This is the emoji I used when BroadwayWorld posted a tweet seeking community theater writers in 2017:
Since then, I have written 27 reviews for BroadwayWorld. I have also contributed seven reviews to the Tallahassee Democrat. I have also written about local theater once for SmartBrief.
I’m considering taking a hiatus from BroadwayWorld after I finish a review I have committed to later this month, and making the decision has made me reflective, pensive and unsure. While all of that bubbles around, here are some observations from four years of reviewing plays.
The joy is in the process
As a reviewer, I got to see dress rehearsals several times and interact with directors and casts as they were putting shows together. The amount of work that goes into preparing a show is daunting, but there is such delight in working together toward a goal. Easy for me to say, I suppose (about the delight), but it’s palpable. I’m a sucker for a team experience, and I got to be a part of it vicariously as I sat in the dark theaters with my notepad.
Reviewing shows demands being scrupulously observant and knowledgeable about theater
After more than 30 reviews, I still can’t say I trust my observation skills. Rapidly taking notes in a darkened theater that turn out to be barely legible once the lights are back up is an imperfect way to document events. The weight of knowing an actor’s effort that went into the production will be represented by what I perceived is a lot. And for better or worse, in a town like Tallahassee, most of the actors are people I know in at least a passing way. The issue isn’t so much that I have struggled with being objective. I probably (being me…) erred on the side of cheerleading rather than critiquing. I want people to come to local theater after all! But I know they (at least some of them) take it to heart, and that matters to me.
Observing well at a play, in my opinion, requires an extensive knowledge of theater and a decent personal knowledge store of a wide variety of works.
As an aside, I will say that Randi Atwood, an incredible teacher of writing and — specifically — reviewing, explains that a review should help someone who has never stepped foot in a theater before know what to expect (and decide whether they want to go to a show). Randi is right also — and maybe that’s an argument against a reviewer needing to be someone who can throw down Rosalind’s monologue from “As You Like It” on a moment’s notice. This thought leads to…
Reviewing shows demands being extraordinarily knowledgeable about theatre and being scrupulously observant
As noted above, I’m not sure whether it’s better to have a head full of theater references at the ready or if it’s more effective and just as valid to have a great memory, the ability to quickly latch on to the parts of a show that will make a difference to a reader’s experience and a knack for structuring a review into consumable sections even without a trove of knowledge.
I do know (ask me how…) that it’s wise to write down the skeleton of a review at the first possible moment. Letting a weekend go by as the experience grows distant is a recipe for an inferior review.
One factor in my decision-in-the-making is that reviewing is not one of those things where practice makes perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect review, of course, but the range is broad for review quality. The way BroadwayWorld is set up, I can write whatever I want (bwa ha ha ha ha). On the one hand, that’s liberating, but on the other hand, I’ve grown to think that I’m doing the readers (and myself, and the local community) a disservice. I either need to seek help to hone my review writing or consider taking a break.
Ultimately, I have to make a decision about priorities. My two goals for 2021 were to get fluent in Spanish (or at least closer to being fluent) and to get my exercise routine back to a consistent pace. I’m behind on both, and there aren’t 25 hours in every day.
I was inspired to write this post by Kat Bouska’s prompt, “Write a blog post inspired by the word: final.” I’m still not sure I’ve made a final decision about my future with BroadwayWorld. Maybe this is more of an intermission.
What I do know is that I’ll always be the most enthusiastic audience member in the room.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
Theatre is very important for life! You are allowed to open your lungs and sing. To dance, if you can, to live through a story line. I grew up on musical comedies. I love to sing. In the end, theatre was not to be my THING, but I love watching others love it.
Paula Kiger says
Yes, yes, to all of the above. I feel the same.
Laurie Stone says
It sounds fascinating to write Broadway reviews, but if it’s time, then your heart knows it. Good luck whatever you decide!
Paula Kiger says
It is (fascinating). Maybe I’ll do it on my own blog “for fun” and find my groove that way.
Diane Tolley says
I’m a terrible critic. As a writer-director-producer-actor for over forty years, I really do understand the effort. My critiques definitely come out as cheerleading.
That aside, a huge thank you for your much-needed service. It is people who wield the pen that make those in the production up their game!
Paula Kiger says
I truly never saw it from that angle (that reviews spur the people involved with the production to “up their game”). I have ended up having some exchanges with people involved the productions I reviewed that gave me a different angle on that. This whole conversation has opened up some different perspectives I didn’t understand before.
Alana Mautone says
I’m a non theater goer in a family full of theater goers. So I’ll approach my thoughts by going in a different direction. If you want to pursue something different for a time, I’d say go for it and stop (or pause) your professional reviews. No reason why you can’t start a, and blog in, a theatre review blog. Your blog, your rules, no pressure (unless it’s self-imposed). I realize you are reviewing local productions, so this may not work (as might a book review blog) but maybe, for now, maybe a blog would be one way to satisfy this need.
Paula Kiger says
Hi! It’s good to have a nontheatergoer’s perspective. And yes — I’ve been thinking about ways I can scratch this itch. There’s no reason I can’t write about what I see on my own blog. Reviews definitely have a specific structure for a reason, but it’s also a little confining, not to mention the challenge of straddling the line between how much to share about a plot and not writing spoilers into the mix. Anyway, thanks for your perspective!
Wow, you are busy! That broadway review writing sounds like a lot of pressure, but also sounds like fun. I can see why you’re having trouble making a final decision!
Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says
Yeah! I don’t know why I feel so torn — by this age, I do know that I can’t do it all. Probably a little bit of perfectionism (never happy with my work) behind this …. but on the flip side, maybe I’ll be able to say all of this in Spanish by the end of the year!