As promised in my response to Niraj two days ago, here’s part of the correspondence between our office and the Washington Post Weekend section editor and some other colleagues in the theater community. Know that there is already strong behind-the-scenes following up occurring with theater community leaders and the Washington Post about the At a Glance listing as well as the future of Jane Horwitz’s Backstage article. In short, things are in flux, changing not always for the good, and voices are being raised, and heard.
“I was very happy to read the forthright correspondence between Theater J’s marketing director, Rebecca Ende, and Tracy Grant, Editor of the Weekend section, concerning the May 23 AT A GLANCE listing which told Post Weekend Readers to STOP and not go see Theater J’s production of DAVID IN SHADOW AND LIGHT. We accept that reviewers should write whatever they think and feel about a show and the Weekend section does due diligence to reprint capsule reviews that help amplify the critic’s opinion throughout the course of the run of a show. We’ve never, however, been on the receiving end of a “STOP! DON’T GO!” command from the Weekend section. The impact of a poor review is one thing. A theater soldiers on, as does the theater-going public, using the review for what it is — one man’s informed opinion — and the ticket buyers frequently make up their own mind. After the May 20 review, we were still able to sell tickets to our show. In fact we sold $4,000 over a 4 day span. Since the Weekend Sections’ “STOP! DON’T GO!” listing for DAVID, your readership has heeded the command — ticket sales have flat-lined… Completely….
Was that the intention of Peter Marks’ review? To destroy a show and a theater’s season? I don’t think so. Does the chief critic approve of the reductive shorthand that boils down a longish review to the dictate: “STOP! DON’T GO.”
It’s worth bringing this up with a few informed friends in the theater community because I know other artistic directors, like Mark Rhea from the Keegan Theatre, have been very concerned about the appearance of this new exhortation to the Post’s theatergoing readership that they actively stay away from a show that didn’t fare well in a review.
We know Peter Marks to be a critic who would like to see theaters continue to take on risky and new work. Theaters have a right to come up short artistically without being pulverized and the subject of a limited campaign to keep audiences away.
The Weekend’s section listing is performing a very different function than a theatrical review. It is capable of inflicting much damage without shedding much light. I needn’t repeat the brutal facts — our show, as you can see on our website and blog, received mixed reviews and passionate, enthusiastic, but also mixed response from audience members. It’s a huge new musical with much to contemplate artistically. The impact of the Weekend Post’s listing served to pulverize the fortunes of the show.
Does this happen frequently with other shows that receive less than strong reviews?
Will the Post continue to actively tell audience members to stay away from shows all season long. It seems a shame; it seems wrong; it seems injurious. And I hope a decision can be made to save our community from further damage like this.
Criticism can be rough and tough enough. We needn’t engage in overkill.
Thanks for your re-consideration of this practice.
From: Tracy Grant [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, May 23, 2008 12:37 PM
To: Ende, Rebecca
Subject: Re: Weekend Slam on Theater J
I’m sorry to hear your reaction. What that page 5 “at a glance” column is meant to do is to be a guide to READERS. We enthusiastically endorse stage, movie, exhibit and restaurants. But if a Post reviewer is lukewarm — or worse — on something, we reflect that as well. There was
nothing malicious intended, I’m sure, in Peter’s review. But the purpose of the Post is to offer readers guidance on what they should do with their entertainment time. I think Peter wielded his power carefully. In writing the words for page 5, I very deliberately chose words from Peter’s review
so as to accurately reflect his assessment of the play.
The simple fact is that we don’t just write positive pieces. I think you’ve probably been in the business long enough to understand that. I also think that you probably understand that advertising and editorial are completely separate departments and that we very assiduously do not make
editorial decisions based on advertising considerations. If we did that, the reader would have no reason to trust that our critics were speaking with an independent voice.
The Washington Post