Promote-O-Meter

By Nick Fracaro at 11:47 am on Saturday, September 26, 2009

In the comment section at Playgoer’s last year, when the Critic-O-Meter blog was first launched, I argued against the denigration of theatre criticism into a report card grading system. Most artists I know struggle against the standardized behavior and herding aspect implicit in the notion of “theatre consumer,” so this wannabe Rotten Tomatoes of the theatre world fell off my radar until recently when Isaac Butler’s heavy promotion of his current show caught my attention.

The goofily named Critic-O-Meter wants to be a joke in name only. As I understand it, the creators Rob and Isaac envision their site one day growing into a commercially supported enterprise for theatre consumers. So why would Isaac place his own production of MilkMilkLemonade at the very top of the “A List” of Off-Broadway shows for most of its run? Any credibility the site might have garnered over its first year of grading shows is now suspect by what can only be seen as a blatant act of self-promotion, if not deceptive advertising.

I’m sure Rob or Isaac could explain how their invented report card rating system of theatre reviews has bestowed the highest grade on one of their own shows, but I am still curious how they would explain promoting their Equity Showcase to theatre consumers as an Off-Broadway production.

UPDATE:Rob has changed the category listing with MilkMilkLemonade at Critic-O- Meter from OFF-BROADWAY to OFF- & OFF-OFF-BROADWAY. That’s a fine fix I think.   I also think that my reputation as the Ralph Nader of theatre consumer advocacy is now firmly established.

Filed under: Audience,Theatre and Culture10 Comments »

10 Comments

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Comment by Travis Bedard

September 26, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

Have you READ any of the linked reviews of MilkMilkLemonade?

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Comment by nick

September 26, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

No, I only read their grades. A, A+, B+, C+ and so on.

Why?

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Comment by Travis Bedard

September 26, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

I misread your primary concern… if it was the categorization of the show as Off rather than Off-Off than I got nothin’ but in terms of the response it has been almost embarrassingly positive.

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Comment by nick

September 28, 2009 @ 10:18 am

There are more than 1,000 Showcase Code productions in NYC each year. I was amazed when I first heard that statistic from Equity at a TRU meeting last year. So without knowing how Critic-O-Meter chooses which shows it lists, I was struck that Isaac’s Showcase was at the top of a category titled Off-Broadway productions, and also appeared to be the only Showcase there.

As for what you are looking at. I’ve beaten that same nail on the head too many times already. Simply put, reducing theatre reviews into letter grades or star ratings is an ugly enterprise. The pseudo-algorithmic doodling that gives Isaac’s show the A- (instead of say an A or B+) is what it is.

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Comment by Thomas Garvey

September 30, 2009 @ 10:53 pm

Thanks for making me not the only blogger to kick up a little dust over Butler’s relentless self-promotion, and the corners he cuts to effect it. You missed, by the way, that one of his reviewers had won praise from Butler himself in a nice piece of blog-rolling. And isn’t there a “close family friend” of Butler’s at TimeOut, another of his reviewers? It’s all very cosy over in that part of cyberspace! Admittedly, “MilkMilkLemonade” or whatever it was called, was probably a cute show, and this stuff is fairly harmless as long as Isaac Butler remains relatively unsuccessful. But let’s just say that there’s probably a way to be a functioning director and a blogger, but Butler’s M.O. is not that way.

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Comment by MCC

October 6, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

Thomas Garvey, I’m not sure who you are or what your thing is with Mr. Butler, but what I can say is I was in “MilkMilkLemonade” (or whatever it was called)and I find it insulting that you call the show “cute” and discount any worth it may have. Just because Mr. Butler (who I happen to think is a fantastic director) is well connected in the blog world does not mean that the reviews and notices the show received where not deserved. A lot of hard work was put into that production. It was something we were all proud of. It’s one of the most talented casts I’ve worked with and I find Joshua Conkel to truly be one of the finest writers of my generation. Theatre is 90% self promotion, and I for one am glad that Mr. Butler pushed the show so hard. Thankfully our houses were full, people were happy, and we had a product we could be proud of.
I understand your points, but your condescending posts make me question your motives. Are you too “relatively unsuccessful” and bitter about it?

The show is called MilkMilkLemonade. For the record. And it was a bit more than cute.

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Comment by Thomas Garvey

October 6, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

The above comment follows a certain template so closely it could probably serve as a kind of “form” comment, with blanks for the specifics, as in:

Dear [blank],

I’m not sure who you are or what your thing is with [blank], but what I can say is I was [in/wrote/produced/hung lights for] [blank] and I find it insulting that you called [blank] [blank], rather than rhapsodizing about it as the transcendent experience it was for me. Just because [blank] (who I happen to think is [fantastically talented/from my college/hot/generous with his stash]) is [well-connected/loose with his trust fund] does not mean that the reviews and notices the show received [from his friends/from his relatives/from friends of his relatives] where not deserved. A lot of hard work was put into that production [unlike other productions/unlike the rest of my projects]. It was something we are all [proud to have been a part of/riding hard in hopes of getting a real job out of]. It’s one of the most [talented/hottest/best hung] casts I’ve worked with and I find [blank] to truly be one of the finest [blanks] of [my generation/or any other]. Theatre is 90% [who you know/who you've done/who you know who's done someone who wants to do you], and I for one am glad that [blank] pushed the show so [unethically/dishonestly/clearly to my personal benefit]. Thankfully our houses were [sold out/overflowing], people were [screaming for more/stomping the floor/tearing their hair/weeping with joy], and we had a show we could [be proud of/finally list on our resumes].

I [understand your points/realize that everything you said is true and I should shut up] but your [coherent arguments/large vocabulary] make me question your motives. Are you [bitter/bitter/or bitter]?

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Comment by MCC

October 6, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

Ok. You win.

I have no desire to banter with you anymore. Your anger is so much bigger than this debate and there is no way I can even try to compete with that.

Be well, Thomas Garvey. Whoever you are.

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Comment by nick

October 7, 2009 @ 11:00 am

MCC said:
“Theatre is 90% self promotion, and I for one am glad that Mr. Butler pushed the show so hard. Thankfully our houses were full, people were happy, and we had a product we could be proud of.”

If theatre is merely “product” to you, nothing wrong with the above statement. But many have chosen to pursue theatre as their art form in life for reasons that have little or nothing to do with self-promotion.

However, this product MilkMilkLemonade was being advertised as Off-Broadway when it wasn’t. Technically, that’s called false advertising, not self-promotion. But it was only a cute little lie, which had an easy, cute little fix: changing the category heading at Critic-O-Matic to include Off-Off.

To be fair to Rob, from emails from him, on his part it was ignorance and/or laziness, not deliberate lie, where he neglected to distinguish the show as not being Off-Broadway.

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Comment by Thomas Garvey

October 7, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

Believe it or not, I’m really not angry. Nor am I bitter. I just found your post amusing, MCC, because it’s such a stereotypical response from people who are, indeed, angry.

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