Previews are an important time on Broadway, usually 3-4 weeks of performances in front of a live audience, where the creative team makes constant changes and improvements to a show. Out of respect for this dynamic creative period, critics traditionally wait until they are invited to see the production and write a review to be published after opening night. However, the concept of reviewing shows during the preview period has recently garnered increased attention because of Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, whose numerous delays lead multiple critics from major newspapers to publish their reviews prior to an official opening night. These critics felt their voices were becoming irrelevant while waiting for an opening night because theatre bloggers were already blasting their reactions on their sites and social media outlets. This exception for critics, who have returned to obeying the opening night convention for reviews, has raised the issue of whether bloggers, like critics from major media sources, should also wait until opening night to publish a review, or whether they are free to ignore this tradition — a dilemma we were unintentionally caught in during our recent trip to New York when 6 of the 7 shows we saw were in previews.
If bloggers pay for their own ticket, are not associated with a major publication, and are otherwise not given the same treatment as a traditional critic, why should they abide by this old convention? Of course there are no official rules to prevent them from doing so. In fact, there are several reasons to think that early reviews by bloggers are a great idea. Potential audience members who are only available during previews might want to hear about the quality of the show, and because preview prices are no longer steeply discounted, a pre-opening review could be very useful in making a decision about which show to see. If members of the creative team are reading the reviews, a blogger’s criticism or suggestion could help shape the show for the better while changes are still being made. And posting these early reviews could result in quite a bit of traffic to the blog — after all, none of the mainstream critics have posted reviews yet.
However, these potential benefits come at a considerable cost. If the audience members do not understand the preview process, they might be confused if what they read and what they see don’t match. Another risk is that an audience member decides to not see a show because of negative blog review, despite the show having been greatly improved since the review was written. Although it is possible that a blogger’s review could impact the creative process, it is unlikely. Typically there are too many cooks in the creative kitchen rather than too few. The only feedback the creative team has ever needed during previews is the audience reaction itself — laughs, gasps, awkward silences. Increasingly early reviews might pressure producers to finalize creative decisions before considering feedback from the preview audiences, slowly devaluing the preview process. Finally, while bloggers might get great traffic from these early reviews, we don’t think that this should influence the decision to publish them. In our opinion, all critics work to support the theatre community, which includes the theatre-going audience and the creative process. If either of those groups are negatively impacted for the blogger’s own gain, well, that’s a little sad.
We suppose that we might be able to agree with the statement that reviews of preview performances could be beneficial to the theatre community, but only if they are positive. We don’t see any harm in a blogger spreading good buzz about a show that is in previews, that can only benefit the show. But this would be impractical — either bloggers would produce uniformly positive reviews of shows, which would no longer help audience members decide which shows to see, or the omission of a review would speak volumes about the quality of the preview performance. So, we can really come to no other conclusion than it does not benefit the theatre community for bloggers to post reviews of shows in preview performances.
For the record, while we may run our own website and use a blogging platform to host our site, in Denver, we go through media representatives at various theatres and receive press tickets to agreed upon performances and in return we write a review after the show has opened. On Broadway, we paid for all of our tickets, and so most would agree that we are free to write reviews of these shows, if we so desire. However, we ultimately decided that the risks outweighed the benefits involved in posting a review of a preview performance.
For those who might read our website in hopes of getting advice on what to see in New York, we feel that it would be unfair to comment publicly on what are/were unfinished products. This distinction might be slowly fading in importance. While the issue has had increased attention recently, it certainly isn’t a new one and in a short time reviews of previews might be considered absolutely normal. But if bloggers are causing that change, we personally don’t wish to accelerate it. We are planning on publishing a review of Arcadia, which we saw on its opening night. As for the rest of the shows, we are completely open to sharing our thoughts on what we saw in private conversations in person or via email.
If you were in our shoes, would you do the same? Would you publish reviews? If so, why? Do you think bloggers should abide by the traditional convention, or not? As potential audience members, do you wish more reviews for shows in previews were available? As theatre participants, have you ever been part of a creative team that used a substantial preview period and how would you feel if reviews panning your show came out before you were opened? We’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on the decision we made, so leave a reply below or comment on our facebook!