Everyone's a Critic
Sarah Moore considers how Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media are changing how shows are evaluated and endorsed.
Newsies hasn't yet opened on Broadway but they already have over 15,000 followers!
With the ever expanding network of social media, it's much easier for everyone to get their opinions out onto the Internet. A tweet is becoming not only a personal opinion, but a theater review, or a marketing endorsement. If you take a look at any Broadway show's official twitter account, chances are, they're retweeting all the nice things that people say about their show. (And why wouldn't they? It's a free review!) Twitter is especially great for this in terms of celebrity endorsement -- if Neil Patrick Harris sees your play and tweets about it to his nearly 3 million followers, you can bet your website will see a spike in hits.
While we probably haven't entirely discovered all the uses of Twitter (it celebrated its 6th birthday last week, so it's still young), we know that it's a good way to monitor word of mouth in a digital format. Twitter is a great way to get the word out as well about lesser known shows that audiences are loving. Lysistrata Jones used Twitter a lot to spread the word about their little Broadway show (but ultimately it couldn't be saved by word of mouth). Twitter is not only used as an official outlet for Broadway shows but it is a chance for ordinary people to talk about theater.
Can you imagine the little shows that couldn't find an audience that this sort of publicity could have helped or even saved a few years ago? Next to Normal was one of the first, and launched a Twitter version of their show, tweeting as the characters through the plot. Shows often give away tickets or merchandise through trivia contests as promotions.
With Twitter and Facebook, you see that a friend saw a show and loved it, and you're more likely to check it out. You trust the opinion of your friend more than you trust that review you saw online by some guy you don't know.
Here is where the journalists complain. Ordinary people with no "qualifications" can post their opinions online, raving about or condemning a show, on their own blogs, and a simple Google search can pull up these reviews just like you can pull up a review from the New York Times. Are we lessening the power of the critic with social media?
Any 15-year-old with a Twitter account can write online how much they loved Wicked, but does their opinion somehow mean less than an actual review from a journalist? Just because someone with a "Broadway Blog" writes that a show is awful, does it matter? Are they important if they write with authority?
I'm not trying to answer this question, it's just a debate I'd like to raise.
Social media also gives the audience an outlet to talk about the show outside the theater. Often, these outlets can connect these people who work in the industry to their audience and can engage in a discussion.
I think that no matter what your feelings on this are (personally I like to read theater critics who are educated and experienced), we can agree that whatever gets people talking about Broadway and all theater is good, and it's great to have more outlets for people to do this.