How to become a Theater Critique or Write a Review for a Theater Play/Musical

Today, I’ve decided to write a theater-themed post. I was so inspired from Katy! the Musical that I just saw last Jan. 20, 2012 on CCP and I resolved to make a How-To-___ article.

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How to become a Theater Critique or Write a Review for a Theater Play/Musical

A critique is an evaluation of a performance of a show. I know not everyone of you were obsessed like me, so I’m not expecting you to follow everything I said. Some of it was a bit biased on my personality.

Preparation

  • Days Before the Show

The first thing I do, before or after buying tickets, was to read reviews. For an example, before I watched Katy, since It wasn’t being shown yet, I read articles from the previous Katy (the one staged from the 1980s). I listened to the songs and I watch some clips on YouTube. If you’re planning to make a review for Katy (just an example), be sure the one you’re reading was the different Katy and not the Katy you’re about to watch because it may contain spoilers, can influence your point of view and can affect your review that might look like it was plagiarized.

If this was some sort of formal review, like something that will be published, it is better if you can schedule an interview with the staff: the Director, the crew, the PR, the stage manager, the cast, etc. so you can have an insight on what’s going on behind the curtains.

  • During the Show Day

On the show day, bring a small notebook and a pen. It will be better if your seat was located near the stage because the lights were usually off during the play and it will be hard for you to take down notes. It is a big NO if you’re planning on jotting down your notes using a digital device like cell phones, iPads, and the like because your seatmates might be distracted by the light your device was emitting. If you’re having problems when writing, try to remember everything then just write them down during intermissions and breaks. You need to make observations. The more information you got the better.

Pay attention. If you’re not used to play-going, sometimes shows can be boring. If you want to write a great paper, you’re going to need to pay attention regardless. Try not to zone out and watch the show as closely as possible

Buy the Playbill they’re selling (Bring extra money too. Playbills were a bit pricey). This will be a great help when you’re writing a review because you don’t have to list all the names of the actors and their roles. At the same time, (based on my experiences) this will serve as your souvenir and you can ask the actors to sign it. If you can’t or you don’t like, list the characters using their initials (or first letters of their names) so it will be easier to write while watching.

Eat and go to the restroom beforehand so you will be focused during the play. Imagine how many people will be pissed off when they are watching and you excused yourself to go to the restroom.

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Here are the guidelines on writing the review and how to critique it:

Write down the fundamental details first. What is the title of the show? Who were playing the parts (the principal cast)? Who is the Director, Stage Manager, Choreographer, Conductor, Writers etc.? Where and When did you see the play? State the basic theme of the show.

Next, write the plot or outline and highlights of the show but don’t put too much spoilers. If the showing days were over, write the summary. Write also how well the story work, was it interesting or entertaining, and do you like the actual script? Was the production seamless? Did the scenes flow effortlessly into one another?

Following the story, write about the acting. Focus on main actors only unless there is a significant note you want to make about secondary actors or the chorus. Be watchful when you’re naming the characters because the characters/the roles are different from the actors so it must be clear whom you’re talking about. Do you think the actors portrayed their character’s role? Did the actor focus only on his or herself, or did he/she make a strong and realistic connection with the others on stage? Is their acting moved you? Do you feel that the actors were good but struggling with the script? Did there seem to be pointless movements or did it all seem natural and unforced? Were they believable? How was their volume and articulation? Did their gestures and body movement stay true to the character? Observe the characters and the acting. Are they believable? Does one character stand out above the rest?

After that, write about the design.  Look at the more technical aspects (i.e. lighting, set, etc). See if these things fit with the interpretation you think the director is trying to present. If you disagree with the interpretation, write about it, but don’t let it affect your judgment of the skill of the actors. Did one area of the production overshadow all the others, ex. meaning the acting was great, the costumes were terrific, but the scenic design or lighting took away from the production as a whole?

  • On the set, did it establish a definite mood and correct time period for the play? What do you see when you first walk into the theatre?  Did it help to establish where the characters are? Was it believable & realistic or did it merely give the suggestion of the place the characters where? How it was staged (modern-day version, mediaeval style etc.)? Does it suit the theme and context of the play? Does it hold your attention? Does it take your focus away from the action? Are the actors comfortable on it? Is it a very technical play with lots of special effects/ quick scene changes /amazing props? What does the set say about the environment of the play?
  • On the lights, does it add anything to the performance (other than illumination of actors)? Was the lighting effective? Does the lighting help establish the time of day? Does the lighting help with the mood of what is going on within the scene? Did they convey appropriate mood, emphasis, and brightness?
  • On the costume and make-up, were they true to the period of the show and to the characters? Is it appropriate & well-made? What does it look under lights?  Do they help to further establish the characters?
  • On the musical score/sound design, is it appropriate for the play? Did it explore the themes? How did the sound effects and music contribute to the show’s mood? If this performance was a musical, what is your opinion of the orchestra’s performance? Is there pre-show music? Does the music set the tone of the play you are about to see?

Furthermore, write about the reaction of the audience, including yours. How did they respond? Is it a full-house? Approximately, how many people went to see the show? Does the play meet your expectations that you had in mind? What is the play’s effect on the audience, are they attentive & interested? What was your opinion of the show as a whole?

Finally, the casting. Are the actors any good in their parts or would they have been better in a different one?

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Some points to remember:

The most important thing to do when critiquing someone is that you have to explain everything. Remember to say why if you liked something, and give a specific reason if you didn’t like something. State specific things that you would like to see added or removed from the performance, and any tips you have about how to make it better. Back up all your opinions with valid reasons. It is better rather than being rude about them. It takes weeks of hard work by dozens of people to make this two hour presentation. Be objective, fair, and sincere. Evaluate the entire production. The review isn’t about what you thought about the play (the actual written play) but the presentation of the play, the show itself. The cast and crew read all reviews about their show. Don’t go to be overly critical. Be kind in your review and mention the people who helped you by name (they love to get recognition for their hard work). You have to have a keen eye to critique a show. You have to be aware of what you are looking for and what you are looking at. If you understand the basic words and knowledge of theatre you should do a great job.

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