Tag Archives: Reviewer

Writer, Critic, Reviewer, Spy

23 Nov
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Image by Justin Jensen, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

It started, as these things so often do, with an email.

“I’ve had an email from a solicitor about you…” chirped my editor.

The walls started closing in.

“Oh God no!” screamed a voice in my head, “You’re getting sued for real this time, head for the hills, go live in a cave, you’re absolutely fucked!” shrieked the voices of my deepest, darkest thoughts fears.

I looked at the email again, gazing at the words that my lovely editor had typed a few minutes before.

“..details below.” He added.

I replied and we gossiped for a while. Unsolicited emails from solicitors are rarely welcome, we agreed, and they are not to be trusted, we reasoned.

I scrolled down to read the original message.

My jaw clenched.

The email was from a solicitor who worked for a local firm. He couldn’t give me too much detail at this stage, he said, but he wanted to speak to me regarding a review I’d written some time before, and he specifically wanted to know more about the physical condition of an actor that had made some kind of injury claim against his client.

“Do you have a number which I could contact you on this afternoon or tomorrow afternoon in order to briefly discuss this matter?”

My jaw clenched again.

The actor and the name of the show hadn’t been supplied, but surely, my review of the show was enough? What had I said about this actor to make this solicitor take interest in me?

I’m used to people cutting and pasting bits of my review to be used on posters; I’ve had people email me asking me to justify my reviews. I’ve worked with editors who have eviscerated my words to make my reviews more positive, and sometimes, more negative.

These are all things that happen, these are things that I can handle, but a solicitor asking me questions about an unnamed actor for an anonymous client? That’s new. It puts me in an awkward position; not commentator, not critic, but informer; spy.

Feeling uncomfortable, I emailed the solicitor, asking for the name of the play. I briefly considered ignoring their request, but I knew that if I did, they would just keep emailing my editor, until they got an answer.

They replied quickly, giving me the name of the show and the actor. I remembered the show; it had been performed over 18 months before, but I had to think about the actor. I recognised their name, but had they been in that play?

I dug out and re-read my review. I’d written half a sentence about the actor, praising their brief appearance on the stage in what had been a minuscule role (they only appeared in the second act).

I contacted other critics, had this happened to them?

No, said one. Never, not in all my years of reviewing.

This sounds well dodgy, said another, avoid at all costs.

Why are they contacting you? Said a third critic.

That puts you in an awkward position, They concluded.

I’ve always said that I write for the reader, but who is the reader? I always assumed that they were a theatregoer, but what if there was something more sinister behind that? A critic, by nature, is an observer, so their loyalty is to their publication and its readers. If I do this, I can’t claim to be neutral.

I closed my eyes and I saw a snake in the grass. I watched the blades part as it slithered through an overgrown garden towards me. He was the snake. If I agreed to a phone call, he would coil himself around me and I would be his.

I opened my eyes and typed a quick response.

“Unfortunately, I cannot expand upon what I have said in my review, and as I have no knowledge of this actor beyond that, I cannot help you on this occasion.”

He replied within minutes:

“Should you decide that you remember the performance of [REDACTED] on this occasion, I would be looking to ask you some brief questions as to [THEIR] range of movement and your general impressions as to [THEIR] physical state during that performance. This should take no more than 10 or 15 minutes over the phone.”

He just needs 10 -15 minutes.

He wants me to spy on someone I don’t know. He wants me to be biased against this person.

I cannot and will not do that.

“Please feel free to contact me should you wish to discuss matters further, and I hope you have a nice day.”

I closed my eyes and watched the snake slither into the undergrowth.

I opened my eyes.

I closed my email.

I had a wonderful day.

 

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Seven Terrible Things People Have Asked Me About Arts Journalism

3 Feb
Image by cranky messiah, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by cranky messiah, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

“Ah, ha! You’re unemployed then?”

What I Said Then:

“No, I have a job, and I do this in my free time to build up my portfolio.”

What I Say Now:

“No, this is my job.”

“So, you go to a show and write about whether it’s good or not. Is that what you do?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, actually there’s a lot more to it than that..”

What I Say Now:

“Yes. Jealous, much?”

Yes, but, if you’re an arts critic, why don’t you review actual ART?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, I wasn’t trained to review visual art.”

What I Say Now:

“The phrase ‘The Arts’ is an umbrella term for many creative industries, however, I’m not particularly interested in visual art, so I don’t write about it.”

“How do you make any money?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, it is possible, and there is money to be made from arts criticism, I’m sure.”

What I Say Now:

“I have other jobs.”

“What are you really going to do with your life?”

What I Said Then:

“…..”

What I Say Now:

“Spend the rest of it avoiding you.”

“Are you going to move to London?”

What I Said Then:

“London? LONDON? London is big and scary! No way!”

What I Say Now:

“That is something I will have to consider in the future.”

“What will you do when your editor asks you to write a positive review of something, regardless of how you feel about it?”

What I Said Then:

“What are you talking about? That doesn’t happen.”

What I Say Now:

“I would refuse. That isn’t who I am.”

Shit EdFringe Critics Never Say

8 Aug
Image by Camilla Hoel, used under a Creative Commons License

Image by Camilla Hoel, used under a Creative Commons License

1. That company sent me 5 different versions of the same PR! How helpful.

2. I will absolutely be at your show.

3. I just love the sound of the phone ringing. Constantly ringing.

4. Look at all the lie-ins I get to have this week!

5. Deadlines don’t matter at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

6. Excuse me, please, I’m in a rush to get to my venue and you are in the way. Thank you so much!

7. I’ve had enough coffee for today.

8. Oh, I had such a good night’s sleep last night. I feel so well-rested.

9. Of course you can have my number.

10. I have so much free time on my hands!

11. No coffee for me, thanks.

12. Nothing cheers me up more than an email with 22 attachments.

13. I don’t mind you playing with your phone during the performance at all.

14. Are you on Google+?

15. You can never have too many flyers.

16. I’m not hungry.

17. Everything is going to plan.

18. Someone’s written a comment below my review. I love my fans!

19. I’m glad that person keeps calling me asking for a review, it really keep me on my toes.

20. I haven’t been rushing around this year at all.

21. Look at all this money I’m getting paid!

The 10 Commandments of the Successful Critic

15 Jun
Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

1. I am the Editor, thy employer. Thou shalt turn up to the performance/show/film/gig that thou art reviewing on time, wherein thou shalt be able to arrive calm, content and able to review the piece in question.

2. Thou shalt research the work that thou art reviewing, be it the previous work of the performers/actors/director/writer, so that thou shalt know what thou is talking about, and won’t give the impression that thou art talking out of thy ass.

3. Thou shalt act as a respectable member of thy’s publication team when reviewing. This includes not overdoing it with the free alcohol and then embarrassing oneself because of said alcohol.

4. Thou shalt file copy on time and within the word limit.

5. Thou shalt not steal work from another writer, be they living or dead and pass it off as thine own. Plagiarism will be discovered, and thou will only set thyself back by ripping off the intellectual property of others.

6. Thou shalt be respectful to venue staff, including FOH staff, PR people and press officers.

7. Thou shalt write about more than the performance; thou shalt consider the cultural, political, social and historical context of a piece. Criticism must move beyond the tired “It looked nice, it was acted well” narrative.

8. Thou shalt write with brevity and clarity; why write a 20 word filler sentence when a simple 10 words will do?

9. Thou shalt proofread thy’s own work before sending it to thou’s editor.

10. Thou shalt be prepared to listen to constructive criticism of thine work, and thou shalt take this criticism to heart.

Why Your EdFringe PR Campaign Sucks

3 Jun
Fringe Posters image by Daveybot, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Fringe Posters image by Daveybot, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

If you’re a performer or part of a theatre company that’s handling your own PR campaign at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, perhaps for the first time, there are three things that form the basis of any Edinburgh Festival Fringe PR campaign; discipline, research and hard work. I know, that’s pretty obvious, but while the Edinburgh Fringe is presented as a fun and unmissable festival (it is) it’s also a bit like a sewer; what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

But I’m Only at the Fringe for Three Days

Three days? That’s brilliant! Shorter runs at the Fringe are becoming quite popular for various reasons, and the length of your run doesn’t limit your PR campaign. Get in there early, contact journalists; send them an exclusive invite to your first show and promote the Hell out of it.

But I Want to Party Hard

While it may look like the Fringe is one big party, the reality is that the festival is hard work for everyone involved in the Fringe. For performers handling their own PR, the Fringe presents an almost unique experience in terms of promotion.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the biggest, if not the biggest arts festival in the world; this year a record 2,871 shows will be performed by 24,107 artists in 273 venues across Edinburgh. The number of shows at this year’s Fringe has increased by 6.5% compared to last year. So, if you want to party, do it in moderation, you have a job to do.

But The Fringe is Too Big

As the Fringe grows, so do the opportunities for marketing a show and producing a strong and unforgettable Fringe PR campaign. A bigger Fringe means more journalists, more publications, more blogs, more audience members, more venues. It means more work to publicise a show successfully.

It means that your Fringe PR campaign must be as important as all other Fringe preparation. Think about all the work you have put into your show so far: the planning, the auditions, the creating of sets, costumes, the booking of a venue, the organisation of Fringe accommodation. Why should PR take a back seat?

So, I Just Shout Loud Enough and I’ll Get Reviewed?

It’s often said that the person who shouts the loudest has the most influential voice in the room, but for the Fringe, and for wider PR, I would argue that having the right voice, rather than the loudest voice is more desirable to journalists.

There is so much ‘noise’ generated by PRs and performers during the Fringe; journalists will be getting promotional messages fired at them daily, so, you have to find a way to make your voice more noticeable and most of all, more inviting to them.

How Do I Make My Voice Heard?

You need to target the right journalists, the right publications, and promote what it is about your show, your piece that will appeal to them. If your show is a political piece, are there journalists who specialise in reviewing and previewing political theatre? Is there a specific publication that tailors to your target audience?

Make a list of your Unique Selling Points (USPs) such as, if this is your first year at the Fringe,  are you performing the world première of your show? What is it that you can offer journalists the competition can’t offer them? Why should they choose you over the thousands of other artists at the festival? Why do you want a journalist to review your show? Once you are clear about this, then you will find it easier to put together your PR campaign.

How Should I Submit My PR?

Once the PR is written and the right journalists have been identified, how will you submit your PR? Will you post it if you have the publication’s address? It’s not as immediate as email, but some journalists prefer it. If you’re unsure, contact the journalist or publication and ask.

If you email it, do you attach it as a separate document, or copy and paste it into the body of the email? Personally, I prefer the copy and paste method, which means I’m not constantly downloading documents. Remember that it needs to be easy for a journalist to find your PR during the busy festival period, so use the show name, venue and company name in the subject line of your email.

Many journalists, especially me and Thom Didbin from Annuals of Edinburgh Stage will thank you for doing this.

How will you begin your communication? A “Hello” is always nice. Seriously, say “Hi”, try to engage with the journalist – good PR is about building lasting relationships, if you get along with a journalist one year, they will remember you the next and might be more likely to see your shows in the future.

What About Social Media?

Social media now forms a pretty big part of any Fringe campaign, and so contacting journalists through this medium, in my opinion, is fine, you just to get your approach right. Start talking to the journalist before the start of the Fringe, build up a rapport; don’t be all promotional all the time.

Simply tweeting a journalist you’ve never spoken to before and asking them to “Please RT” a promotional tweet about your show is lazy – talk to them, don’t just use them as a mouthpiece for your work.

Do Not Do Any Of These Things in Your PR Campaign

Below is a list of suggestions for things not to do when you’re handling your own PR campaign during the Fringe, outside of the Fringe and in general. Personalising your email goes a long, long way.

  1. Email a press release with the subject line ‘Press Release’
  2. Send out a mass email beginning with: ‘Dear EdFringe Reviewer/Promoter/Press Officer/VIP/Broadcaster/Supporter
  3. Send out an email that begins with “Dear Chesney” when the editor’s name is Bella
  4. Constantly email and phone the office of a magazine/newspaper demanding that they review your show
  5. Tweet the same invite verbatim to at least 25 reviewers or publications in a row
  6. Email the same PR multiple times
  7. Email an ‘extended’ PR which gives no new information
  8. Email a PR that gives the wrong start time/the wrong date/the wrong director/the wrong actor/the wrong venue
  9. Write a PR that starts with your star ratings and reviews
  10. Write a PR that uses lots and lots of different colours, fonts, sizes and is not clearly formatted
  11. Write a PR that doesn’t begin with a greeting, but ends with an email signature
  12. Not using bcc in marketing emails
  13. Get the publication name wrong
  14. Issue a demand, not an invitation
  15. Not say thank you to a reviewer or publication for a good review
  16. Send more than one press release per email
  17. Threaten to sue over a bad review – this will not work out well for anybody

Whether this is your first Fringe or your tenth, PR is an important part of your preparation and so, it’s important to keep on top of it, and don’t leave it to chance.

Have you got any advice for companies doing their own EdFringe PR? Get in touch and let me know.

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