Opinion: Reviews in the regions – The Executive Producer

Are we mollycoddling theatres?

You can read IAM’s introduction to the discussion here.

Q&A with David Slack, executive producer of 24:7 Theatre FestivalManchester’s new writing festival celebrates its 10th edition this year.

How important are reviews to a regional festival like 24:7 Or are word of mouth and social media just as effective?

Everyone involved in a production looks for recognition and credibility. The endorsement of a good review from a recognised critic can help cement a reputation as well as bring in an audience. However, as so few critics from the national press venture to our region on a regular basis, we have to rely on other means of support. Word of mouth is our greatest ally. About 150 people are involved in each festival, most of them based locally. Their family, friends, neighbours, colleagues add to the regular attendees as the first wave of audience. Most who come will also see at least one other show This kind of publicity is now being backed up by social media. Facebook and Twitter can definitely influence a person’s decision. A good preview is also a good attractor. We encourage all of our participating companies to compile a trailer that can be put online to pique interest. You have relationships with regional critics that have lasted for years: how brutally honest is that relationship with a regional reviewer after such a long time? Honesty is important, of course. But hopefully, knowing the origins of our productions and the objectives of our festival, regional reviewers have a reference point. Our shows are presented in front of an audience for the first time. We do not ask for leniency, but understanding.

Do poor reviews affect ticket sales – and do they help you see where you are going wrong? 

Over the course of a festival, the occasional bad review doesn’t impact greatly on overall ticket sales. If the writer and production company find the criticism reasonable, there’s nothing more to be said. It depends on who the reviewer is and out of which stable. There are a number of online review sites, with a range of critics with varied experience. Some like to give an account of what they’ve seen, followed by a one-line opinion. It makes for an efficient spoiler, but is not very helpful to the production.

As a theatre professional, what do you think about critics?

We would always hope that reviewers would like to visit the festival and not find that they can easily pass it by. That they come might stir other visitors to do likewise. I’d like to be convinced that reviews might represent a true picture.

24:7 Theatre Festival Takes place from the 19-26 July 2013.

See what the critic Kevin Bourke has to say here.