Theatre Information

Survey Results: Defining The Purpose of a Theater Review

By • Jan 6th, 2009 • Category: ShowBizRadio

Our survey asked: What is the purpose of a theater review?

According to Edwin Wilson’s The Theatre Experience criticism should answer: “(1) What is Being Attempted? (2) Have the Intentions Been Achieved? and (3) Was the Attempt Worthwhile?” The third question is a more personal question that the first two, but it seems is the one that most people want to know about. But being a more personal question (and answer) a show that I consider to not be worthwhile might be a show that you consider to be very worthwhile. A lot of the feedback we’ve gotten on the site is that we don’t take a stand on shows. That’s a tough request, since I am different from you.

One survey response made the distinction between a reviewer and a critic: “To critique the performance of the show presented … not to critique the script itself.” Wilson defines a reviewer as “someone who reports on what has happened at the theater. He or she will tell briefly what a theater event is about, explaining whether it is a musical, a comedy, or a serious play and perhaps describing its plot. The reviewer might also offer an opinion about whether or not the event is worth seeing…. Their work may lack depth and may not be based on critical criteria discussed above.” The critic “attempts to go into greater detail in describing and analyzing a theater event…. The critic also attempts to put the theater event into a larger context, relating the play to a category (nonrealism or realism, for instance). The critic will try to explain how the theater event fits into this framework or into the body of the playwright’s work. The critic might also put the theater event into a social, political, or cultural context.” (Wilson, The Theatre Experience, 10th edition, pp 74-75.) By these definitions, I think that the reviews published on are done by reviewers, not by critics. A few times Laura and I have gone into deeper analysis on a show, and we receive insults in response. We described in one review last year some problems we heard with the singers’ voices. We received lots of comments that we were flat out wrong. So we hired a vocal coach to see the show and give us an opinion on the singing (not the script or any other technical area, only the singing). They basically agreed with our opinions we published in our review.

Another survey response brought up the neutrality of our opinions as a credibility issue:

I think you have a real problem with your reviews on your site. First of all, I think you lack a good deal of credibility. It is not credible for someone to both participate in the local community theater scene AND review it. I don’t think you, or your other reviewers, can really give an impartial review on a show that you have worked on, shadowed, or from a company that you have worked with or a show in which you have friends. Other successful reviewers are successful because they maintain a distinct separation of their involvement and therefore, people actually tend to believe that when they say a show is good or bad it is credible.

I think we’re running into an interesting by-product of covering theater as we do. We are covering a very specific niche market, smaller theaters in the Washington DC region. We could be entirely aloof and not try to meet people involved in local theater. But the fact that the people involved are so friendly, and they make the process so inviting, led to us getting involved. I will admit, that my appearance in Providence Players’ The Time of Your Life in October 2006 was initially to audition just to see what the audition process was like. I think our getting experience on both sides of the stage has improved our coverage of local theater. So, yes, it can be hard to say negative things about an acquaintance, but that is fairly rare that we’ve had to do that.

We constantly hear from theaters about how local newspapers are cutting back on their coverage of the arts. If we had to cut back on our involvement, and if we couldn’t have McCall or Lisa Kay write for the site because they’ve worked with people or groups they are covering, the site will be dark very shortly. Some of the survey responses actually encouraged us to have more people writing for the site. Yes, we agree. If you want to write for the site, let us know. We are interested in having more opinion columnists, reviewers, or reporters writing for the site. We do ask that people don’t cover groups that they are very involved in, such as if they are on the group’s Board, or if they have a family member in the show.

Several of the responses that said SBR’s reviews were “not at all useful” also didn’t include a response to “purpose of a theater review.” So some of the people who say our reviews are not at all useful don’t know the purpose of a theater review? Overall, responses to this question ranged widely, although a few consistent themes were evident: (1) A review is free publicity for a show; and (2) to evaluate the quality of a production. Here are a few of the responses we received:

  • To give me an idea on whether I would be wasting my time or not to attend a play. While I am not always “bound” by what the reveiwer writes, when he/she and I agree more often than not, it does add some weight.
  • Provide an evaluation and render an opinion as to the quality of the performance and execution of a play, musical or review. Unless a work is original, a description of the story should be separate from a review.
  • To give the general public good information about performances happening in the community
  • Dual purpose — to inform the readers of the fact of the production (a sort of publicity function) so that audiences will attend and to provide an evaluation of the performance
  • To help guide the theatre lover as he or she decides which production to attend — one cannot attend them all!!
  • Do provide one perspective on a production and to inform the public that it is being performed.
  • to give the reader an educated and critical response to the show seen by the reviewer
  • Evaluate the acting and production values of a show so that readers can make an informed judgement whether or not to spend scarce entertainment dollars to see a particular production.
  • To let people know what a show is about and what the quality of the production is.
  • The purpose is two-fold: in the community/high school venue, the primary purpose is to encourage patrons to attend the production. Of secondary interest is the review (as positive as realistically possible) of the performance.
  • To know if it’s any good. Worth seeing.
  • Reviews are generally a tool of marketing for the theatre industry – in particular, the amateur/community theatres in discussion here. A substantive review delivers minimal plot synopsis, perhaps a brief production history if appropriately interesting, and constructive analysis of a production’s key elements, focussing especially on those attributes that inform a potential customer member of the relative value of the admissions fee to be paid.
  • I can say it is not to tell me the story.
  • To give the reviews impression of the performance. and provide information to help dertermine if the performance is worth spending time to attend.
  • The purpose of a theater review is to provide the public with an opinion of whether a show sucks or not (basically). It gives a little history of the show (why the material is of cultural significance or why the show was written/first performed) and then explores the interpretation of the performance that was viewed.
  • To offer your opinion about a performance.
  • The purpose of the theatrical review is to inform others about the play.
  • To encourage or discourage people to attend the show.
  • The purpose of a theater review is to inform the public about a particular show and review their own opinion of it.
  • To let the viewing public know if a show is worth seeing, to recognize local talent, etc. It can also help a theater company see where they are going wrong and how to improve. It also encourages people to go see a show when one is particularly good.
  • To review the quality and interpretation of the story’s intent and its characters’ traits and actions.
  • To let potential audiences know something about how a show has been staged, IN THE OPINION of ONE PERSON, so they may make a decision as to whether to go see that particular show.
  • To provide the reviewers opinion of the performance that they saw and to provide some content as to why they feel the way that they do.
  • 1. To spread the word about a good show 2. To warn about a bad one 3. To provide feedback to the cast and crew, what they did well and what they didn’t.
  • To inform potential audience members of what is going on and what they can expect from a particular performance.
  • To give an opinion/viewpoint about a show.
  • to help potention audience members decided what shows are worth seeing.
  • (1) to provide information to readers, so that readers can decide whether they might like a show. (2) to provide publicity for good shows (3) to critique productions and performances, to encourage better product
  • Feedback (whether positive or negative) on what you are doing with your life. Those who are reviewed should learn from it. If you don’t like a certain aspect of someone’s direction/design/performance than you should state it. Maybe they’ll learn the next time around. On the hand, if you do like something it never hurts to reward.

Please leave your thoughts about theater reviews here as a comment. Or contact us directly.

Next: In your opinion, should community theater be reviewed? (Hint: 98% of responses were Yes).

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College.