Theatre Reviewer Guidelines
Hi, my name is Johnny Monsarrat, the owner and managing editor of Events INSIDER. If you’d like to become a theatre editor, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a sample of your writing.
Events INSIDER places no advertisements and earns no money. So I can’t afford to pay you, but you get two tickets to a show. That’s pretty good! And of course I’ll put you at the front of the list if you want to win a giveaway either to the same show you are reviewing (to bring extra friends) or any other giveaway I hold.
Also it’s a great excuse to network in the arts community. If you are looking for a job in theatre, or just to meet interesting people, being a journalist gives you a great excuse to get attention from busy VIPs. Events INSIDER was incubated inside the Boston Globe as a resident contractor until 2015, and is now the most popular non-print events source in New England. We have 50,000 social media followers, plus the website and email.
Here’s how it works.
1. Ask me for tickets. Don’t ask for tickets directly from venues. Give me 2-6 weeks’ notice, and I’ll coordinate it. That’s less work for you, doesn’t confuse the reps, and it helps me ensure that our message is clear. I have a special way of asking that builds our prestige.
2. I may offer tickets. I’ve been too busy lately, but may email you when I have a show to be reviewed. No need to reply if you’re not interested.
3. It’s okay to network. Certainly you should use your status as an Events INSIDER journalist to meet people when going to your review! Just don’t tell them that you are the contact for press invites.
4. Write with kindness. Don’t say it’s good if it’s bad, but unlike other publications we don’t revel in caustic comments. If you have to go negative, write with empathy. Sometimes if I hate a show I’ll suggest to the rep that we just post nothing, but give private feedback. That’s less work and we’re not hurting the arts. Here’s are some example of negative reviews with kindness: Peter and the Starcatcher: An Excellent Production of a Flawed Script (3.5 stars), and Hit the Whitewater Rapids of New York’s Hudson River with the Adirondac Rafting Company (4 stars).
5. Give a rating. Give a rating from 0 to 5 stars. Typically I’ll only give 3 or 3.5 stars to something I really hated and should never have reviewed.
6. Give an opinion. Elsewhere, a standard review is to just relate the plot and give no opinion. This is lazy. Please:
- Say whether the production was good or bad. Help readers decide whether to go.
- Give some context that makes readers feel educated about theatre. A rule of thumb is to connect a choice the production makes to an impact that was felt by the audience. Even better if put into the context of choices the production could have made.
Here are some examples:
- The stage brought real trees onto the stage to create an outdoor landscape (choice, but no impact)
- I laughed out loud throughout the show. (impact, but no choice)
- Hamlet must decide whether to kill the king. (neither, it’s just a plot point.)
- Macbeth features an armed attack, but of course there is no money in a small production for an actual army of extras on stage (context), and it’s not very scary to have three guys in armor be “an army” on stage. So the production used real trees (choice) to represent Birnam Wood, and as the actors physically pushed the 10-foot potted trees closer to Macbeth, so that they eventually surrounded and hovered over him, it felt (impact) like the entire forest was engulfing him, as one living beast, a nightmare come true. Macbeth’s crazed reaction, flailing and weeping on his knees, was rushed a bit much by Grant Michaelson (choice) to feel authentic (impact), but raised an interesting question (impact) normally found in a different Shakespeare play, Hamlet. (context) Is Macbeth being driven mad? Is he literally seeing the woods as a creature?
- Although productions are loathe to change the text of a Shakespearian play (context), they use staging and blocking to add their own twist. We laughed out loud (impact) at the running gag (choice) where Hamlet, played by Benjamin Price, keeps getting his coat caught on doorways and leaving his hat and cane behind in several scenes and having to return to retrieve them.
- Kudos to Abigail Weston (the Old Woman) who interacts with three real dogs on stage. Of course the dogs don’t know to follow the script (context), but she ad libs and improvises with them (choice) in a warm way that breaks the tension and adds depth (impact). Although yes, she’s a bitter old crone, we see that she’s capable of great love — at least for her neighbor’s pets (impact). If only she had her own.
7. Go beyond adjectives. For example, instead of saying “it was good”, explain why. Try to find the ‘wow’, something notable about the show or the challenges producing it. You’re an expert. Teach the reader something.
8. Write for a lay audience. Too many reviewers write erudite, arty reviews meant only for other reviewers. If you must reference No Exit or Medea, that’s okay, but explain it. Say what type of person the show is good for. I often comment on whether a show is “accessible” to someone who’s not so into the arts. That’s valuable information to readers.
9. Help sell tickets. The venues give us access because they want us to help them sell tickets. Don’t say it’s good if it’s bad, but do:
- Submit your review quickly, by Tuesday or within three days, whichever is sooner. A late review is not helpful to sell tickets that weekend.
- Write at least 500 words but aim for 750. Often I’ll go to 1,500 words. A good rule of thumb is, the more interesting the things you have to say, the shorter it’s okay with me. If you miss these goals once in a while, the world’s not going to end, but I might prioritize you lower when you ask for the juiciest press reviews and giveaways. We are small compared to The Boston Globe. Aiming for quality is our only competitive edge.
10. Write in plain text. I’d prefer that you write your review directly in your email to me. Please do copy it into Microsoft Word for spell checking, but don’t send me a Microsoft Word file. It autocorrects special characters in a way that makes it hard for me to post to the Web.
11. Add your name. If you have a website or a bio to promote, put it at the bottom of the review. That’s fine!
12. Email me your review. I’ll make any grammar fixes and post to the website and social media. Since it’s your name on the review, I won’t make any major changes without your blessing. But I may occasionally reject a review that seems out of left field in its tone, writing style, or conclusions.