Should previews be open for online review by bloggers, chatters and more?

Ellen Gamerman at The Wall Street Journal wrote a terrific piece last week about previews, and how problems that shows encounter during the several weeks of previews are exposed more in an online world than they were a decade ago.

It’s true.

Leading man flubbing his lines?  It’ll be all over the boards.  Problems in Act II?  Expect a blog about it.  Set come crashing down on the ensemble?  Well, in that case, you’ve got bigger problems than the boards and the blogs.

There’s a lot of people out there that are jumping up and down, throwing tantrums that two year olds would be proud of, saying, “You can’t review previews!  These people shouldn’t be talking about previews!”

To that I say . . . here’s a bottle of milk and a blanket, now get over it.

As much as we might not like our shows facing quicker criticism from audiences than ever before (and a few of mine have faced some harsh online attacks), there is nothing we can do about it.  Online word of mouth is the new Word of Mouth, and there’s nothing you can do to get in its way.  Can you imagine if any of the people upset about “preview reviews” went up to a group of folks at a Starbucks who were trashing a preview of a play and said, “You can’t talk about that show, it was a preview!”

The group would laugh, and probably trash the show even more.

Word of Mouth used to be invisible, which is why no one complained about stopping people from “chatting” about shows in previews.  The internet gives us (and others) a chance to see the formerly invisible force, which is why so many people want to stop it.

But you can’t.  We all need to realize that Online Word of Mouth and Traditional Word of Mouth have merged into one stronger and faster force of customer communication.

Critics, of course, who work for publications and are given free tickets, are subject to regulation.  One of the reasons I helped form the ITBA, was in the hopes that the new media warriors (aka The Bloggers) could get the same access as critics, which would give the shows a chance to reach a new audience, but with some control over when the bloggers were seeing the shows.

But if your chatters are paying for a ticket, you can’t stop the e-talkin’, so I wouldn’t even try.

  • Tysondanner says:

    I see it as a great thing. Forces producers and creative to make sure their previews are the best they can be. There’s no room for “it’ll be fixed in previews!”

  • Brian Ferdman says:

    If you charge the public full-price to see your show, they have a right to expect a polished, professional product, regardless of when that performance falls within the run. Like you said, you can’t stop people from talking, and you shouldn’t expect the benefit of the doubt from the public if you charged them the same price for a preview ticket as you would for a typical performance post-opening.
    There is a time for learning lines and character development, and that time is known as “rehearsal.”

  • Jane says:

    I would like to know why some shows in New York have such long preview periods, and have so many kinks to work out in that time. I live in a small city where most shows run about three or four weeks, and have at three or four previews – at a discounted price. And of the preview shows I saw last year, there were only two minor issues – a mike cutting out for a few lines, and a set piece not collapsing at the right time – which could’ve happened at any stage. One show which had I think three previews in 2008 was When The Rain Stops Falling at it’s world premier; three previews, ready for reviews on the forth night (for which it got mainly positive for some raves, and just because we’re a small city doesn’t mean critics can’t be brutal), yet when it opens off-Broadway it will be doing so after 28 previews. Why are they doing so many?!
    That said, I’ll review previews while giving them more leeway than I would after Opening for kinks and such.

  • LeeCavellier says:

    Previews are open because the piece is (or should be) to the point where it requires an impartial audience to allow the creative team to determine what works and what doesn’t. It is a necessary part of the process. You’re right, the blogging’s going to happen, but who says that has to be a bad thing?
    Other forms of media use the online boards to help them determine what is and isn’t going over well…I say perhaps the truly innovative new show offers up a board specifically for it’s preview audiences to discuss…helps centralize the feedback a bit, lets other audiences respond when they see a later showing once things may have been improved upon, AND allows a more direct connection between the team and the audience member.
    Just like when you mentioned the lack of theatre ‘apps’ out there, perhaps we as a community have some catching up to do!

  • Stage_mama says:

    I completely agree with your POV and Lee’s comments as well. Procter & Gamble, Ford, Disney, L’Oreal, WalMart… they may have stumbled out of the gate in managing social media and viral digital WOM reactions to new product launches and their brands in general, but they have made a commitment to embracing it and it is strengthening their core business.
    As for Broadway, I don’t have much patience for the catty and bitchy negative Nellie’s who, at times, overpower those of us who just want to see the genre thrive, but the Internet is still The Wild West and theatre needs to be right there @ the OK Corral.

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