Smile Politely

SP How-to series: How to write a theatre review in 12 easy steps

There is a lot of theatre in this town, and we know how hard it is to find qualified people to review it all. Maybe you’ve studied “Theatre” at a “College,” and maybe you haven’t. Perhaps you’ve directed plays before or acted on stage. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter! If time and experience have taught us anything, it’s that nobody cares about your academic training or practical theatre experience when it comes to the art of telling people how good a local community theatre performance was.

With that in mind, we have broken it down into 12 easy steps.

How to write a theatre review: Champaign-Urbana version:

1.     Open with a line about life that somehow ties into the subject of the play. If the play is about something complicated, you might try, “Life is full of complications….”

2.     Smoothly transition into the name of the play and the location of the theatre. For example: “This is the central problem in [insert playwright]’s [insert name of play], now playing at [name of town]’s [name of theater].

3.     Summarize, summarize, summarize. This will be the bulk of your review. About 90 percent, give or take. Using the five-paragraph essay format, summary should take up about 4 ½ paragraphs. Think “seventh-grade book report” and you’re home free.

4.     As you summarize, make sure to put the actors’ names in parentheses after their characters’ names. This makes you look like you write for The New York Times or Entertainment Weekly.

5.     Generalize, generalize, generalize. Do not waste time talking about what each actor specifically did well or why his or her performance was effective. Stick with “performed by a solid cast.” Use the word “solid” a lot. Whenever you can. It sounds positive but commits you to nothing. You’re not looking to hurt anybody’s feelings, are you?

6.     Give the director a token mention. Just throw it away. Like “Under the direction of [director’s name].” It makes the director feel good to be named in the article, and nobody knows what they really do anyway. If the actors talk really fast, you might refer to the direction as “tight” or “crisp.” Again: no one knows what the director actually does.

7.     Use adjectives that sound descriptive but actually tell the reader nothing. If the play is modern and features a lot of curse words, call it “edgy.” If the characters yell a lot, call it “passionate.” If the play is about a family or a social issue, it is “powerful” or perhaps “timely.”

8.     Do not, under any circumstances, explain why the play was good. You have the adjectives, so that should suffice. If one actor does most of the talking, call his or her performance “strong.” If the characters look at each other while speaking, say that they have “chemistry.”

9.     Do not, under any circumstances, imply that the play was not good. These actors have spent the last month learning lines and where to walk. That should suffice, you goddamn ingrate.

10. If, for reasons passing understanding, you decide that the play is anything less than award-worthy, make sure to blame any insufficiencies on the script. I don’t care if it’s Shakespeare; it’s the playwright’s fault. After all, the actors learned all the words and said them in mostly the right order. And the director told them to stand over there and then cross to the fireplace, and BY GOD they did it.

11. Make sure people know that the opening night audience of fellow actors and family members really had a good time.

12. Remind the reader of the dates and times, and tell them how to get tickets.

That’s all it takes, really. Now get out there and review theatre!

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