Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Interesting Invitation

Yesterday I received an email invitation that made me stop and think a little bit. What is the invitation you ask?! Well it was a media/new media invite to attend and review the shows at this year’s PuSH Festival.

I recently wrote a post raving about Carousel Theatre’s production of Robin Hood at Waterfront Theatre (which you should go see because it might be the most fun you’ll have at the theatre this holiday season). The publicist for Carousel (who is also the publicist for PuSH) asked me if they could use my comments on their website/blog. I said “of course” because I am always happy to support my fellow artists in any way I can. Next thing I know I’m being emailed an invitation to review the shows at PuSH.

Now, my first thought, was as much as I would love to see all the shows, I’m going to have to decline the invitation because this blog was never meant to be a site for reviews and I just wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting the invitation without writing a review. I mean that’s what the agreement is right?! They comp me in to see the show and I write a review.

But then I thought about it a bit more and I thought…well…maybe I could. Although I never intended to post reviews on this site on occasion I have talked about certain productions I have seen that have stood out to me for one reason or another. Usually I’ve discussed these particular production’s in context to the larger issues I’ve discussed on this blog (ie. audience development) and haven’t really thought of them as reviews per se. But what are reviews?! One person’s opinion and I have an opinion, right?!

And then, on the flip side, I thought well what about my personal connections within the industry. I mean, I work within the community, do I really want to be reviewing my colleagues?! Currently I only write about a production when it has made a positive impact on me. I generally try not to write about my less than positive experiences at the theatre because a) these are my peers and b) there is already too much negativity in this world. I’d rather, for the most part, focus on the positive then get dragged down by the negative.

But then maybe that’s why I should do it (you can see the flip-flopping going on inside my brain can’t you?!) because I DO work in the industry. Maybe people would be interested in hearing the opinion of someone on the inside? And on top of that, maybe, people would be interested to hear the opinion of someone who represents a young person’s opinion? Plus after further inspection of the program guide for this year’s festival I realized that I’m actually not closely connected to any of the artists or groups participating so I could be fairly objective (well as objective as I can be for something as subjective as theatre). And, since it is an international festival at least half or more of the participants are from other parts of the world. I have NO connections there.

So, I put it to you, my readers. What do you think? Should I review? Would you like to hear my opinion on the shows at this year’s PuSh Festival? Or should I just stick to what I have been doing?

Let me know what you think…

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer


  1. See, this is the question that confounds so many people about the blogoshpere. People graft what they know of existing media onto the new stuff. These sites were invented to talk about your opinions on the things that happen in your life and work, and you just so happen to be ballsy enough to publish them, so you get invites to fun things. Blogging about your opinion doesn't make you a 'critic', those are folks that do that for a living in periodicals. But that doesn't make any difference to an industry starved for coverage, they'll happily let you in if you'll talk about them, good, bad or indifferently. Your readers know that you're a citizen journalist, and want to hear your opinion. It's very generous, actually.

    If your opinion upsets people, and you haven't been out and out mean, they're probably in the wrong business anyway.

  2. Okay. So, I'm a publicist, and one of the shows that I have upcoming is part of the PuSH Festival (Edward Curtis Project at Presentation House--shameless plug). And while I totally get that Vancouver is hurting for theatre reviewers (we have gone from 6 to 2-ish in the past year or so), I don't think you should do it.
    You are in theatre, Sabrina, and you have an outlook and an opinion that I've no doubt would be totally valuable. But that doesn't nessicarily make you a reviewer.
    I just don't think that the soloution to dwindling media coverage and reviews for the arts is to start allowing bloggers to review.
    I see your blog, like Simon's, as something that was started to help to create a dialogue about theatre. Because we know that if we start a dialogue about theatre, that maybe we can start to get new people interested in theatre in Vancouver in general, and our shows, in particular (ie: Twenty-something and the Lyric Stage Project). Continue to do that. I don't think you need to become a reviewer to make that happen.

  3. I think we need to get to the heart of the true difference between a blogger and a reviewer. Bloggers aren't - nor should they be expected to be - journalists. Sabrina's not being invited to these shows to be a critic, she's being invited because she's got a platform to talk about the thing that she's invested in. A platform that's available to anyone if they have the stones to build a readership. It's important to articulate the difference between someone who writes a personal blog and someone who gets paid to write for a periodical. Our readers should know the difference between blogs and the theatre section of the Georgia Straight, and bloggers who think that they're reviewers better be prepared to back it up with some real credibility.

    I don't think bloggers who are invited to shows are (or should be, anyway) expected to write a post as if it were a true criticism, ie: dissecting the play for its various components while considering the artist's intent, and declaring it a success/failure based on a set of critical criteria. I think bloggers should do what we do: share our thoughts on the experience from a place of passion. That's what blogs are for, yet that's still not articulated enough. But we need to stop comparing bloggers to journalists, blogs aren't the new periodicals, they're something entirely new.

    Sure, there's a risk factor involved if you choose to write something scathing about a piece you've been comped into. But the only editorial standards bloggers have are set by themselves, so write what you want, according to your own personality. I for one love to hear audience reactions to my own work in the lobby after the show, positive or negative, and that's the insight bloggers offer us, audience feedback. And there's some valuable data in there for us, as long as we can glean what's valuable and discard what's not.

  4. I love the conversation that this has started!

  5. Hi all -

    This morning I received an email from Ellie (O'Day - publicist for PuSh and Carousel) responding to this post.

    With her agreement I wanted to post some of the comments from her email because I think she offered an opinion that adds to this discussion:

    "Hi Sabrina,

    I read your post about the invitation to PuSh.

    We do invite bloggers, but certainly don't dictate they have to be 'reviews'. Your blog is your voice.

    I have one blogger who wants to do a sort of sidebar story to one of the PuSh shows, because he had previously done an interview with one of the actors, which got 'killed' from a print mag that is no longer with us (RIP) - this is just a matter of timing - he'll run the piece in time for the show. So it's not a review...We'd also welcome 'behind the scenes' stories - whatever your heart wants to blog about? Do you want to write about the designers? About your own experience with a certain company? About cross-disciplinary work? About adult puppet shows? About European theatre? Up to you, and if I can be of assistance, I'm happy to...


  6. Oh, and I forgot to add a thank you to Ellie for commenting and allowing me to post them on my blog.

    Thank you Ellie!


  7. My office at Vancouver Opera started "blogger night at the opera" a year ago, and has had great success with it. Our position at the outset was that bloggers are an opportunity to reach new tech-savvy audiences via the modern version of "word of mouth".

    We invite bloggers to write about their experience at the opera. There is no expectation of a formal review of the production, but rather a first-person account of the night.

    Only you can determine if blogging a review of a show (or a night at the theatre) fits in the vision for your blog.

    I'm just sharing what the norm is for us.

  8. Thanks for sharing!

    I think what you guys have done with "Blogger night at the Opera" is amazing.

    I have always been an Opera lover. It's hard not to when your dad is an Opera singer and you've grown up with it since you were born:)

    But I love that with social media tools like blogs and twitter the Vancouver Opera is reaching out to expose Opera to a wider audience. Hopefully making them realize that their preconceived idea of what "Opera" is isn't the same as the actual experience.

    Kudo's to you guys for being the brave ones to start this.


  9. I've been to blogger night at the opera, and am one of those people who works in a sphere that is topical and puzzling enough to the general populace that I frequently get asked to put my two cents in on current events in my field (public health).
    But as a blogger, netizen and "young person" I am the first to admit that I seek the opinion of "educated opinionists" when I want to see a show, read a book, get a haircut, and so on.
    I know NOTHING about theatre except two people who work in the industry. I go see what my friend lois tells me to (and invites me to!). So I see the utility of inviting bloggers to review the PuSH festival. I see it as part of an effort to be understood and loved by a wide audience, not just the type of people who read theatre reviews in the paper.
    I understand the fear of a conflict of interest, but as long as you are confident that none of the major players are people you work with or know, or are worried about offending, I say you are perfect for the role. I am a non-creative-industry person. I need someone who knows it to help me understand what is good and what is bad, how I should appreciate something or - sometimes - to put me in front of something that challenges me. I don't usually get that from strangers' reviews in the paper.

    Because, let's face it. I don't read the paper. I read the internets.

  10. Hi Jocelyn -

    Thanks for sharing your comments.

    I appreciate the opinion from a non-theatre industry person and from someone who speaks purely from an audience perspective.

    It is good for us in the industry to know what our audiences (and readers) want to hear/see from us because, at the end of the day, we do it all for you.


  11. Holy cow! I didn't mean to start anything controversial!
    I love bloggers! I am a blogger! I love it when bloggers come to see my shows!
    Hope that my comment didn't come across as being discouraging. Simon really said it better than I did. The issue lies in the word "reviewer," I think. There are people out there that are knowledgeable and reviewing is thier job. That is very different than inviting someone to come and see a show and write about thier experience of it.
    As a blogger, I don't profile or hype the shows that I am currently doing publicity for. I feel like it would be a conflict of interest, and anyway, my blog isn't about highlighting the shows I do publicity for, it's about the business of being an artist. If something happens on one of my shows that relates to that, I may (and have) written about it in that context.
    That's one of the tricky bits, I guess: can you figure out a way to encorporate this stuff into your blog in a natural way?
    And controversy is very good for blog hits, so I won't apologize to you for that, Sabrina!
    Also, it's an interesting conversation, and maybe one that needs to be had. We are, after all, making it up as we go along with this social media brave new world...

  12. This is a really interesting discussion, and I've been having a similar one on my own blog. Please feel free to follow along.

    I will also be reviewing shows at PuSh. See you there!

  13. I realize that I am coming into this discussion VERY late but only saw it linked from a more current post from Sabrina so I'm going to weigh in here.

    I am very fortunate to be invited to see lots of local theatre. I characterize my posts on the shows I see as "reviews" for a lack of better word and something that I think people can relate to. However, I have stated (and continue to link) to my explanation about the reviews that appear on our website:

    "My reviews are simply my opinion. I grew up as part of the theatre scene and have an intense passion for it. I also like to write. These two passions come together in my reviews. I am lucky that I get to see lots of theatre and have this public forum that allows me to express my opinions. But in the end, they are just that, my opinions. Make up your own mind but above all else - go out and experience live theatre - you will be glad you did whether it rates one star or five."

    Thanks for starting this dialogue Sabrina and I apologise for being several months behind!

    Best regards


  14. Thanks for your comments Mark even if they are "late"!

    There is always room to add more to the discussion. I really appreciate your opinion since you are part of this ongoing discussion.