The Playgoer: Theatre Blog Payola?

Custom Search

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Theatre Blog Payola?

About Jesse Green's Sunday Arts & Leisure piece on commercial theatre marketers exploiting the web...

Actually a lot to be hopeful about, in my opinion. If it can help good shows survive by helping them reach the right audiences, offer more ticket discounts, and finally undermine the stranglehold of impossibly priced print advertising like... the NY Times Arts & Leisure section!

But here's another inevitable outcome of the strategy that gave me some pause:

Like several other productions, "The Wedding Singer" offered free seats to the authors of various New York City-based blogs, hoping they would write about the experience if they liked it (or leave it alone if not). "I wouldn't go as far to say that 'The Wedding Singer' is the new 'Hairspray'," the blog Just Jared reported, "but it comes close." So it isn't Walter Winchell, but items like this (which often include photos and MP3 downloads provided by the producers) have driven thousands of new visitors to various shows' Web sites, and thence to the shows, for the cost of a few orchestra seats.

Now I have no beef against "Jared." He does openly bills the site as a "Celebrity news, pictures, gossip, and fashion blog." (Here's his original "Drowsy" post by the way, so you can examine for yourself.) I don't expect aesethetic dramatic reviewing from him, or any kind of critical objective distance. He's a gossip columnist doing what gossip columnists do, I guess. (Hence Green's Winchell reference.) So, more power to him.

But as a theatre blogger, I'm a little concerned Green did not more clearly distinguish "Jared" as a gossip page, not a theatre criticism outlet. With a vague sense of the theatre blogosphere starting to catch on, how many readers might have taken Jared to be... well, one of us? And if so, does that taint our enterprise of independent criticism?

I know I'm not alone in already being approached by shows (albeit much smaller than "Drowsy") expecting similar quid pro quo. For instance, while I will say "Red Light Winter" made no stipulation, implicit or explicit, about what they wanted me to write, I was a little turned off by the invitation to "Pizza Bar," as well as a request that I encourage my readers to enter a tie-in sweepstakes for a real-life Red-Light Amsterdam trip. (Pseudo French hooker included?) I'm not sure the publicist understood why I was not playing ball. Such confusion may also have had something to do with Adam Rapp writing me an angry note over my review, where I referred (critically) to something he said in the special Bloggers Night "talkback"--a forum clearly meant for fawning over the stars and star-playwright and collecting your bracelet for entry to the after-party. Kind of a low-rent downtown version of a Hollywood junket. Silly me for thinking I was there as a critic.

So to publicists I say, god speed on your attempts to revolutionize the biz through reaching out to new media and beyond the MSM. By all means keep us on your mailing lists--but please try to understand if some of us have the hubris to model ourselves after professional critics, not Ryan Seacrest.

And to my cyber-peers I say: Bloggers beware!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So I just came across a new website that does something pretty cool. You can check out a funny little icon to see if the NY Times enjoyed the show or not! No kidding! A little Ben Brantley icon either gives the thumbs up, sits on the fence, or looks like he's going to hurl! It's hilarious. You all have to check this out and tell me what you think. Are these people on? Let me know your thoughts. Go to No, I'm serious, that's the name of the site!