When a freelance “critic” goes too far.

The great arts crusader Howard Sherman outed a Seattle-based “critic” on his blog for get this . . . selling his plus-one comp ticket on Craigslist.

I mean, really, buddy?  Your spare ticket isn’t like a spare bedroom you can put on Airbnb.

As you can read in Howard’s exposé here, the former-critic (because I can’t imagine anyone is going to let him review officially anymore), who has since been identified by Playbill as L. Steven Sieden, who reviews for HuffPo and The Examiner, posted an ad that said . . .

I am compiling a list of people who would like to purchase these single great seats for the performances. I plan to sell the ticket, and the price will less than half of the face value. In addition, your input might well be reflected in my review.

So this guy was looking to profit from the long-standing theatrical tradition of giving two tickets to a critic who planned on reviewing a show.  My official response?  Blech.

But here’s where it gets interesting.  The ad continued:

If you’re interested in participating, respond with your name and email address. I will then reply with my blog address (to prove that this is a real offer and give you an idea of what I’ve reviewed in the past few months) and the first list of upcoming events.

Thanks for considering this proposition and helping me to keep these seats from being empty in the future.

So first, if he was really concerned about that seat being empty . . . all that he had to do was give it back to the theater.  They would have filled it.  But to suggest that this was some altruistic way of supporting the theater, rather than a way to line his pockets and potentially take revenue away from a local theater, makes me say . . . double blech.

Someone take away this guy’s credentials and fast.  In an era when good, ol’ fashioned theatrical criticism is already challenged, this guy just made all of the Producers and Press Reps out there second guess all those tickets that we give away.  I’m hoping there is an official statement from the Outer Critics and other official Critic organizations and quick.

Now, all that said, the irony is . . . this guy was so close to an idea that would have had me excited about his efforts, rather than lambasting them.

Let’s go back to that first paragraph.  He writes, “In addition, your input might well be reflected in my review.”

Now, while he’s obviously framing it in a sleazy “Hey, buy this ticket and you might see your opinion in print” kind of way, the idea of a critic allowing a member of the theatergoing public to come with him and talk with him about what they just saw is fascinating.  All that he had to do was post this same exact thing, and not ask for any money, and bam . . . he’s got a fascinating approach to critical theatergoing.

Imagine.

Hi. I am professional theater critic.  I get two tickets for every show that I see.  Rather than take a friend or spouse or someone that I know and therefore have most likely have similar tastes to, I’d like to take someone who is just a fan of the theater.  Someone who pays to go see theater.  I want to talk about the show with you . . . to see how it rates with what you’re looking for in a night at the theater.  I see theater for a living.  And I think it would be fascinating to see theater with someone who sees it purely for entertainment.

Now that’s cool.

But no, Greedy McGreedy over there wanted to make a few bucks and devalue his profession in the process.  You know, his excuse will be that “theater criticism doesn’t pay enough for me to make a living.”

Then find something else to do, my friend.  The theater will be fine without you.

 

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Comments
  • Charlie Fink says:

    There are too many self appointed “critics” with websites that get little or no traffic and seem designed for the sole purpose of getting free tickets. Yes their sites are indexed by Google but not very highly. Just saying.

  • Chris Marks says:

    I would LOVE to attend a performance with an established critic (paying my own way and not on their “extra” ticket) in hopes of spending some time together after the show. I would totally enjoy the opportunity to discuss what each of us liked and/or disliked about the show but more importantly what exactly the “critic” looks for in each production. Selling the extra ticket seems like a low rent thing to do but honestly, if the tickets were given to the reviewer with no stipulations beyond their using in order to review the show, then the second ticket pretty much belongs to them to do with as they wish (including selling it). And actually the show might get some benefit should the “buyer” have any positive input in the critic’s published review. Would I buy one of the tickets? No, nor would I sell one if I were a critic but, unless illegal or otherwise some type of violation, I don’t think it’s a major problem.

  • Kiri-Lyn Muir says:

    I LOVE your idea of getting a ‘Joe -Q’ public persons perspective of the show being reviewed, and having their opinion have some weight and presence in the review. People who make their living in and around the theatre have a different perspective, and can be hyper critical at times (nobody’s fault, I just think they/we are too close to theater to be truly objective). It’s Joe -Q public who are buying the majority of the tickets, and their taste and opinions should be paramount. I love to hear what ‘regular people’ thought of shows I’m involved in. Their perspective reminds me of how the majority of the audience will be taking in the show at hand. A definitely NO to the idea of a critic selling his/her second ticket however!

  • Another use of that ticket? If there is a lottery for that show, one more diehard theater fan could get in if it was added to that night’s lottery. I saw The Drowsy Chaperone over and over again thanks to their front row lottery and became friends with a dozen other Drowsy Heads as we called ourselves – smart, funny people who fell in love with that smart, funny show. I imagine ANY of them winning a seat next to a critic and both of them would have a very interesting seat mate for an evening. What a dunce for posting his obviously stupid plan. Almost as stupid as the drunk uber passenger who beat up his driver in front of a camera, yielding a viral video that got him fired from his job and banned for life by uber.

    Remember Gladys Glover? As played to perfection by Judy Holiday – “Never do anything you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the daily newspaper.”

    Words to live by.

  • Producer says:

    The grossest thing about his ad was that it wasn’t posted in the Craigslist “Tickets For Sale” section. It was posted under the “Men Seeking Women” section.

  • David says:

    I work as a freelance critic and I have given my ticket away when I got to the theatre to someone looking to see the show. What ends up happening is the person is very grateful for the ticket (usually to a sold-out show) and we naturally strike up a conversation and talk about the theatre, the show we’re seeing and our thoughts afterwards. A lot of times it has helped me clarify a point or understand something I may have missed. It has also been useful when writing my review to look at something I may not have enjoyed from the perspective of someone who has. The problem in this case was the guy was a sleazebag, and as one commenter noted, posted in the “Men Seeking Women” section of Craig’s List. It’s bad enough critics have a bad name. This guy just made it worse.

  • Alex B. says:

    “Blech”? Who’s writing your column? Alfred E. Newman?

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