A member of the press comes out as a “Broadway Bolter.”

When one person emails me with an idea for a blog, I consider it.

When five people email me with the same idea, I strongly consider it.

Yesterday, ten people emailed me, four sent smoke signals, and one sent a raven from Game of Thrones.

What got them all in a tizzy?

It was a article confession by The Wall Street Journal culture commentator Joanne Kaufman, who admitted that she walks out of Broadway shows after only one act . . . all the time.  She calls it “bolting,” and from the tone of the article it sounds like she “1st acts” shows more often than not.  The Last Ship, Kinky Boots, Matilda, and Pippin are just a few examples of shows she quit on.  Conversely she only cites three examples of shows she stuck around for, and one opened in 2008.  She calls shows that she sees from beginning to end “exceptions.”

What’s upsetting to me, and to all those folks that got in touch with me about her full disclosure, is that she is a member of the press, and is given free tickets to all of these productions.  What’s worse is that she even admits to being “embarrassed by how unembarrassed” she is of walking out of shows.

Frankly, it just doesn’t sound like she enjoys the theater that much.

And if you don’t enjoy the theater?  You shouldn’t be working in the theater.  You have a responsibility to take yourself out of the game, Ms. Kaufman.  This article screams out like a cry to be fired . . . to be taken off the beat . . . and I truly hope your editor does just that.  But the stronger move, the move that we’d actually respect much more than this article, is for you to say, “Hey, this art form deserves respect . . . these writers, these actors, these designers, stagehands, ushers, and yes, these Producers deserve respect . . . and I’m just not giving them that right now, so let me give this post to someone who actually gives a sh@t.”

Now look, I’m going to be honest, I’ve left shows at intermission before.  There was a time in my life when I never thought I’d do such a thing.  Twenty years of seeing shows later, when I know that there is nothing I can learn from what I’m seeing, and there is no way I’m going to enjoy it, then yeah, I might take a pass on Act II.  But, first of all, that is an “exception.”  Second of all, I’m not being paid to take in theatrical events with the thought that I might write about them.  And if one of these exceptions gets a Tony nomination and that’s why I was sitting in those seats?  Well, then, I have to abstain from that category.  And I do.

I’d love to believe that the Broadway Press Agents and Producers will no longer give Ms. Kaufman comps to shows, but that won’t happen.  Why?  Well, unless a show is a monster hit, then the Press Agents will argue, “Sure, she leaves most of the time, but what if this time she stayed?  And then she could write about it, and then you get some press!”  And since Producers are so desperate for free publicity, they’ll take the chance, even though Ms. Kaufman has just admitted that the odds of the show recouping are greater than the odds of her sticking around for Act II.

We’re not going to stop giving you tickets, Ms. Kaufman.  We’re on the other side of an abusive relationship.  You insult us, neglect us, and then you brag about it.  But we’ll still invite you to our bed.

Do us a favor.  Turn down the invite.  Go find something you actually enjoy.  The theater and you will be better off for it.

You can read the article here.  And throw a comment in their stream and maybe an email to the editor while you’re at it.

 

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Comments
  • its shameful. Leaving a show ture expected to review before it’s over is akin to quitting early in any regular day job. Sure, it may be ok to do once in a while, but if this your,standard routine, you get FIRED… (Or should).

    That said, if she does write about a show she’s “bolted” fom, she should at least demonstrate the journalistic integrity to SAY SO in her write up.

    I. Fact, I think there are some important FTC guidelines that come into play here. If she gets free tickets, then gives a positive review of a show she’s only seen. Portion of, failing to disclose those facts is a deceptive practice that can cause real harm to members of the public who shell out hard-earned dollars for tickets on the strength of that review.

    If it’s a bad review, the deception does harm to everyone employed with, invested in, or considering buying tickets to the show.

    Frankly, I think it’s time for REPUTABLE journalists and their employers to stand up and speak out about this, create or renew their ethical mission statements, and take action against offenders in their midst. Or, maybe we should ask the New York Attorney General to investigate? (Notwithstanding the First Amendment quagmire that would involve)

  • Liz Daley says:

    Thanks, Ken!!! You had the guts to share what I’m sure many feel. Clearly it’s time for Ms. Kaufman to seek alternative employment and start writing about something she is interested in and passionate about.
    Shame on her! This is no different than a minimum wage employee barely making eye contact when taking your debit card, as you make a purchase, thereby insuring their employment. Time to move on, Ms. Kaufman. Leave the writing of reviews to those passionate about the theatre. If something deserves a “bad” review….so be it. At least the reviewer is “committed” to what they are writing and to their opinion. Lazy. Lazy. Lazy!

  • A Contrarian says:

    Inexcusable. And to think it’s been going on for so many years! “Bolsters” in my mind are those who leave before curtain calls, but not before that.

  • MichaelC says:

    Nearly 50 years of theater attendance and never, not once for any reason, have I left a show before the final curtain. I can think of a few shows I wish I hadn’t attended but I’ve never been so disrepectful of all the time and effort that has been put into a production to walk out before it was over. I don’t believe that the curtain ever rises on an intentionally bad show! Many people have put in much time and effort to make a show happen. And a number of times I have been very pleasantly surprised by a second act that rectified or clarified whatever might have made the first act less than appealing for me. Curious how Ms. Kaufman would react should she discover how many readers rarely find her writing interesting enough to finish and entire article. More importantly I wonder how the WSJ feels knowing they are basically paying their “culture commentator” for doing half a job – which, in itself, screams of a lack of “culture”.

  • Dan Radakovich says:

    Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately the theater and its aligned arts[film, rv,painting, sculpture, book readings, etc] always have the possibility of audience disrespect to contend with, in Elizabethan England premier performances of Shakespeare were traditionally interrupted by drunks coming on stage[or having seats there] casually using piss boys’ pots to relieve themselves during soliloquies, and leaving and entering without nearly today’s decorum which in most cases restricts itself to intermissions. That said, if one is a writer of integrity, the job’s amour du propre and pride in one’s metier should involve hanging in there until the end of a performance to be reviewed, “comped” or otherwise. Walter Kerr used to complain he sat through more dreck than anyone but he stayed almost always through many more excruciating evenings and matinees than Ms. Kaufman can have done. In short, while Ms Jaufman’s uncouth behavior is legitimate from the point of view of tradition and right as an audience member, ill-bred though it is, it denigrates her in her profession. As a eriter inthe form of non-fiction, as a former reviewer for a publication[not Thank Heaven theatrical, books actually]] she is in fact, in theatrical parlance, not a “trooper.” And in that she deserves some scorn from all.

  • Steven Conners says:

    Ken, you’re absolutely correct in everything you’ve said. This woman should get no more free tickets. She’s a danger to the theatre and not at all fair in her reporting. She doesn’t understand that in most shows the second act is the strongest. I have never understood walking out during intermission. Makes you seem as if you’re in the know, I guess. Snobbery, I think. What’s her background to write about theatre? Letters/emails to WSJ might help. Maybe an in person meeting with this woman might be helpful, too. It’s a shame that she is allowed space in that rag to spout what she doesn’t know. —sjc

  • Toni Wellmam says:

    Ken, I’m a paying customer and I bolt all the time. So much theater is so badly written. But I keep going back because I remember when theater was good. I keep hanging on.

  • On rare occasions there is reason to leave before the second act. But this woman is unprofessional and disrespectful. I’d encourage your readers to write the WSJ managing editor at the following link to express their displeasure. The last time I complained about a media member Piers Morgan was fired, so I’m confident management reads the comments especially when there are many.

    Klay

    Here’s the link: https://customercenter.wsj.com/public/view/contactinformation.html?mg=selfserv-wsj&url=https%3A%2F%2Fcustomercenter.wsj.com%2Fview%2Fctdir%2Fcontactdirectory.html%3Fmg%3Dselfserv-wsj%26url%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fcustomercenter.wsj.com%252Fview%252Fcontactus.html%253Fmod%253DWSJ_footer%26auth-zones%3DSELF-SERV&auth-zones=SELF-SERV

  • Barbara Beckley says:

    Toni Wellman, when you pay for your ticket you have the right to leave. But if a producer gives you a seat for nothing, you have an obligation to stay in it until the show is over. And if you’re a CRITIC – even more so. It’s astonishing that this is tolerated by any publication , let alone the WSJ. I guess it’s different in New York. In LA, none of us would allow her in our theatres unless she bought a ticket.

  • Here Here! I hope this never happens in Australia (my producing playground).

    One of the most important articles I’ve read from you Ken. And as ‘A Contrarian’ says, it’s inexcusable.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Paul Whiteley

  • Stephen Buckle (Landor Theatre) says:

    Ken, I note you are not promising to stick-it-out at all future shows. I agree with Gordon Firemark, there is the issue of misrepresentation if a journalist has reviewed a show that s’he hasn’t actually seen! We had a similar problem at The Landor London where a journalist came uninvited to a preview (tkts half price) and then wrote that the show was unpolished, without stating it was a preview. We therefore asked The Stage to change the copy, they complied. Personally I’m a sticker-outer to the bitter end and usually I’m really pleased since most shows take off in Act II. I thought it was understood in theatre that ‘setting up the premise’ in Act I was always the difficult bit?

  • Robert Viagas says:

    Any so-called culture writer who would walk out on “The Last Ship,” “Kinky Boots,” “Matilda,” and “Pippin” is in the wrong business.

  • Lauren says:

    Not so about wanting publicity in any form. Producers increasingly don’t invite the real working press — Drama Desk/Outer Critics Circle/League’s Second Night List — (who stay for the whole show and write a review so our readers can make informed choices about where to spend their entertainment dollars). Some only invite the nominators in the hopes the show will get a nomination, though guess what — it won’t win, since none of the voters saw it….. Some press agents routinely deny requests from specific reviewers asking to see shows, even though they would write about them. Perhaps there is a disconnect between producers and some press agents? At any rate, don’t waste press tickets on someone who clearly doesn’t like theater and who is not putting her readers first.

  • Great post, Ken!
    Completely agree and glad you spoke out about it.
    Thanks!

  • I wasn’t able to read her article because I’m not a WSJ subscriber (and am unwilling to share my Facebook profile and friends with the WSJ). Is there a workaround? Thanks, and thanks for putting the spotlight on this abusive relationship.

  • Catherine Castellani says:

    This strikes me as a good time for anyone with an ambition to write theater criticism to hit the WSJ with his or her resume. I didn’t see the 2nd Act of Matilda either–my child didn’t like it, and there’s no point to Act 2 with a fidgeting kiddo. But if someone in the production had given us the tickets, I would have sent my husband to Nizza with our daughter and stuck it out alone. And I’m not paid to write a review! That is just basic respect, which is so, so lacking in Joanne Kaufman’s article. It’s easy to take potshots at artists. It’s very hard to make good work, to get up on stage, to fund these things… The gleeful tone she takes is flat out crass.

  • Esther Iris says:

    I don’t think she reviews theatre for the Wall Street Journal. As far as I know, Terry Teachout is the WSJ theatre critic. I’m guessing she gets offered comps because she writes about culture generally for the paper and its affluent readers. Let’s face it, they’re the people who can afford tickets to Broadway shows and maybe even invest in them!

  • Elliott Masie says:

    I wonder what would happen if a Wall Street Journal reporter stated that they always left 1/2 through key financial briefings by public corporations.

    Sad and disrespectful of the art world she is supposed to “cover”.

  • Tom Hartman says:

    In the early 80s, before producers started to require tickets for re-entry after intermission, I was a Broadway Bolted. I saw the second act of many shows slipping in at intermission, waiting until everyone was seated and then taking a vacant seat. My goal is to someday see the first act of CATS.

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