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Be the Theatre Critic You Wish to See in the World: A 5-Step Starter Kit

02.25.19

BY: JULIET MAZER-SCHMIDT

In recent years, scores of smaller media outlets streamlined their staffs to offset financial shortcomings: for many publications, this meant curtailing theatre coverage – if not cutting it completely. As a result, a shrinking number of established critics – predominantly white and male and over 50 – amplified their already substantial share of the national (and international) conversation. At the same time, theatre makers nationwide are hungry to diversify stories told from the stage.

In the words of Ratatouille’s Anton Ego: “the new needs friends” – and Broadway Spin’s Juliet Mazer-Schmidt is here to empower readers of every theatre-going demographic to embrace their inner-critic and help expand the Broadway playing field, in defense of the new. Here are her five steps for taking the power back:

Kinky Boots. Photo: Matthew Murphy.

Kinky Boots. Photo: Matthew Murphy.

1. Come as you are.

Whether brand new to the performing arts, Broadway-obsessed since birth, or anywhere in-between: YOU have a place in the theatre conversation. Bring your quirks, your passions, your personal backstory – but be prepared to keep an open mind. For an easy, cost-effective way to see more shows more often, we highly recommend taking a spin.

2. Where do you belong? ANYWHERE YOU LIKE.

Mean Girls Tony Awards Presentation. Photo: CBS.

When it comes to Broadway, PLAYBILL is the cafeteria menu for current, complete listings: click a show’s title to read summaries and explore its current cast and creativesshow “ingredients,” so to speak. In lieu of national news sources, poll friends and colleagues in your own community. Google a playwright demographic or plotline that speaks to you, venture Off-Broadway and beyond: from a self-accompanied musical built around The Grateful Dead’s canon, to a powerful solo show by one of the world’s greatest magicians, to an immersive theatrical adaptation of Trainspotting, you’ll be surprised what’s out there. Side note: We’ve got a Roulette coming just for shows Beyond Broadway, so if you don’t know where to start when wandering off the Great White Way… you can (soon!) start with us!

3. Remember: Gold Stars aren’t everything.

A lesson from the kids at Horace Green Prep: there’s something to be said for sticking it to The Man and following your own sound. While reviews remain a crucial piece of the equation for producers (raves can sculpt a successful marketing plan and help build a hit), ticket buyers have an alternative: go see a show because you want to see it, not because someone you don’t know (and may or may not have anything in common with) told you to.

School of Rock national tour.

In fact, one of the greatest times to see a show is during previews, before those few official critics have weighed in. Between now and the end of March, there are a whopping 10 new shows hitting the Broadway stage: five musicals – Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, Oklahoma!, Hadestown, Beetlejuice, and Tootsie, plus another five plays – King Lear, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, What the Constitution Means to Me, Burn This, and Hilary and Clinton.

Wicked Original Broadway Company (flying high since 2003).

There’s a magic to seeing shows that have “yet-to-be-discovered” — just ask anyone who saw Hamilton at The Public. And there’s also a magic to seeing a show that was panned by the big-name critics, and letting yourself love it anyway — just ask anyone who’s seen Wicked more than twice.

4. Post-show knowledge is power: take home your PLAYBILL and tap into yours.

Photo: Instagram: @goatsonthisisland.

Theatre thrives on connection, and it’s never been easier to join the conversation. These days just about everyone’s online – down to the goats in Once On This Island (you’re welcome). Take some screen-free time to reflect post-show, then find a moment to spread some love: all Broadway shows host Twitter and Instagram accounts that are plugged-in to the show’s staff and chock-full of behind-the-scenes content; many actors and designers share their individual handles in PLAYBILL bios to grow their own fanbase. Keep in mind: the smaller the show, the more impact your shout-out can have on emerging artists and theatres.

When it comes to the negative, imagine yourself as the recipient of the remark before sending it into the world. Consider the tweet below from Broadway’s current “Cher”:

In the end, prospective ticket buyers – YOU – control the power of a “scathing” review.

5. Build momentum: become an advocate for individual theatres and artists.

From Broadway headliners to Central Park buskers, artists struggle: that struggle nearly always involves a financial component – and finances tend to come easier with an expanded audience. Add theatres and artists to your social media followings: check out more of their work, track their evolution (theatre landscape shifts constantly), share posts that interest or inspire YOU – and explain why, in your own words: Compliments are a currency every artist appreciates, and they’re free to give.

Extra Credit: especially in the case of nonprofit theatre, consider sharing positive experiences and recommendations with the appropriate elected officials. Arts funding continues to face increased cuts nationwide, and it never hurts to remind public officials that the arts matter.

The new needs friends: You in? 

Juliet Mazer-Schmidt is a Detroit-born performer, turned DC-based litigator, turned Chicago-based theatre developer – turned NYC-based all-of-the-above… and in case it’s not obvious, she is also a writer.