A reponse to Matt Trueman and the future of previews

There has been something of a virtual explosion over the last 24 hours to a post by Matt Trueman on the Guardian blog regarding the subject of previews and bloggers.

As perhaps was the intention it has provoked fierce response with strong views being aired on both sides of the debate. I have thought long and hard about responding. On one hand I think the best approach is to ignore the piece and not fuel this increasingly futile blogger v critic debate. As time has gone on though I do think the central argument is so fatally flawed that it does merit a response.

In the spirit of openness though I do want to set out my background first. I trained as a Stage Manager, have worked backstage, in theatre administration, in press and marketing and yes as a freelance theatre critic. So yes I’ve experienced the free drinks, free tickets, programmes and the odd free canapé. On the other hand I do also blog. Mainly in the regions where previews are less prevalent but also in London.

I’m going to keep this response brief as many have succinctly responded what a load of tosh many of the points in the blog are but there are a couple of points I’d like to make.

I’m also perhaps going to take a slightly different tact and ask why we produce theatre in the first place? There seems to be a lot of talk about the rights of performers, directors, writer’s et al but we seem to have forgotten the consumer. As Alastair Smith pointed out in his article that triggered Matt’s response, the position of previews themselves need examining

Yes previews are valuable as a way of refining the production, however they should be seen as tweaks however not an excuse for under rehearsal. Yes pieces of dialogue may need changing, timings altered to allow for audience reaction and yes pace does take time to settle in but if you are talking major surgery you should be asking yourself if the show is ready for the public?

What message are you sending your customers if the product you are charging them for the privilege to see is far from finished? How likely are they to return to see another one of your productions if the product they see isn’t ready?

Now there is a wafer thin argument that this is acceptable if you charge reduced prices but how much should this reduction be? As the trend now seems to be to charge full price from the very first performance in what way can it actually be classed as a preview?

Some regional theatres have tried to bridge this gap between rehearsal room and public by opening up their final dress rehearsal to the public at a nominal fee. For instance today theatre goers in Leicester can queue at the Curve box office from 12pm for tickets to the Dress rehearsal of Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. The theatre and producers make a call on the day if the show is ready for public viewing and if the public will be allowed in. They recognise if the show is ready the feedback from audiences is vital and such feedback is often used on social media channels to promote the show.

If however we follow Matt Trueman’s argument what happens in Leicester? That show has the double whammy of being in preview and prior to London following Matt’s argument should all comment be embargoed until the National Critics take their seats in the Gielgud in 6 weeks time?

Some theatres and producers have realised that media is changing and that like it or not that social media has changed the face of theatre opinion and comment. Its a more consumer savvy world and in these times of financial pressure there is increased competition for the public pound. Should we not be celebrating the fact that through the expansion of Social Media that coverage of theatre has never been more accessible?

Nobody is saying that a blog is the same as a newspaper review and there is room for both.

Sadly while he may have been trying to generate a discussion on the topic, Matt’s patronising and ultimately unconvincing argument has done little but cause anger and frustration. In the Social Media week should we not be looking at how we can use the medium rather than stifle it? Time to stop the endless round of ‘ban the blogs’ posts and learn to work together rather than the constant sniping.

For some other responses well worth reading try:


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