Montreal’s non-digital media (print, radio, TV) has shown a criminal lack of regard for most of what goes on in MELT
by joel fishbane
A standing ovation must be given to those theatre critics who, in a stunning move of collective wisdom, finally reviewed the troubled musical Spider Man: Turn off the Dark. The official opening has been prorogued more times then Stephen Harper’s parliament, with the current opening slated for March 15. With a $65 million dollar price tag along the way, it has become the most expensive musical ever made – especially because in all likelihood, it will never make it’s money back.
With preview tickets running $275, the American theatre critics decided that enough was enough. After all, a theatre critic’s job is not to critique the artistic merits of a show: that is a question for academics. The only responsibility for the critic is to inform an audience whether a show is worth both their time and the price of admission. And so, at the beginning of February, a host of important publications reviewed the show. They were all largely negative and, if you believe the N.Y Times’ Ben Brantley, audiences are going solely to see what great disaster will happen next.
Cohl remarked: “It’s hard to have people that don’t get pop culture reviewing a pop culture event, isn’t it?”
None of this pleased Michael Cohl, Spider-Man’s embattled producer. In a press release issued after the negative reviews emerged, he remarked: “It’s hard to have people that don’t get pop culture reviewing a pop culture event, isn’t it?” Mr. Cohl went on to say that he wasn’t sure if he was going to invite the critics to the official opening. I’m paraphrasing here, but his remark was something along the lines of “They clearly have decided they don’t need an initiation.”
The issue of critics coming to previews rarely comes up in Montreal, even though they are becoming a popular way to create word of mouth. Centaur usually runs one or two before opening while the Segal Centre has been known to offer them for almost a week. Over at the indie theatres, the PWYC preview is becoming standard fare. Almost always, these are previews are “friendly”: unless it’s a media call, the media never bring their own invitation. This is a mistake: by coming to previews, the critics might actually be helping our community.
As happened last month with Möcshplat, Humans and Stones in His Pockets, shows often open in the same week, thus forcing editors to decide which show is “more important”.
Previews are essentially invited dress rehearsals and, publicity aside, they can be a great benefit to the actors, who deserve to rehearse performing for an audience. And yes, since the show may change after the preview, it is unfair to judge an unfinished product. Both these arguments are correct - but not for MELT. We have other concerns. Like the producers of Spider-Man, we are in a unique situation and the usual rules do not apply.
Montreal’s non-digital media (print, radio, TV) has shown a criminal lack of regard for most of what goes on in MELT, leading to our popular pastime of wrestling for the little space that we get. As happened last month with Möcshplat, Humans and Stones in His Pockets, shows often open in the same week, thus forcing editors to decide which show is “more important”.
Simply put, if the critics chose to come to previews, it would maximize our potential for coverage. MELT cannot afford the luxury of the "friendly preview". There’s simply not enough media space and our runs are too short - even Centaur and Segal have protracted runs when compared to other regionals.
By not inviting critics to previews, we are implying both that we have no interest in their opinion (which to a large degree we don’t) and that we believe this opinion will be less then complimentary (which to a large degree we do). All of this is pessimistic. How would Michael Cohl have responded if Turn off the Dark had been praised? Would he still have been angry that Ben Brantley had brought his own invitation?