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F**k The Marquee

May 28, 2008

As a theatre critic, I count myself lucky that I don't often find phrases lifted from my reviews and splattered across theatre marquees, press releases and ads for shows around town. This could of course be because my views are deemed unimportant by the producers. But I like to think that it's because my prose makes for lousy advertising copy.

In any case, I was gratified to learn from Variety yesterday that the U.K. has passed legislation banning theatre producers from using out-of-context quotes from theatre critics' reviews. According to the story, British theatres will no longer be able to use lines from reviews which, taken out of the context of the broader article, make potential audiences think a show is a triumph, when the review actually conveys a different opinion. Starting next Monday, misinforming the public in this way will become a criminal offense when the biggest overhaul of consumer protection law in the UK for decades takes effect. Producers could be fined up to £5,000 ($9,900) and/or face a maximum of two years in prison if prosecutors can prove that theatregoers were misled.

In the States, misquoting critics in ads is not as common a practice as it once was. But the tactic still appeals to some producers, especially to those looking for a way to fatten a turkey. Two notable examples culled from an old piece on the subject by ex-New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich are:

1. ''Marlowe,'' a musical which ran ads claiming that one of Rich's colleagues at the New York Times had deemed the work ''more fun than Laurel and Hardy.'' What the critic had actually written, according to Rich, was that ''Marlowe'' was a disaster akin to Laurel and Hardy sending a piano crashing down a flight of stairs.

2. The 1984 play ''Alone Together'' posted ads boasting that the critics had ''compared" the play to such ''smash hit comedies'' as ''Mary, Mary,'' ''Never Too Late'' and ''Any Wednesday.'' Technically, this was accurate, said Rich, but the ads failed to note that the comparisons were all unflattering to ''Alone Together.'' Apparently, the city's Department of Consumer Affairs fined the show's producers $800 for the misdeed. I'm not sure if actual laws exist in the US -- like the ones about to take effect in the UK -- banning the practice of misquoting. But it's good to hear that at least local governments have been paying attention on occasion.

So why do I bring up this bit of theatrical arcana, when the modern world seems to be saying 'who cares what professional critics think anyway now that we can get as many views about a show as we like from all over the Internet'? I bring it up because professional theatre criticism, at its best, is an artform and deserves more respect. And critics are fighting enough important battles on other fronts -- e.g. for the health of the theatre scene, to persuade readers to try new things etc. -- without having to deal with being made to look like cheerleaders, especially for productions they loathe.

1 Comments:

  • Funny,
    I'm going to see a show tonight in which the ad in the paper quoted the only nice thing said in the entire review. Other than that one sentence the reviewer didn't a have anything good to say about the show at all. It was bad review!

    Yet, that's what's quoted in big capitol letters.Hmmm....

    -C

    -C

    By Blogger Christian Cagigal, At June 20, 2008 at 4:28 PM  

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