Monday, March 03, 2008


Bobo just read a review that made him angry.
It recounted nearly every plot twist in a two-hour play.
Reviews don't have to do that.
So, readers, which makes you angriest about reviewers' work? Plot summaries? Snooty comments? Vague bits of advice? A lack of a clear thumbs up or thumbs down? Any of that crap they print in The Inlander? Or what?


At March 05, 2008 10:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good question. I respect the reviewers right to not care for the play itself. Please though don't spend five paragraphs making a case against the playwright.Do it in one paragraph and then move on to review the acting and all other production aspects of the show seperate from that.One may not care for the play but find much to admire or not in the other aspects of the production .This is a true and complete critique of a show in my opinion.Thanks for asking.

At March 05, 2008 11:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of the above.

At March 06, 2008 9:06 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Criticize the production, not the choice of play: Bobo has committed this sin and will watch out for it. He's been given this advice before, and mostly agrees, with one proviso: It's worth asking, anytime, "Why this particular play, at this time, in this theater?" You're absolutely right that long-winded criticisms of programming decisions are sort of whining after the fact and largely useless. But I also often think that the decision to produce Play A at this particular time and place is also an act of exclusion: We aren't producing Plays B, C, D, etc. right now because of this, and so there should be _some_ kind of rationale. Many shows have widespread appeal: *Hamlet* and "West Side Story" will always be worth doing, though I do think directors need to keep in mind that shows like that have been done thousands of times -- and so why is yet another production worth it? What does it have to say to audiences now that wouldn't be better said by something else? *Charlie's Aunt,* for example -- it's not inconceivable that somebody would haul out this old chestnut. But every time you do that, you're NOT producing some other script (OK, I've got Martin McDonough's *The Pillowman* and Richard Greenburg's *The Violet Hour* in mind, or even Stoppard's *The Real Inspector Hound,* which I have never had a chance to see (except in a BBC radio recording) -- and these are very different kinds of plays, yes, but my point is that we ought to have reasons beyond "it's such a fun show" for choosing a script when there are only, very roughly speaking, about four dozen productions a year in Spokane at the quasi-professional level or higher. Still, I think your advice is very good, and I will keep it in mind, absolutely.

At March 06, 2008 9:16 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Another question. Do you agree or not with the following:
Since most (?) readers of a given review will never see that particular show, it's useful to include at least one passage (if not more) of sustained, specific physical description of the set, costumes, actors' expressions and gestures and movements ... in other words, try in part to re-create what it looked and felt like in the theater, both to zoom in (for those who saw it) on details that seemed especially evocative and (for those who didn't see the show) to give some sense of what it was like to be there.
Or, alternatively, are words way far short of the physical reality, so forget trying to paint a word-picture?
(P.S. Bobo's hope, when we get The Inlander's Website fancied up, is to videotape snippets of selected rehearsals and performances and post them on the Web -- inspired in no small part by Ben Cameron, formerly of TCG, who apparently is pretty active along with other in encouraging the current prez of Equity to get rid of this archaic, outdated, crappy and anti-Internet stance that live plays are precious vessels that must not be disseminated across the media. Hogwash. We are in an era now in which (especially young) people expect to get media content for free. They're giving away rock CDs now so people will spend big at the concerts; theater should follow suit. At the very least, for the already theatrically baptized, availability on the Web of video of plays in action would whet the appetite of those who go to plays only infrequently.

At March 06, 2008 9:23 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Some guidelines for criticizing plays (that I don't always live up to), cribbed from Goethe and John Updike:

What is the production trying to do? How well does the production do it? Is it worth doing?
Don't just summarize plot.
Quote or depict, to give the reader some flavor of the production.
Don't review shows/playwrights/actors you hate.
If you criticize, give a counterexample: Not just, "This was crap," but "This was crap, but here is how it was done better elsewhere."
Don't criticize the show for what it isn't trying to do. Review the show you saw, NOT the show you wish it were. (E.g.: Bobo tried to turn one of the shows he saw in L.A. into, at least in part, an attack on homophobia -- when wiser heads made a solid argument that, no, that wasn't necessarily the intent.)

At March 06, 2008 9:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, "The Violet Hour". Worthy play. Not brilliant, but highly worthy.

At March 07, 2008 12:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have to ask who your reading audience is. You're not writing reviews for the folks who did the play, to stroke their ego or give them something to show their friends and family and fill their scrapbook. You are in fact, a sort of consumer reporter. The worth of the play selection is important, because as a potential ticket buyer that's part of the package I'm paying $10 or $20 or $75 for. I believe the entire experience should be reviewed. And that includes play, set, costumes, acting, direction, cleanliness of the facility, everything. A review should answer the question, is it worth the money I will spend to have this theatrical experience.

At March 07, 2008 12:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not think you can tape rehearsels do to copyright laws.Bobo needs to criticize all directors and shows with the same eye,I think all to often personal often friendships or what he thinks about someone or some group of people colors his writing.

At March 07, 2008 1:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Don't review shows/playwrights/ACTORS you hate" Enough said.

At March 08, 2008 8:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't help but comment on aspects of the production you feel strongly about and invest your own flavor as a writer.You would be a robot otherwise.If you think a play selection is in your opinion not a great choice, say so but don't fixate.Cover the production.If you know ahead of time that you're going to see a show you would rather not see again and you can't get past it ,send sombody else.The structure of your last few reviews have given a good overall picture.I can tell your making an effort.Good or bad if you cover the production,cover the production you are giving both the actors and the patron a fair shake.

At March 08, 2008 12:04 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

"Actors I hate": Updike puts the idea MUCH more eloquently and at greater length. Bobo can see that using blunt shorthand like this might lead to some misperceptions. Like a lot of us today -- harried, impatient, time-impoverished -- I can have a John McCain-style short temper. And he's not proud of that. I grumble inside my head -- but honestly, there are no local actors whom I HATE.
There are actors who clearly would prefer to talk to me as little as possible or not at all. I regret that I've offended them, and I'm planning on approaching a couple and making amends.
Bobo can cite you chapter and verse of reviews in which he raved about actors he doesn't particularly care for, and the reverse: negative reviews of people he likes very much. Critics serve the art form, not local audiences or actors. Sounds high-falutin', I know, but it's a way of saying that we all just want good and abundant theater, here and everywhere.
Bobo really, really dislikes *Cats* and *The Fantasticks* -- he's on record (and has already made arrangements) for the next time someone inflicts those shows on us: Somebody else will review them.
If he gets the opportunity to fulfill his story pitch of following a particular production from start to finish, he would of course not review that show.
As for, "Oh, God, she/he's in this next show too?!" -- Bobo has sometimes been pleasantly surprised. Some local actors are in a lot of shows; I admire their energy and enthusiasm. They may be suited to some roles better than others. But every night you go, you're hoping they'll match up well with this next character. And that can be just the case: didn't like 'em last time, but think they're well-suited to the role this time.
I WANT you to disagree with me; it'd be freakish if you agreed with me all the time. Of COURSE I can be wrong; I am all the time. Others' perceptions are not only welcome but crucial. We can disagree respectfully and enhance the art form. And I hope nobody can impugn my enthusiasm for Spokane's theater season. There are, I happen to know (and in other cases, believe), exciting new developments and improvements in our scene. I'm psyched about what y'all do. I love hanging out with actors, and miss being able to do it.

At March 14, 2008 9:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


I thought I'd stop by because I'm auditioning for a local (for you) theatre tomorrow and felt nostalgic for my days in Spokane. Lo and Behold I find this interesting post and wanted to throw in my two cents from an Actor's point of view.

Reviews are tricky things in this business because, let's face it, one person's opinion can crush an entire show, from ticket sales, to giving people a negative preconception. In a smaller market I think it's more beneficial to the theatrical market AS A WHOLE to never blast apart a production a la Roger Ebert because people won't go and thheatres, as we are all painfully aware, are constantly on the edge of financial doom. Even successful theatres like The Intiman in Seattle never really cross the line from "in the red" to "in the black." Every season is a financial gamble, even on Broadway (unless you're Les Mis, Cats, Phantom, Mamma Mia (did you hear that? I just threw up a little) or anything Disney produces) So I believe it is part of the critic's job in smaller markets (for theatre, "smaller markets means anywhere but Chicago, London and New York) to bring in people to keep the theatres (and their jobs) alive. However, if something is bad, say so, but say it in a constructive way.

Many reviewers take it upon themselves to believe that they are the last word in art. That going to NYU film, or watching theatre, or being in a play once in college, or reading a book by Joeseph Campbell qualifies them to be the final word of what is "worthy" and what is not. I totally disgree with a previous comment that says that reviews are not for the people in, or who worked on, the show. Every actor takes a good review and puts it into their packet to send out to other theatres or film/tv producers to get better, longer, and higher paying jobs. Think of it as an impartial letter of recommendation. But if something is bad (lights, sets, acting, directing) it's nice to know specifically WHAT was weak rather than just hear that this one guy thought you were awful. Then we can work on it and take the advice, or think the reviewer doesn't know what they're talking about and move on. Reviews are for both the audience and the artists.

From the audience's perspective, and speaking only for myself, I don't want to hear about the overall experience because it's YOUR experience. Not mine. You're not writing a travelogue you're writing a review. So keep it to the important bits. If the set stood out as phenominal, say so. If it detracted from the story, say so. But if it left you with no impression, or you focussed more on the brilliant/awful acting or the phenominal/terrible direction, or lights, or sound, then by all means, leave the set out of it. Focus only on the things that are important to the story being told. I don't care how clean the facilities are (as one commentor said you should), I don't even care what the set looks like because if I'm going to see the show I'll see it myself. I want to know, in essence, three things: is it funny or is it sad, is there something that stands out that makes this a must see, and is it worth the ticket price. That's it. Everything else, when it comes to watching the show or not, is totally immaterial.

Bringing play choice into it is interesting but be careful of not drifitng into social commentary. I have personally been in a number of horrible productions chosen for auspicious social reasons where I and many others saw none of the connections and parallels the directors did between the world of the play and the real world. I was once in a production of MacBeth set in feudal Japan. Why? I can't remember. But I can remember the Director's two hour essay on why it was important to stage that production AT THAT MOMENT because blah blah blah. I, personally, would put up Tony Kushner's Angel's in America tomorrow if I could, even though the story is about AIDS in the 1980's because I do not believe that much has changed, we are still mired in poitical strife (read: horrific Republican Rule) much like the characters and the time setting, and AIDS is still a major issue in the world, if not in popular America. But I know many people who disagree with me and think the play has not aged well at all. So pontificating on play choice, I think, should only come into it if the director has made an out and out statement aout the choice. And also don't forget, the reason why people still put up Cats and West Side Story and nearly any popular Shakespeare play, is not becuase they are great stories of our time, but because they fill seats and keep the theatre running for another year.

So, I guess my point is this: the reviewers job is the same as the artists AND the audiences. You are the bridge between the two. You must serve the story, which means not giving away any twists or telling the entire story, just give the premise. Tease us like a movie trailer. Serve the story by sharing how the actor's did in telling it, the director did in bringing it to life, the lights and sound designers did in creating a world, the playwright did by putting it all together, etc. And then serve the community by telling people whether it's worth their time and money, but of course, the theatre is part of the community, too. So in smaller markets where theatre is thought of as "that thing I have to go to with my girlfriend so I can get laid" or "the rich man's cinema," it's also your job to help get people into the seats.

There's a reviewer here in Seattle, I won't mention names, that consistently thinks that the major four (Intiman, ACT, Seattle REP, and the Children's Theatre) can do no wrong while every theatre smaller than those can do no right. That is not serving the comunity at all. Fringe Theatre in Seattle has been in a coma for decades because this guy can't see past the ticket price. He's not reviewing, he's not serving either story or the community. He's merely pontificating and spouting his own opinions and thinking that he's adding to the discourse. He's not. He's killing, and has killed, venues that have, for my moeny, put up some of the best theatre I've ever seen.

I know that probably doesn't help at all, but that's my (and many other actor's, opinions on reviews).

I hope our paths will cross again soon, my friend.

Carter J Davis

At March 16, 2008 6:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo on this last entry. I'm standing in front of my computer clapping.I hope this makes an impression Bobo.Just as Actors , Directers and all creative contributers of Theatre should aspire to grow so to should reviewers.It's not to late .Use this source as a template for your future work.

At March 16, 2008 7:00 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Well, of COURSE I'm trying to improve and grow, you condescending jerk.
You don't like my reviews or me, fine.
But don't hide behind a weak-ass anonymous comment with the snide implication that I'm not trying to improve.
Recent actions and writings of mine, I think, demonstrate that I'm always striving toward a high standard.
And learn how to spell. And type.

Other than that, I thought your contribution was excellent.
And yes, Josh's long entry was full of great insights.

At March 16, 2008 9:34 PM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Dear Josh/Carter:
Thanks very much for your long and thoughtful response.
So naturally we want to know: Which "local" theater did you audition for, and for which parts? Bobo's not the only one around here who would love to see you back on our stages.
1. re: blasting shows in small markets: Agreed. Consensus among critics is that, roughly speaking, about 10% of shows in a given year merit raves; 10% are turkeys that deserve to be panned utterly; and 80% of shows -- this is the fun part, the challenge -- are somewhere in the middle, so that reviewers need to mix positives and negatives, literally sending a mixed message.
2. Down with arrogant critics: yes. I don't think I have or should have the last word. Far from it. I have the privilege of being one of the first who gets to express an opinion in print. I'm just starting a conversation. The majority of posts here disagreed strongly with my *Crimes of the Heart* review. I welcome that. I think they made some good points. I'm really glad that some folks around here are passionate enough to post to a theater blog.
And absolutely there's potential for a review to speak to a wide variety of audiences: those who have seen the show / will never see it / are in it / are indifferent to it, etc.
I agree on the need for specific, constructive criticisms.
But I've been meaning to say ... there's a fine line between "reviewing the show you'd decided you wanted to see before you ever got to the theater" and "criticizing specific aspects of a show and then going into detail about how and why other shows have done the same thing, or something comparable, differently and better."
From the reviewer's POV, it's kinda damned if you do or don't: If I say something like the acting was "flat" or the costumes were "unsuitable" or the second act "just didn't work" -- or even that the lead actress was "wonderful" or the lighting was "exquisite" and LEAVE IT AT THAT, with nothing more, then what the hell does that say, really? Not much.
So there's a real need to mention how ELSE that scene or dance or song might have been performed. But then the carpers whine about how, Oh, you just have this other, Platonic ideal production in mind; keep your focus instead on the show in front of you.
Well, when you watch Hamlet, do you ever COMPLETELY forget about Burton, Olivier, Gibson, Branagh AS you're watching the show? I don't think so.
Josh/Carter, I agree about only mentioning the set or the choreography if it's integral and I have some assertion to make about it. But I disagree about your "three things only" emphasis: funny/sad; what makes it a must-see; is it worth the ticket price? That last item in particular will vary WIDELY by personal preference and socioeconomic status. Funny/sad, I think, will be implicit, at least. And not all shows are must-sees.

I saw a recent item about David Mamet winning some kind of contest by successfully writing something perfect. He wrote the perfect theater review. I'll paraphrase:
"I never understood theater until last night. I apologize for anything negative I have ever said about you or any show in which you appeared. By the time you read this, I will be dead."
{Mamet comments sardonically, "That's the only kind of review that any actor really wants to receive." Ha!

The topic concerning reviewers as consumer advocate is a big ball of wax; in brief, I'm not comfortable with it. My job is to serve the art form -- not the ticket buyers, not the artistic directors, not the actors. Not primarily, at least. (I realize many of them think I'm working _against_ them, though I'm not.)

*Angels in America* DATED? What are those people smoking? It's simply the greatest American play of the 20 years.
Message received about play selection: Comment on it briefly, if at all, and then stop pontificating, dammit.
And I recognize that A.D.'s often do scripts as moneymakers.

I loved your paragraph about reviewers as bridges; very well put.

To be specific about Spokane's theater scene: It is simply not true that the resident professional theaters can do no wrong, or that community theaters are capable of nothing good. Just ain't so.

Thanks for your comments, J/C. Break a leg.

At March 16, 2008 10:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for your kind response. You too make some great points. It's funny but I never really realized how hard it must be to be a critic. And by the time you read this, I'll be dead.


Seriously though, you really are pulled in almost every direction, slammed for basically everything you say. So, in short, thank you for opening my eyes to something that we, as actors, take somewhat for granted, and thank you for having the guts to say what you think.

About the show I've auditioned for: unfortunately I don't feel comfortable saying for whom, what show, or what part I've gone out for. Since the theatre is still holding auditions I feel it would be unfair/unwise to comment on a public space about it all. I hope you understand. And thanks for the kind words about wanting to see me back in the area. I'm hoping it happens soon.

All my best,
Josh/Carter :)

At March 16, 2008 10:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. Local talent sleuth wonders...?? If I wanted to get a vote for best actress in town from The Inlander, would I concoct a story about a boy, whose girlfriend loves going to plays, an activity the boy hates. But, to keep the girlfriend pleased as she pleases him in different ways, he goes grudgingly with her. Then suddenly, in one obscure play, there is an actor that completely turns the Shock screaming, Chief's pounding, Indians rooting boy into a fan of theater!! Oh my God, I'm hanging up my bam bam sticks forever. From now on, I shall be a theater fan and go to see this actor from this obscure play wherever he may appear next. I will see him next season in another play, and then once again in another play! He is so fantastic, that I will continue to see him over and over and bury the Chiefs forever. I am a FAN. Such a fan, that now, I shall find out everything there is to know about the local Spokane theater scene. I'll know every theater, every actor and actress and I'll find the Bobo The Theater Ho Blog. I'll watch every Spokane performance and then, without prejudice, I will place my vote for this actor on Bobo's blog as the best actor as I have seen all three plays he has done over the past two seasons. I will tell Bobo, this is the man for best actor!! This boy from Seattle!!

Hmmmm, Local sleuth wonders...?? Is it an odd coincidence that not only has this anonymous, girlfriend hoisted, Shock fan turned theater actor stalker and cited all three of this one actor's plays in Spokane, but now the actor in which the Chiefs fan loves... this amazing man that turned the sports nut into an actor stalker, has posted a critic recommendation post for Bobo?? The very actor has posted to the blog for the first time in the exact same week??? Is this coincidence? Hmmmmm... could a computer leave a little DNA to find out. Perhaps, IP Address research could break the case.

Now, if I wanted to disgise myself from my own handiwork, would I post a post applauding my own post.Would I be so bold as to look at my recomendasions for the critic and subtly applaud the post to the critic? Would I lambast thsi critic by writing I'm stannding at my computor appauding the brilance of the actor mans post. If, I didnt wish to look biass I might mispell things and punctuate poorly.And all this has the theatre critic Bobo out-raged.
Another odd coincidence that this actor in his critic post, stated that actors use the press to further promote themselves. Don't suppose a "Best Actor" season vote bit of press couldn't help the promotion.

Hmmmmm, Local Theater Sleuth concludes: Interesting series of events that has Bobo losing his cool on the blog and name calling the anonymous man. Notice I began above with "best actress". Oops, I'm a boy.

At March 17, 2008 9:54 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

Bobo got angry at Condescending Jerk because he/she/it called his integrity into question. I make factual mistakes. I make errors of interpretation. I'm too vague. You can and should disagree with me. That's fine. But don't imply that I'm not trying or not being honest. I believe that directors and actors get up onstage and do their best** all the time; I haven't insinuated otherwise. Disagree with me, fine. But don't imply that I'm not trying. That's all.

** Well, maybe not their BEST, any more than I do my absolute BEST every time. I mean, that's the cliche, but I sort of think we all give it 90 percent, you know? There are constraints of time and space. ANY piece of writing -- theater reviews, *Hamlet* itself, the Bible -- could be revised and improved. Writing and rewriting is a gradual process of letting go: You can never be 100% satisfied with what you've said and how you've said it. I go over and over my stuff. Just as actors do.

At March 17, 2008 10:56 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

File Under: Loony Paranoid Ravings

At March 17, 2008 10:59 AM , Blogger Bobo the Theater Ho said...

... which of course just goes to PROVE that Bobo is One of Them.
It's all a conspiracy.
What Bobo is REALLY trying to do is take over Tom Sherry's weatherman job. It's true: Just listen to the radio broadcasts coming from the fillings in your teeth.
Because your dentist ...? Bobo knew him in college.
Coincidence? You be the judge.

At March 19, 2008 11:26 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that it is important to note that these whiney, delicate egos have all had good things said about them by critics that their work DIDN'T merit.

At March 19, 2008 5:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, wow.

1) I wrote in because, as I said in my post, I was auditioning for an Inland Theatre (if you must know CDA Summer Theatre had auditions in Seattle last Saturday, but I will remain mum on the show and part I am gunning for as an attempt to not sway thier choice, just like I said in my second post.) and I tend, when auditioning, to research everything, not just the plays, the parts, but the area in which I'll be acting. Theatre acting is primarily a nomadic venture so before I go somewhere new, or return to an area I'd once been I like to find out the gossip, the state of the scene, and new news about theatres opening, closing, financial troubles, etc. While reading some recent posts of his I found Michael's interesting question and decided that instead of bitching about critics from afar I would extend my opinion and see what he said in response. And, if you'll note, not once did I beg for an award or say that I wanted a good review. Michael has been very kind to me in his reviews, and for that I am infinitely grateful, but I would never beg for something as trivial as an award for acting. I am well aware that all I do is play pretend for a living. The ideas of awards to me are silly. Sure, I'd love a little statue, merely for the respect from peers that it represents, but I don't need one so bad that I'll practice subtefuge to get one. And by the way, what the hell are you talking about? Was there a seperate post where somebody voted or recommended me for an award? If so, I'm grateful to them for their support, but awards don't really mean anything to me nor casting directors. For example, I could go to a friend and have them write something on their personal blog about "Best Actor of the year goes to Carter J Davis" and without so much as blinking could claim that I won an award and slap it on my resume. Many less than talented actors do this and other dishonest things like making up reviews, writing down false credits, etc. to get ahead. Awards mean nothing unless they are Oscars, Golden Globes, or SAG awards, so trying to back-handedly jockey for an award from the Spokane Inlander is like going out of your way to make sure your kid gets a gold star in citizenship. No offense Michael. It's the review, the verifiable review from a newspaper, that counts.

Let's play a little game here, shall we? Even if I was guilty of writing the three posts of which you speak, what's it to you? Logic points to the idea that you yourself are a jilted local (Spokane) actor trying to get this critic to see the error of his ways and recognize true talent, i.e. you. Perhaps you are angry that spokane and CDA brings in so many out of town actors and you can't get a job (That same problem exists everywhere by the way. The joke is "How do you get cast in Seattle?" "Move to Chicago."). Maybe you are so unreasonably self-righteous and indignant because you feel so rejected by the scene, by the reviewers, or perhaps Micahel has written a bad review of your work in the past. That must be the case and I demand that Michael checks up on my claim just to publicly disgrace you!

See how easy it is to assume?

Now go back to whatever it is you do all day and focus your energy on something positive and productive.

And Michael, if you decide to give out awards again this year I openly, here and now, would like to take myself out of the official running, just to prove this guy a point. Go ahead. I don't need an award. I'm proud of the work I've done and that, in the end, is all that truly matters.

Hope all is well with you and yours (both Michael and Local Sleuth).



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