The Commercial Appeal
has started running theatre reviews as online video, instead of printing them in the paper. As you might imagine, the local theatrical community is up in arms over this perceived slight, especially since theatres without the resources to send review clips of their shows to the paper generally ARE getting written reviews, so in the paper today there's a lengthy preview of the local production of Noises Off
at Kudzu, but not a review of the much-more-highly-budgeted Room Service
at Theatre Memphis. Similarly, The Underpants
got a nice written review, but not The Compleat Female Stage Beauty
, which features many tres
important local actors1
in what's widely regarded as a great show to see if you're also an actor.
Needless to say, I'm pretty sure the casts of Room Service
and Stage Beauty
would rather have something nice for posterity, but are instead stuck with a video clip that will probably have an advertisement for Old Spice or something added to the beginning of it eventually. Likewise, folks wanting to see the review of Stage Beauty
get treated to an additional review of Boris Vian's The Empire Builders
, which features a man confronting a zombie monster and talking about vegetables. While I'm going to see Stage Beauty
Saturday night, part of me really wants to see the show with the zombie monster and the satirical look at the nature of fear.
Honestly, however, I'm not sure what The Commercial Appeal
is really trying to accomplish with the shift to online video. Newspaper reviews have a certain cachet borne out of the fact that they're in print, and that folks waste the production resources and trees in order to make and distribute them in that fashion. I can't print and distribute a newspaper, but I could easily record a video of myself saying that this play or that play is great or sucks2
, and stick it on the web for public consumption. Even if I didn't have the resources to put up a video, why would the Commercial Appeal want to horn in on territory already covered by the local news? Also, why would they want to abandon their bread-and-butter to compete in online territory where their primary competition is a ninja, Ze Frank, and Lore?
I don't have answers, of course. It may be that the local newspaper as a media form has been dead for a while now, and these developments are just the corpse starting to smell bad. Does anyone not related to the cast of a show, or a wannabe actor even read theatre reviews? I usually didn't, when I wasn't involved in "the scene." I moved here in 1995, and started doing shows in Memphis proper in 2006, and would have to think to name ten shows that had been produced in those ten years. Maybe theatre reviews are all autofellationary crap with an audience limited to actors in the play itself, and persons within one (or perhaps two on rare circumstances) degrees of separation from those actors.1Adjectives and adverbs in French when the remainder of the sentence is not in French denote sarcasm.2Assuming, of course, that I never wanted to work in Memphis theatre again. Folks around here are remarkably thin-skinned, even for theatre folk.