The Playgoer: What Happened to "Previews"

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

What Happened to "Previews"

A member of the ill-fated Gone With the Wind cast in London offers a pre-postmortem.

Previews are meant to be the point in a production's life where a show can be tried out before an audience, to see what works and what doesn't. They used to be an intimate affair, and there was a certain bond of trust between the performers and an audience who had paid less to see the unpolished version. But in the internet age, those days are over.

Before we had even left the theatre on the night of our first preview, our fate was sealed. I went home that night to read damning comments on a blog called the West End Whingers: the knives were already out, sharp and bloody.
I sympathize. Really, I do. And this blog tries to make a point of not publishing a review of a show till it officially opens. (Even if I could only see it in previews. In which case I do note that's what I saw.)

Anyway, we all know he's really talking about "chatrooms" not criticism blogs.

But on behalf of the internets at large, let me propose a treaty, theatre producers and companies: You don't charge full price for "previews" and we won't review them. How's that?

It's amazing when you think about it, the gradual practice over the years of raising preview prices up to par. With that--and the practice of "press nights" pre-opening anyway--isn't the term close to meaningless?

And the chutzpah of asking audiences to pay full price for what is sometimes very much a work in progress? Priceless.


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


The West End Whingers could hardly be called a chatroom. They have become two of the most powerful theatre bloggers covering London theatre. Often quoted or mentioned in the old media, they have successfully carved out a very huge niche for themselves.

But to your point, the Whingers have also repeatedly pointed out that if a show dares to charge full price for tickets during previews, then it's fair game for them to write.

I do agree with you that bloggers owe it to their readers to divulge if they are seeing a preview performance.

Incidentally, I saw Gone With The Wind the day after it opened, and it was still laughably bad.

Joshua James said...

Absolutely agree on your point . . . if the audience pays full price, then the show pays the full price for charging that much for a work in progress. End of story.

Anonymous said...

To be honest Garrett, for us it's not really about the money and whether previews are cheaper or not.

We will see early previews not because it's cheaper but because we get more attention that way. Sad, I know.

The important thing is being able to tell the difference between something with a few rough edges that will be tidied up before the first night and something that is wholly, spectacularly bad.

It's really not difficult.

Thanks for your support SOB!


John Branch said...

I have to agree with SOB that the term "chatroom" may not be the best way to describe the West End Whingers' site. Not because I've checked it out--I haven't--but because little or nothing I've seen among the theater blogs really counts as a chatroom. If you go to Google and type "define: chat room," you'll get a number of definitions; I'd say the gist of it is a group discussion with or without a moderator. That's different from a blog with reader comments.

Maybe the distinction that Playgoer is trying to make is between more or less traditional forms of criticism, which entail the hard work of description and evaluation (i.e., a structured argument of some kind), versus a more casual, offhand, fast-and-loose commentary, which may include gossip, rumor, sniping, ridicule, or the like.

I'd guess the main issue here is a sort of consumer-advocate thing: if somebody is charging for tickets, somebody else is going to claim the right to buy a ticket and post his/her thoughts.