Hoopla and Heartache over Reviewers

The theatrosphere has been buzzing the last few days with controversy involving reviewers and what their rights are.

It all started out with this blog post that was published on August 17th. Mack D. Male’s friend, Sharon Yeo, who writes what is primarily a foodie blog called Only Here for the Food, had been asked, in a not especially nice manner, by the Artistic Director of a company who was producing at the Edmonton Fringe this year, to no longer attend or review any of their shows.

You can read all the posts and all the comments that come after for yourself. But for me, this brings up lots of interesting questions. The joy of the blogosphere, for me, is that anyone with a WordPress or Blogger or TypePad account can write about whatever topic they choose. I love that we have the power to create our own content. However, just because you have a blog, does that make you a reviewer? Or should we leave that job to the people who get paid to write reviews?

The second question this brings up for me is about addressing what is, essentially, a personal issue in a public forum. I’m not saying that Jeff Halsam was right in doing what he did, but I do think it was foolish of him to do it in such a public way. If I were his company’s publicist, I’d be freaking out, because this has all the makings of a PR nightmare.

As a publicist, I would never, ever turn down any kind of possible publicity, whether it’s from someone who gets paid to write reviews or not. A great example is Miss 604. If Rebecca writes a post on one of my clients, I know that post will be seen by thousands of people that day. Rebecca doesn’t get paid to write her primary blog, but her popularity is such that, even though she’s not a formal reviewer, I still welcome her to write because I know it will be excellent exposure.

What do you think? Do reviewers, formal or informal, have too much power? As a producer, do you have the right to tell them to sod off? (sorry, I’m in Australia right now).

As ever, I look forward to reading your comments below.

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 8

  1. Rebecca,

    Here are my two thoughts about PR and “sod off”:

    An Old adage – “it’s ALL about the PR” – there is no such thing as bad PR!

    “Sod off”:
    Heck, – well yes a Producer can tell someone to “Sod off” and then suffer and/or relish in the aftermath…..

    Rebecca, I am so happy for you that you are picking the local lingo in “quick time”.

  2. I think Harlan Ellison put it best: “We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing. It’s just bibble-babble.” Some of the best (insightful, informative, fair) reviews I’ve read are from unpaid amateurs on their blogs, and a lot of the worst (insipid, ignorant, unfair) have been from paid reviewers; that may just be the quality of work that some publications accept, but I don’t think it’s possible to categorically say that paid reviews are better or worse than unpaid ones.

    Do reviewers have too much power? In some spheres, probably, and I’d wager that those who do are generally paid, and employed by a publication that provides them a bully pulpit. But it’s worth asking what effect a single review has, or even reviews in general; the days of an individual making or breaking a show on Broadway or a movie in wide release are long gone, although I’m sure that the smaller the market the larger the effect that one person can have (and wield). Personally, as the editor and sometime amateur reviewer on a go-to site for theatre in a medium-sized city, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they agree or disagree with one of the reviews I’ve published, but I can count on one finger the number who have told me they’ve gone to a show they wouldn’t have seen otherwise because of one of them.

  3. Really interesting post! I often think about this topic and how “valid” blogger reviewers are. Like you said, one of the beauty of blogs is that the every day person can write from their point of view. No one reading a bloggers review will automatically assume this person is an expert – and that’s ok! I can’t believe that anyone would tell someone to not subscribe based on a blog. That’s wrong on so many levels. I think this is an important issue that should be an ongoing debate. Thanks!

  4. You perform in public, your work is open to public comment.The only thing that has changed is the forum in which public commentary is available. What used to take weeks via word of mouth now takes minutes via the web.

    There is no such thing as bad PR? Tell that to BP.

    Reviewers need not have an informed opinion. Most of the audience doesn’t and they will certainly voice their opinion to their friends, and moreover are more likely to have an effect on their friends purchase habits. It is the responsibility of the artist to do the finest job of communicating their ideas to the public as they can. If your work demands context to be fairly judged then you as an artist are responsible for providing that context.

    As an example of how to treat bloggers as legitimate reviewers, one need look no further than Vancouver Opera and their “Blogger Night” program.

  5. Hmm. I believe in freedom of speech and press, but have in the past been victim to a bad review here and there. I think that she has the right to write about whatever she pleases… I also think that the AD has the right to refuse her admission to his shows. That said… bad form, Mr. AD.

  6. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, I don’t see reviewers as having too much power. They are, like you and me, expressing opinions about the positives and negatives of something, be it a product or service.

    The Artistic Director of the company has gone beyond the line, instead of showing that he/she appreciates feedback, he/she has shown to the world that their company can’t accept criticism. What a shame.

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