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The theatergoer who reviewed a ‘preview’BY: Dan Rottenberg 03.14.2011
Marshall Ledger was a great editor for many years. But this month he pushed the envelope too far— forcing Philadelphia’s no-nonsense theater community to take prompt and decisive action.
Crime and punishmentDAN ROTTENBERG
Tragedy can strike when you least expect it— not just in Japan, but right here in Philadelphia. Take the case of my friend and fellow editor Marshall Ledger.
Afterward, Marshall and his wife engaged in a spirited discussion about the play. They were still talking about it over breakfast the next morning. Thus inspired, Marshall recorded his thoughts about the play and submitted them to Broad Street Review, and I posted his impressions here.
One slight problem
Ideally, this is precisely how Broad Street Review is supposed to function: as an outlet for anyone who’s bursting to say something— professional critics and amateurs alike. Unfortunately, neither Marshall nor I was aware that the performance he attended was a “preview”— that is, staged in advance of the play’s official opening night. As the Arden’s publicity manager reminded me, “It is customary for press to view the play only on or after opening night.”
Marshall insisted— even under enhanced interrogation techniques approved by the late Bush administration— that he thought he was attending a regular performance.
“You’ve got to believe me!” he shrieked pathetically. “The FunSavers offer didn’t mention that the performance was a preview! My ticket stubs don’t point it out! The program cover says ‘March 3-April 3,’ as does the title page— again, no indication that some of those dates are ‘previews’! I beg you— not the waterboarding!”
But Marshall’s luck had run out. We Philadelphians are a tolerant people. When priests diddle altar boys, we forgive and forget. But when it comes to reviewing “previews,” we draw the line. Consequently, this past Saturday Marshall was executed in City Hall courtyard by a firing squad assembled by the Philadelphia Theatre Alliance.
Seriously, this issue seems to surface periodically in BSR. I don’t know which bothers me more— people who write about previews, or theaters that tell people not to write about previews. So please— a word to the wise in both camps:
To critics and would-be critics: Unless there’s some really compelling reason, please don’t waste my time by reviewing preview performances, rehearsals, script readings, screenplays, rough drafts of novels, or unfinished buildings, symphonies or paintings, unless you’re absolutely certain that they’ll never be finished, like Schubert’s Eighth Symphony in B minor or Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Washington.
To theater producers, directors and publicists: You have every right to impose conditions for the free tickets you distribute to critics or anyone else. But you have no right to impose conditions on your paying customers. If you don’t want preview audiences to discuss what they’ve seen, you must clearly distinguish between previews and regular performances by posting prominent notices in your publicity material, your website and your lobby. My suggested text would go something like this:
“Warning: Tonight’s performance is only a preview, not the finished product. That means we’re still ironing the kinks out of this show. So please take it with a grain of salt and don’t discuss it with anyone, other than your pets, your infant children and your elderly relatives who’ve lost their short-term memory. Why anyone would pay to see a preview beats us. Come to think of it, since one of the main purposes of previews is to measure audience response, we ought to be paying you.”
Now, can we please move on to some more pressing issue, like how come the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s “Springtime in Paris” show was more springtime than Paris?♦
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