A company and a writer have straightforward professional duties to one another:
The company’s duty to a writer is simple: an undisturbed, unobstructed place to watch the performance.
- Even if your seating is general admission, press seating should be reserved. Don’t make us fight for seats. Most theaters mark the seating with a sign that says “Reserved – Witchel” or something similar. This is probably the only time someone labels me reserved.
- The seat does not need to be the best in the house. It does need to be one where a person with normal vision can see faces and expressions clearly.
- If the venue is one without seats, let us know in your press release and provide accommodation for critics who are unable to stand.
- If the venue expects customers to order food or drinks, the theater is not obligated to provide them. However, we should not be obligated to buy them either, and the servers should be made aware of that.
- The company can’t pre-screen who will be sitting near us. Critics get cranky, and a bad seating arrangement can color a review – the same way the lady with the huge hat or giant man blocking the stage ruined a show for you. But noisy or tall seatmates need to be accepted as the luck of the draw.
- That said, I wouldn’t seat press in a clump – if possible spread them out through the theater. Not everyone likes everyone else, frankly. This avoids a situation you never bargained for.
- Aisle seating is what we’re accustomed to. Some people want the front row – I hate it, particularly in a small theater. I worry, scribbling into a notebook, that I’m a distraction to the performers.
- Pairs or singles? Pairs are a perk, and we know that. But we also assume that if you give one critic a pair and another a single, it’s a message, so be careful and discreet, or just treat us all equally.
- Talking to critics: People often think that a critic is incognito and incommunicado. We shouldn’t be the center of attention but you can certainly talk to us. If you’re the person assigned to give critics their tickets and press kit, by all means ask if we have everything you need, and it’s safe to say something generically pleasant such as “Enjoy the show.” The rest is the same as any other human – if the critic is chatty, feel free to chat. If quiet, do the same. The only thing you shouldn’t do is ask critics what they thought of the show. That’s a terrible idea.
Our duty to the company isn’t all that more complex.
- We need to be punctual. Though just in the nick of time is still on time.
- We need to write punctually. I’m often guilty as charged here. Just as seeing things without pay is far harder without the support of regular paid work, the same with writing. The reality of life is that we have to do the work we’re paid to do first.
Your Press Pack:
Press kits serve several purposes, but most writers use them as a reference for background information. They can be print or electronic (I prefer electronic, others like hard copy) and don’t need to be fancy for reviewers. Booking agents or presenters might want something more impressive.
What goes in a press pack:
- The release.
- The program.
- Any previews of this show and selected articles about prior shows. I tend not to read these except for background facts, such as when the piece premiered.
- Lineup photo: if there is any chance that it would be difficult to know who’s who onstage, consider including a photo lineup. This is a reference photo, not one for publication. It does not need to be magazine quality or professionally shot: line the cast up in costume at dress rehearsal, identify each dancer in the picture and print it out in color on regular paper.
- (Optional) Production notes and a brief production history – if this is a major revival, tell us the who, what and where of the original production and how long since it was last done. The production notes are again nuts and bolts – anticipate the background questions (where’s the music from? Were the costumes influenced by X?) we might have and answer them.
Performance photos are best dealt with after the show, either via email or as a download. The photos should be in more than one layout (vertical and horizontal), and they need to be promptly available – major papers might need them overnight. They should be in color and at least for print, they should not have a very dark background.
More on press tickets:
Press tickets – complimentary tickets provided by a company for writers to see a performance – are a gesture of goodwill on the part of a performing organization. It doesn’t need to provide them; it does in the hope that writers will like what they see, and say so.
A writer asks for a press ticket for several reasons:
- To report on a show.
- For background – to become familiar with new work or to keep up with what an artist is doing. Obviously, a company would prefer a review for their press kit, but that’s not always possible, and a group might not necessarily benefit from the review if it isn’t enthusiastic. With the deterioration of consistent, paid writing work, writers don’t go to shows as background enough, but it’s an economic hardship if you aren’t on salary, and are only being paid (or not) by the piece. There are many other things that have to happen as well in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
- Interest – this is the least relevant, but it happens all the time. We just want to see that specific performance and we may not have been assigned the review. As an example, I asked for tickets to see performances of Miami City Ballet, but assigned other writers to review because I had already written on the company. I explained the situation to the press people, and asked if I could go nonetheless. This is involves good will; professional writers should call in this chip infrequently and in proportion to the number of reviews they produce.
In return for these accommodations, a company hopes for some sort of notice, preferably before the close of the show. It’s harder for dance than for theater, because dance runs have become so short.
Companies also hope for a long review for their press kits, and in a perfect storm, a quote.
They’re aware this isn’t a quid pro quo, and we’re under no obligation to write favorably. Still, it would be naïve not to acknowledge it.
Part 2: Pitching to us or sending us PR.
Part 3: Press at your show