Thursday, August 2, 2012

Timing of theater reviews

I have a longstanding interest in the timing of transactions (such as unraveling, when transactions become early, or sniping, when they become late, or congestion, when they take a long time, or deadlines). So I read with interest Catherine Rampell's piece on Theater Review Economics, about the timing of theater reviews. (Apparently she's a theater reviewer as well as an economics correspondent.  I guess I won't tell you what I do when not reviewing economics...)

It turns out that when she interviews show producers, one of the answers she gets concerns unraveling (although she discounts this possibility...).


"...as some of you may know, we have an odd little tradition in theater criticism, in that we (almost) never publish a review until after a production’s official opening night. I’ve long wondered about whether it makes good business sense for productions to enforce this embargo.

"While reviews run after opening night, they’re rarely based on a viewing of the actual opening night performance; the curtain generally falls much too late for critics to meet their deadlines for the next day’s paper. Instead, critics usually are invited to attend one of the preview performances after the show has already been “set” or “frozen” — that is, after the director and rest of the creative team have decided not to make any more major changes.

"The time between freezing and opening varies, but it’s generally somewhere from a couple of days to a week.

"I’ve been especially curious about review embargoes lately because summer theater productions usually have very short runs, and should theoretically want reviews published as early as possible — well before the show closes, anyway. Most of the shows I review during the rest of the year have pretty short runs, too, including some productions that last less than two weeks.

"I understand the desire to turn opening night into a big event to magnify press attention, as is done with the openings of big, star-studded movies and their sumptuous red carpets.

"But for a vast majority of theatrical events, little attention is paid to the opening-night parties and such. Even when publications do run photos of the pomp and circumstance of a play’s opening night — if Scarlett Johansson is starring in the show, say — that coverage usually appears in news articles and Us Weekly spreads, not critical reviews.

"Eager for the perspective of those who have money on the line, I called two longtime producers for their thoughts.

"The first was Roger Berlind, a phenomenally successful theater producer who has won 18 Tonys and mounted 80 Broadway shows since 1976, four of which are still running. (Another, “Annie,” opens in November.)

"He noted that when he began producing shows, critics attended on opening night and wrote a review for the late edition of the next day’s paper, since deadlines were often later then. He didn’t sound all too thrilled that the policy had changed.

"Today, he said, producers and press reps encourage the big critics to come a day or two before opening night, even though attending earlier is an option, because the show continues to improve up through the opening night even after the show is set. He said he worried that if critics were able to publish as soon as they saw the show, more of them would rush to see the production as early as possible because “critics are extremely competitive.” That rush would place pressure on the cast and creative team to polish the performances earlier. “Then you’d have to back up the entire process starting with the first day of rehearsal, and I don’t think that would be productive,” he said. “It’s expensive to go through the rehearsal process already.”
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I wonder whether the embargo on theater reviews might serve some of the same function that embargoes on news releases do...

1 comment:

indrek seppo said...

I wonder how much the illusion of seeing it first might be worth. It is possible, that reviews available before the opening night would diminish some kind of sense of uniqueness.