February 25, 2011

UNPAID REVIEWERS OF “PROFESSIONAL” THEATRE – why should they be paid nothing?

David Murray     posted 31 Jan 2011, 11:17 PM / edited 1 Feb 2011, 03:34 PM

Hi John,

I’ve just seen your advert calling for more reviewers/critics to work for you for free on your website.

Can you elaborate on why you do not offer fair remuneration to your reviewers when you think “professional” performers, and backstage and technical support persons should be paid by production companies for the work they do?

Aren’t reviewers a part of the machinery used by “professionals” to promote themselves in the professional theatre job market?

If professional productions get sponsorship so that their performers, backstage and publicity machines can be paid wages then why not do the same for your reviewers?

Am interested in hearing your reasoning for this apparent dichotomy.


David Murray

Site Administrator

Review Community Theatre


John Smythe      posted 1 Feb 2011, 03:48 PM / edited 1 Feb 2011, 04:13 PM

Hi David

I couldn’t agree more – arts reviewing should be seen as a profession and paid accordingly.  When I set up Theatreview in 2006 (having lost my well-paid gig with the NBR) I believed we would be able to attract sponsorship. Hundreds of approaches later, this has proved fruitless so I trucked on, on a voluntary basis, picking up other work where possible to subsidise the venture.

Mid 2009, when CNZ brought in Sector Investment funding, offered the first opportunity to apply to them for website funding and I was able to get a modest amount towards my managing and editing the site (Oct 09-Sept 10) – some of which I re-invested in setting up the Performing Arts Directory (PAD) as a means of attracting further income. Uptake on that has been far less than anticipated, especially from Auckland, but at least the set-up costs have been recouped.

Last year my application for further funding from CNZ was unsuccessful and I have been carrying on without pay since October last year, meeting most of the not insignificant overheads out of my own increasingly shallow pocket.

In 2010 Theatreview reviewed 530 performing arts productions – many (touring shows) more than once, plus links to other print / online reviews. By mid March (voluntary critics-permitting) we hope to have covered 130-odd shows – most coming up in the Auckland Fringe, Auckland Arts Festival and Wellington Fringe. Raewyn Whyte has lessened the load somewhat by managing the dance component, for which I am hugely grateful, nevertheless it remains a fulltime commitment.

This year we have set up The Theatreview Trust (adding intially to the unpaid work load – and again, huge gratutude to the Trustees) as a mechanism for seeking funding elsewhere – which takes quite a long time. The priority is to cover the budget for managing and editing, then we will seek funds to pay for the reviews. The rationale for this is that Theatreview can only function professionally if a managing editor can be retained to commission, schedule, edit and publish reviews in a consistent and timely way. Meanwhile critics are free to choose whether or not they wish to review a given show.

The current situation is not at all ideal – but our chances of attracting funding would not be enhanced if Theatreview closed down until such time as funds were forthcoming. It’s a Catch 22 situation that relies on the goodwill of many people – the managers, editors, critics and trustees – who should not be taken for granted. This can only be seen as a stop-gap measure.

Part of the problem is that people expect the contents of websites to be free. It is in the interests of all performing artists for Theatreview to be an open site. Also, because performing arts practitioners are the biggest subsidisers of their own work, and because a review site should not feel financially beholden to those they critique, I/we have avoided charging for the service.

The Performing Arts Directory (PAD), however, does offer a mechanism that puts professional members one click away from those who may wish to hire them. And it is a means by which the profession can help to ensure Theatreview keeps going. If 2,000+ performing arts practitioners and organisations joined the PAD we’d be well on the way to covering the basic running costs and being able to focus on raising funds to pay the critics (note: $530 @ $230 per review [being 200+gst] = $121,900. The current paid-up professional membership comprises 84 individuals, 22 organisations and 1 co-op – without whom Theatreview probably would have closed down.

I hope that answers your question satisfactorily, David.

And very best wishes for your excellent community theatre review site.   

Margaret Belich                posted 1 Feb 2011, 04:07 PM

Hi David,

In my experience, there’s less” machinery” involved in the performing artsbizo in this country than people, people, and people. Some get paid, some get paid less than a little, some give their time freely and willingly. All undoubtedly love the stuff of theatre.

As a Theatreview Trustee,  I don’t see that working together for and through this site (or any other), whether paid or unpaid, for a commonly shared goal – better performances, better knowledge of performing arts, informed and involved audiences – in any way stops any of us from holding on to professional values. Sometimes that involves pushing for equitable financial reward, sometimes its about looking at the bigger strategy and fighting for the other values of professionalism. There’s no “dichotomy” when you open your eyes to this complex, mingle of people striving to make good theatre 

Good to have my attention bought to your site, supporting more theatre around the country.

Paul McLaughlin               posted 2 Feb 2011, 08:06 AM

 Good call Margaret.

nik smythe          posted 6 Feb 2011, 12:56 PM

Reading David’s post the idea springs to mind that reviewer fees could be incorporated into professional theatre budgets… though no doubt that would be seen as conflict of interest.

David Murray     posted 12 Feb 2011, 06:16 PM

Hi Nik,

Unless reviewers purchase their own tickets the cost of the review is already built into the budget of professional performances.

If you’re worried about a confliect of interest then there is always the possibility of setting up an organisation such as APRA where that organisation takes, say, a percentage of the box-office for each and every performance and that money is used to pay for the expenses incurred by registered reviewers who contribute reviews to sites such as Theatreview and Review Community Theatre.

Michael Wray    posted 14 Feb 2011, 07:36 PM

if you count the cost of the review as just the price of the ticket, then yes you are correct. However, I thought the topic was whether reviewers could be paid for producing their review?

David Murray     posted 20 Feb 2011, 10:30 PM

I thought that it was obvious that tickets for the seats weren’t the full cost of doing a review.

I was simply stating that the cost of those seats are already in the budgets of those productions.

The full retail price of those tickets would almost certainly be accounted as a tax deductable expense as a part of the publicity cost of that show.

Michael Wray    posted 22 Feb 2011, 09:07 AM

Indeed, but Nik posted the thought that reviewer *fees* could be built into the cost of performance – not merely the ticket cost. Personally, I don’t see that idea fitting well with Theatreview. As well as the potential conflict of interests, It would change the relationship between reviewer and reviewed in a way that differs from the print media reviews.

nik smythe          posted 25 Feb 2011, 07:48 PM

Yep, that’s basically the conversation I had with myself, yet went ahead and mooted anyway to see if anything more practicable might arise …

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