The Bitter Lemons Imperative (BLI): An Alternative to the Crisis in Theater Coverage
Enough with the initiatives and the proposals and the supplemental whatevers, this is an emergency, a crisis, an imperative, hence:
The Bitter Lemons Imperative (BLI).
What is it?
Simply put, if a producer or a theater company wants their show reviewed, they can get it reviewed, guaranteed, but it will cost them $150 per review and that review will be originally published at Bitter Lemons.
Now before your heads explode, let me continue to lay it out as simply as I can and then attempt to address some of the questions and concerns that are now bouncing around in your skulls like a mad frenzy of prematurely lit bottle rockets inside a telephone booth.
Why do we need it?
Well unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you know that we are smack dab in the middle of a crisis in theater coverage. It’s not just a local problem, it’s a world-wide problem. The reasons for this dwindling coverage are varied: the transition of traditional media from print to online, the rise of the social media networks, the prevalence of the Yelp-like review, these and other elements have not only caused coverage to dwindle, they’ve served to erode the quality and standard of theater criticism and forced the professional and serious critic to scramble to find a way to maintain their vocation while making a living.
So over the last year and half, we here at Bitter Lemons have been working on a new business model, one that raises the standard of theater criticism, offers more opportunity for quality coverage to the artistic community and creates a market for those truly outstanding critics who should be making some money for their contribution to Los Angeles Theater. We call it:
The Bitter Lemons Imperative (BLI).
Because after a long and arduous fact-finding-feedback-tour over the last year and a half, meeting with critics, artistic directors, actors, writers, directors, designers, producers, disinterested passerby, and just plain old audience members, we found $150 to be a reasonable and sustainable number in the current economic and artistic climate.
Where does the money go?
$125 of that $150 will go directly to the critic, $25 will go to Bitter Lemons for maintaining editorial oversight and for the administration and implementation of the BLI. This is a one time ground floor introductory rate. Costs may rise slightly down the road when we get a full time editor and the demand increases, but those costs will always be minimal and always remain sustainable and reasonable. We will also be offering some introductory package rates for multiple reviews, season subscriptions and lower budget productions.
Where does the money come from?
From anybody who wants a theater review for their show, be it a producer, artistic director, writer, director, actor, anybody associated with the show.
Who has that kind of money?
Most producing companies already have it in their budgets, if they have any budget at all. We understand that some work on micro budgets and would consider working with those groups on a sliding scale, but for the rest that have some semblance of a budget, the money is already there under Marketing, Advertising or Publicity. And we also understand that though this will initially appeal to the more intimate companies, we are opening this up to all producing companies, intimate, mid-size, LORT, all of them. This is a one size fits all model.
Companies already pay thousands of dollars for mailings, postcards, advertising, many companies even pay anywhere from $500 to $2k for a publicist. Why do they do this? Mostly because of that publicist’s relationship to the reviewers. Yes, the publicist does more than that and the role of the publicist is also one that is also currently evolving in this new climate, but really, it’s all about the reviews. We are simply saying, if you are out to get quality criticism, rather than roll the dice and hope that a reviewer takes notice, or settle for the drivel that passes for reviews on most sites, we will guarantee that you get that quality review. You don’t get guaranteed a favorable review. That would be absurd, these are professional theater critics not publicists. These writers have proven their worth over time and they have been chosen for their honesty, their integrity, their experience, their passion and their ability to communicate their opinion in an intelligent and entertaining fashion. They are being asked to judge your show. Because you trust them to be fair and honest in their judgement. That’s the pact between company and critic. We take that seriously. And so should you.
If you want 1 top quality theater review, pay us $150 and you will get it. Guaranteed. If you want 5 top quality theater reviews, pay us $750 and you will have them. Guaranteed.
So what do you get for your $150?
- A guaranteed top quality written theater review with a floor of 300 words and a ceiling unlimited.
- Written by a trusted, highly experienced, highly credited, well established theater critic (see list below).
- Published within three days of attendance.
- Originally published at Bitter Lemons, to be used in perpetuity by the paying company as they see fit, and after a week of exclusivity on Bitter Lemons, to be used by the critic as they see fit.
- You do not get a guaranteed favorable review and you do not get to choose who reviews your show. You will, however, always see the talent pool from which we are pulling our critics.
And who is this “talent pool”?
We’re calling them:
The Bitter Lemons Review Brigade (BLRB).
Listed below are the 11 fearless members of the inaugural BLRB (“Blurb”) along with some of the illustrious outlets for which they have written. Please note: none of these outlets have endorsed the BLI. They have simply been added to illustrate the participant’s credentials. For more extensive bios you can go here. But without further ado, let me introduce you to…
The Bitter Lemons Review Brigade (BLRB)
Frances Baum Nicholson – (Pasadena Star News, Pasadena Weekly, The Stage Struck Review)
Ernest Kearney – (Working Author, The TVolution, Bitter Lemons)
Julio Martinez – (Arts In LA, Variety, LA Stage Times)
Paul Hodgins – (OC Register, Variety, American Theatre Magazine)
Travis Michael Holder – (Arts In LA, Backstage, Entertainment Today)
Lyle Zimskind – (LAist, KCET Artbound)
Eric Marchese – (OC Register, Backstage, Jewish Journal)
Jason Rohrer – (Stage and Cinema, American Theatre Magazine, Bitter Lemons)
Joel Beers – (OC Weekly, LA Weekly, American Theatre Magazine)
Katie Buenneke – (LA Weekly, Village Voice, Neon Tommy, Bitter Lemons)
Jonathan Ross (Long Beach Post, Minor Progression, Bitter Lemons))
Each of these individuals has proven themselves to be among the finest and most trusted theater critics in Los Angeles over the last decade and out of all the critics we invited to join the BLI, these 11 adventurous and industrious souls were the ones who agreed to commit and participate in the inaugural launch of the BLI.
Why didn’t more critics sign on?
Some had exclusive contracts with their present publications, some simply did not have the time to commit to doing more coverage, while others felt inclined to remain loyal to their present publications or new ventures already in progress. It should be mentioned, however, that a large majority of the people who respectfully declined this initial BLI invitation asked if the door might be left ajar for them for future inclusion. Just in case.
As always, we are more than happy to blaze the trail that future generations will follow.
Why is Bitter Lemons the right place to launch the BLI?
Bitter Lemons is the ONLY place to launch the BLI.
It is a natural extension of what we’ve been doing for the last seven years.
Now it was certainly not an easy decision for us, there’s no doubt about that, but we’ve been approached by people since day one of our inception asking why we don’t do our own theater reviews, so the question has always been at the forefront of our plans.
So why now?
Simply put: the time is right.
Clearly there is a deep desire, a hunger almost, for serious, truly in-depth, exciting, engaging, quality theater criticism and although I’m hardly an authority on the subject and I don’t consider myself a theater critic, I have been submerged in the world of Los Angeles theater criticism for the last seven years and have read more reviews than anyone else in this city over that time, so I can confidently say that I presently consider myself a knowledgeable and highly experienced authority – arguably THE MOST knowledgeable and highly experienced authority - on the subject of Los Angeles theater criticism. When it comes to the people, the publications, the dynamics and the craft, I’m the guy. Refute that if you can, but I stand by it and have no problem embracing that role and trying to use it to raise and maintain the standard of theater criticism in Los Angeles while continuing to grow the Bitter Lemons brand and business model.
It’s clear now that the need is too great, the demand too powerful and the supply too thin. No one else seems to want to truly meet the problem head on, and so, as we have always challenged ourselves to evolve and grow in response to the changing climate around us, we finally decided that the BLI was a natural extension of the work we have already been doing over the last seven years and we have made the decision to meet the challenge as fully as we can with the BLI.
That said, we understand the scrutiny the BLI will elicit, the criticism we will have to face; wondering if this is pay-to-play when it is in fact pay-to-work; the appearance of a bias and conflict of interest when it’s simply a fee-for-service model; professional reviews appearing on Bitter Lemons for the first time next to our LemonMeter Ratings; it’s a lot to digest. Nevertheless, I am confident these concerns will be washed away quickly by the quality of the criticism and the transparency of the process; everyone will know who is paying what, who is receiving what and why we are doing this. There will be no mystery, no hidden agendas. Bitter Lemons is already a trusted lexicon in Los Angeles Theater, the BLI will simply be a natural extension of that trust and integrity.
The LemonMeter, our editorials and our advertising will all remain separate from the BLI as they have always remained separate from each other. And if the individuals of BLRB are being paid, then they will be treated like professionals, held to professional standards, reaping the same rewards and suffering the same consequences as any professional who excels or doesn’t. There will be others waiting to fill their positions if they cannot maintain the standards we will set. And being that theirs is one of the most incendiary of vocations, in one of the most incendiary of theater markets in America, it will be nothing if not fun.
We also understand that the idea of the BLI may simply never gain momentum, it might just fizzle and fade. That too is fine; some experiments fail. No matter what happens after launching the BLI, we proudly echo the words of Randall P. McMurphy from the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: “I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.”
How does this affect the way things have always been done?
It’s a game changer. Frankly, we feel it’s time for the game to change. With the death of so many print publications and the continued cutting of arts coverage, it’s not that theater criticism has become any less relevant, it’s that the quality, method, means and mode of disseminating these vital contributions is in need of re-arrangement, revitalization and re-constitution.
We feel the BLI addresses these challenges in a way that fulfills the main goals of the LA Theater Community: raising the standard of the work, maintaining ethical integrity, fostering more quality coverage, and creating a reasonable and sustainable market for the critics that deserve to be paid, all within a traditional “supply and demand” model that has room to grow and that will allow for self-sustainment and ample opportunity to evolve.
And for those of you whose brains are still erupting like a live volcano at the thought of all this unprecedented brazen sacrilege, know this: it’s not unprecedented.
There is a company called Kirkus who has been doing the same thing for over 80 years.
Their main focus, however, has always been novels and literature. They charge anywhere from $425 and upwards for a review. It is an excellent way for emerging writers to get noticed and it’s also an excellent way for them to get notes from professional reviewers and editors that might help them improve their work. It’s still a roll of the dice, the work could be panned, but it’s one that many, many authors have already invested in over the last 80 years and continue to invest in to this day. Somehow Kirkus has survived the “appearance of impropriety and a conflict of interest”. Why? Because they are experienced, passionate, talented professionals who respect and love their medium and their art form and they understand that getting paid directly for what you do best does not in any way force you to drop your integrity and professionalism at the door. Ultimately, they are trusted. It is the same with the BLI. The trusted critic provides a service that is valuable. That value is worth something. So pay for it. This is the essence of the BLI.
So how do we begin?
We already have. The BLI is now officially open for business and the members of BLRB are raring to go. You can go here to sign your show up today. Remember you have to create an account to list your show.
So consider this an official shout out to all of you theater-makers out there. If you are tired of being overlooked, if you are tired of crap criticism and are hungering for something deeper and more meaningful, if you want to step up and begin the conversation by saying, “Yes. We think our shit is the shit and we want to see if you think our shit is the shit too so bring it!” Then the BLI is for you and it shall be brung.
Send us a line at [email protected] and put “BLI Request” and the name of your show in the subject header. We will take it from there. Tell your friends, tell your enemies, there’s a new sheriff in town and its name is:
The Bitter Lemons Imperative (BLI).
We expect there to be some resistance, some hesitancy and we expect that this will be a slow-moving process as we roll it out into the community, but we have assembled an adventurous group of trailblazers who love what they do and do it well. If you want to be a part of this new, respectful, exciting relationship between critic and artist, the door is now open and the BLI is available to any and all Los Angeles Theater Makers. There will be no hidden agendas, no hidden fees, everything will be transparent and above-board, a simple contract between critic and company, a pact.
That is our guarantee.
We hope you will join us for the revolution. Cuz this time, it’s gonna be digitized.
Colin Mitchell, Editor-in-Chief
Enci Box, Publisher