which notes you’re going to draw upon for your review.
- As soon as possible, write your review! The sooner you write your review, the fresher your memory of specific points and the better your review will be. All reviews are due 48 hours after the performance.
- Early in your review, you should mention the names of the production and the producing company. After you mention a person’s name for the first time, refer to them by their last name after that (just as a news article would). Do not use the titles “Mr.” or “Ms.” in a review.
- As you write your review, be sure you pay attention to many different aspects of the show. A review that only talks about the acting isn’t helpful for the stage manager, the designers, or the producers. A better review will mention a broad range of production elements (although rarely all of them).
- A typical review is 750-1500 words long. Occasionally a shorter review is appropriate (i.e., for a one-act play, a children’s production, some dinner theatre productions, or a staged reading) and sometimes a longer review is acceptable.
- Support your opinions with specific examples of what you saw. For example, if the choreography was sloppily executed, list a song or two where that was evident. Do not be vague in your praise or criticism. Being too vague in a review is the most common reason editors request rewrites from reviewers. One of the main reasons we are invited to productions in Utah (especially amateur productions) is so that the director, producers, actors, or other artists can make adjustments and tweaks to the show after receiving feedback from UTBA. If you say things like, “Some of the performers were stretching to hit their notes,” it doesn’t help anyone. Instead, you should say which performers in which songs struggled with music.
- When criticizing, please direct your comments at the work of the artists and not the artists themselves. Personal attacks are not permitted in reviews. For example, do not say, “Actor X was terrible and had no talent.” A more appropriate comment would be, “I did not think that Actor X was convincing as Hamlet, and I never felt any anguish in his portrayal of what is supposed to be a tortured, conflicted character.” Notice how in this second comment, the portrayal is criticized and not the actor himself.
- At the end of the review, give an overall opinion of the performance, including whether a different type of audience would enjoy it. (For example, “Despite my misgivings, I think that this would be an excellent evening for younger children.”) You should always give information that an audience would want to know if they plan on seeing it (dates and times of the remaining performances, ticket prices, and the theater’s web site).
- Proofread your review before submitting it. You may want to read it carefully out loud or ask someone to read it that evening. UTBA will also proofread, but your proofreading will reduce the potential for mistakes.
- If this is your first review, email it directly to Russell. All other reviews should be posted directly to the web site, which then automatically sends an email to Russell, Dave, and the editors to let them know that your review is awaiting editing.
- In the editing process, your review is carefully proofread and edited to ensure that it conforms to UTBA’s standards for quality and professionalism. Sometimes, the editors will ask for rewrites of portions (or all) of your review. Please comply with their request quickly so that the review can post in a timely manner.
- After UTBA posts the review, use your Facebook or Twitter account or blog to direct your friends and family to the review.
- Read the published version of your review. Inform Russell if there are any errors that crept in during the editing process. Also, pay close attention to what the editor changed in your review. Noting these changes will help you produce better reviews in the future. Unless you need a rewrite, most editors will NOT tell you about changes. (They simply don’t have enough time.) However, if you email them when you submit your review, then they may give you feedback about your review.
- UTBA readers may comment on your review. Engage them in a civil dialogue. If some of the responses are heated and you don’t know how to handle the comments, don’t worry. UTBA editors will always stand up for you and your opinion.
Reviewing Works in Progress
- In the summer of 2011, UTBA policy on reviewing changed. Instead of a holistic review (as is typical for most productions), reviews of works in progress should focus mostly on the script.
- Start with a short synopsis of the work. Then, the bulk of your review should critique the script—both its strengths and weaknesses. Finally, a short 1-2 paragraphs should be cover the work of the actors.
- When critiquing the script, do not hesitate to give the playwright advice. This is usually the point of staging a work in progress.
- For an example of a good critique of a work in progress, see the review of Making Waves.
- Use “I” sparingly. This isn’t a grade school paper where the word “I” is forbidden. But if you’re using “I” a lot, then it takes the focus off the production and onto you. Yes, your voice is important and what you write is produced through the lens of your experience (which does mean you’ll occasionally use “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.). But the main focus should still be on the play.
- Do not speak for others in the audience. You are permitted to speak for yourself and your guest. Do not say, for example, that “… the entire audience erupted into laughter.” Also avoid saying, “The audience loved his performance,” or similar phrases. The experience at UTBA is that audiences are rarely unanimous in their opinions about a play, a performance, a design, etc. Similarly, do not use “we” unless you are clearly referring only to you and your guest.
- The terms “spot on” and “top notch” are strictly forbidden. They are empty and meaningless and have no place in a UTBA review.
- Other phrases and word are easily overused and you should be careful when using them. “Quite,” “somewhat,” “impressed” fall into this category. They’re not forbidden, but if you’re using any of these more than once in a review, then you should pull out a thesaurus.
- You should always give the name of the director of a production and the playwright. If you’re reviewing a musical, you should also always give the name of the composer and lyricist.
- Read reviews published on the web site, especially those produced by leading reviewers, like Russell Warne, Melissa Leliani Larson, Callie Oppedisano, Dave Mortensen, Amber Peck, and Tony Porter. These people typically produce reviews that need very little editing. You shouldn’t try to copy these people’s styles (their viewpoints and ways of thinking about theatre may differ from yours), but their writing is thoughtful and they regularly produce reviews that are consistent with UTBA’s standards.
- When referring to an actor and a character, be careful with pronouns like “he” and “she.” Most actors play characters who are the same gender as them, so when you refer to “he” or “him,” make sure the reader knows whether the pronoun refers to the character or the actor.
- Get your review posted faster by doing the following:
- Think of a title. If the editor doesn’t like it or has a better one, then they’ll replace yours. But it always helps to at least have a starting point. All titles must have the name of the play in them (or at least a reasonable abbreviation if the play name is long) in CAPS—not quotes.
- At the top of the post type in ALL CAPS the name of the city where you saw the play followed by a long dash (—).
- At the bottom of your review, add the italicized information that the editors will put in the info box. This includes the name of the play and the producing organization, the location of the play (including the address), dates of performances, the range of ticket prices, and a web site where readers can get more information about the play. The last is most important.