Prepare Yourself for the Bitter Lemons Review

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Bitter Billy is looking forward to the Hollyaood Fringe Festival

On the eve of opening night for previews at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival, Bitter Lemons has over 30 exclusive Bitter Lemons Reviews ordered and purchased – that’s right pre-purchased – and those top quality works of theater criticism will be rolling out over the next couple of weeks. You’ll be able to see them all in our Bitter Lemons Reviews section here.

We offered a deeply discounted 50% off our regular price of $150 just because we love the Fringe community so much and understand how important it is for them to get quality coverage from a truly experienced, savvy, historian of the ephemeral arts, plus we saw this as the perfect opportunity to introduce the Los Angeles Theater Community to our new business model for theater criticism. You can read all about what we’re calling the Bitter Lemons Imperative here.

But mostly, I personally am very excited to see what happens, what is forged by this collision of commerce and art and opinion. To see how these talented writers respond to the opportunity, finally freed from the fetters of theater criticism as a “hobby” or simply a “calling” and allowed the true liberty of approaching these shows as the professionals they already are, free to ply their craft and add their valuable service to the process of making and performing theater. It is a truly thrilling time.

And we also must offer a tremendous thanks to all the brave and audacious artists out there who are also participating in this experiment and putting their money where their art is.  By the way, for all you snoozers-but-perhaps-not-yet losers, there is still time to get your oder in, it can be done here.

Some of you will more than likely get a less-than-positive critique. I suppose it’s possible that every show we see will be outstanding, but the reality is, probably not. It’s a very ballsy thing to roll the dice and perhaps be paying for something that might show negatively upon your own artistic work. I’ve encouraged our critics to be free, be curious, be positive, be themselves, and hold themselves to the same standards they will be affording the work they see. I encourage all of you to embrace this process in the same vein.

Ultimately, it’s just one person’s opinion of your work. It’s just that we feel these 12 individuals are the cream of the crop when it comes to expressing their opinions about theater. These are true lovers of theater, they want your show to succeed, they want to be entertained, they want to be giddy after seeing your show, they want to rush home and write about it and tell the LemonHeadNation about it. They need you as much as you need them.

So stay tuned, LemonHeads, the Bitter Lemons Reviews are on the way.

Oh, and for the more unwashed, by all means keep your eyes on the FringeMeter and the LemonHeadMeter for news and reviews from the populist vote.

It’s gonna be another roller coaster rodeo of epic proportions. Like a diamond miner in the dark we’re gonna be out there cracking our pick axes against the dark and dusty walls and see what’s on the other side. Gems are a-waiting to be found.

I’ll see you in the mine

Comments (22)

U 49347 t 4713834

Is there a concern at the Lemons that this could come across as payola and that any good review is simply a result of that fee? Conversely, if there are a slate of bad reviews, what becomes the incentive to continue to budget for reviews from the Lemon? Asking for a friend.

Default user

This is a bonehead move, Colin, and you should pull the plug on it asap. Reviews paid for by the productions they review are not reviews … they’re paid publicity. And if you think any semblance of objectivity can be maintained over time in this kind of arrangement, you are fooling yourself. But you’re not fooling anyone else … check the thread on this decision of yours on the Pro99 site, people are royally pissed off about it. You need to figure out another way to bring money into your site, which has done good work in the past. And great work in the recent past. By the way, almost 40 years ago, the many reviewers at the L.A. theater weekly Dramalogue covered nearly every single production in Southern California for the going rate of two comps and some red wine in a plastic cup. They were “free” under that arrangement to pan shows, which they often did, and their reviews were of consistently higher quality than what I read today. Apply for a grant, man, and knock this crap off! Before the once-proud Bitter Lemons site becomes known as The Tolucan, Jr.

U 35088 t 4659361

In response to you, Matt, yes we’ve thought about this and one of two things will happen when a company gets a negative review, they will either never try this again, or they will accept the challenge to get better, dust themselves off, and try again. Ultimately, we will let the work stand for itself and let the chips fall where they may.

In response to you, Randall. Many thanks for the unsolicited advice but people being “royally pissed” off about something we do here at the Lemon is hardly incentive not to do it. Again, as I mentioned to Matt, we will let the work stand for itself and then let the chips fall where they may.

Though I sincerely do appreciate you coming on the site and engaging. Unlike most who like the comfort of their echo chamber…

U 48170 t 5294524

Of course, you should expect me to chime in.

First, if you are going to do this, you should be transparent about it — in other words, have some indication for reviews that were explicitly funded by the theatre in question. That’s straightward honesty, just like having the distinction between the LemonHead Meter and the Lemon Meter (and I’m not necessarily suggesting a Grapefruit Meter for these reviews, because they leave a sourer taste for some, and sweeter for others). [Fixed spelling error, although a Lemon Meeter sounds like a neat party]

Second, you might take a look at http://parabasis.typepad.com/blog/2015/06/startling-chutzpah-in-the-99-seat-aftermath.html , which is a public comment on both this move and Anteaus. At minimum, as you love to post contrary views, it might be worth reposting if only to see what comments it gets.

[And I’ll note, once again, that one reason for the dearth of comments might be site problems — I still can’t login to the site from work, which is behind a proxy and insisting on the latest encyrption]

Default user

Actually, Colin, my advice was tacitly solicited by the existence of a comments page and I’m sure wouldn’t be offended by unsolicited praise for one of your policies. But I don’t want to get into a sophomore debate, so I’ll just restate my abhorrence for the idea of paid reviews. I think you’ll lose more … both in terms of reputation and site followers … than you will gain at 25 bucks to the site per paid review. And I hate to see that happen. I’ll let you have the last word … with me at least … and hope others join you in this conversation.

U 35088 t 4659361

All reviews that will be written by the members of our Review Brigade will be paid for by the theaters that are producing the shows in question. Not sure how I can be any more transparent than that. Plus, I think I was quite clear about all this in the BLI explanation at the top of the home page. Transparency is the key to all of this, so we will continue to be that. Transparent.

Again, we will let the work stand for itself.

Thanks, Daniel and sorry about the commenting problems. Still working on it. Argh.

U 35088 t 4659361

We shall see, Randall, we most definitely shall see. And I meant that genuinely about engaging, no offense taken at all. Can’t remember really the last time I was offended by someone else’s opinion. We like to chat here at the Lemon as long as the conversation is reasoned and on point. Which doesn’t always happen…

Default user

What if payment is only processed for “good” reviews? Essentially, paid advertising.
For example, let’s say I’m producing a show. I would like a BL reviewer to come out and see the show. I give you my credit card info and you hold on to that info until after the review comes out. If it’s a “bad” review, then no charge is made to my credit card. If it’s a “good” review, then you charge the $150 as an advertising fee.

U 48170 t 5294524

Colin: How you can be transparent is to have some sort of marker (*, ☣, ☠, 💣, 💩) to indicate such reviews, especially in the summary in the LemonMeter. This is especially important as the reviewers might also be doing other reviews, and you should distinguish the two.

Default user

I think that offering paid reviews for the Fringe Festival is particularly alarming. Many shows there are mounted by first-timers, or newcomers to LATHTR. One can do a significant amount of audience and community outreach during the festival, just by being present and a part of that community. I have the Fringe box-office to prove it.

But those who’ve not participated before may not realize that this takes advantage of them. Because, considering return-on-investment, one review isn’t going to do squat to raise your profile or help you stand out from the herd. (And that’s not even considering the irrelevance of a paid review, or the ethics of it.)

At the very least, please include a disclosure that “this is a paid review” on every such review. Much like blogs who receive products or fees to review items are ethically required to do. For those who follow links and don’t regularly view the site, a general on-site but not-on-review mention is NOT complete transparency.

Default user

While I share others’ concerns over what can be quickly generalized as the payola angle, I am not 100% against this idea. It is difficult enough to obtain critical coverage of plays as is, let alone quality criticism. The rub lies in the latter part of that last sentence.

Do you think producers and audience members alike will look upon your “Review Brigade” roster and expect quality? Jason Rohrer’s presence alone negates any claims made in that regard, but even if he’s looked upon as an outlier, there are still hacks included in the list.

Call me unreasonable, but when I read a theatre review, I want to read an actual review. I don’t want 50-75% of the paragraphs to be summary (a crime of which far too many theater critics, on your roster and otherwise, are guilty), nor am I interested in criticism that boils down to “Well, that’s not the way I would have done it.”

I only care about whether the play itself was good, whether it succeeded on the terms provided by the text, performances, direction, etc. I want to know what worked, what didn’t, and why. I want the review to be well-written; incisive, insightful, clear. Witty, if the critic is capable, straightforward if the critic is not.

That’s not a lot to ask, but it seems to be beyond so many critics these days. Brutish insults are passed off as wit, asinine complaints are made (I’ve read professional reviews that included complaints about driving distances and parking, as if any small- or mid-size theatre company can control those things), and the shows are criticized for not being the critic’s own fantasy production, rather than actually engaging with and criticizing the show on its own terms. It’s shameful.

So, again, I agree with the goals behind this endeavor, but looking at your Review Brigade (and the Fringe reviews you’ve released so far), can you honestly say you’re even remotely capable of achieving them?

U 35088 t 4659361

Yes. It’ll be bumpy and I’m not 100% happy with the work so far, but all of your concerns are valid and well taken. Again, as I’ve said and you’ve just re-iterated, the work will speak for itself. When the dust has cleared and the pitchfork and torch mob has moved onto another reason to be outraged and offended, we will take a look at what we’ve done, and do what we can to improve the service. Appreciate a calm and reasoned challenge, as always.

U 46928 t 1865969

when people get over being outraged and offended about this, I’ll be outraged and offended about that

U 338 t 3125638

Have you seen this? Hysterical show BTW
For Immediate Release
June 8, 2015

“Late with Lance!” Takes on Bitter Lemons, Offering FREE Hollywood Fringe Reviews

Shows being squeezed by the monetary business model of theater news and review blog Bitter Lemons now have an alternative. Peter Michael Marino, writer-star of “Late with Lance!” is offering to review other Hollywood Fringe shows for free. And with a twist: He’ll review them sight unseen.

“Mounting things costs money. Most of that money goes to theater rentals, alcoholic beverages and stage makeup. I’m very happy to support the arts and review any Hollywood Fringe show for free – without even seeing it!”, says Marino’s alter ego Lance. Lance’s reviews will be posted at www.LanceShow.com under the “Better Lemons” banner.

Bitter Lemons recently raised the ire of many performers and industry professionals in Hollywood and around the world after announcing that they would be accepting payments of $150 in exchange for a review. Former executive director of the American Theatre Wing Howard Sherman published a lengthy blog about it with updates including one of the actual paid reviews.

U 35088 t 4659361

I love this. Hey, one of our goals with this – as clearly stated in what people are now calling my “manifesto” – ugh – is creating an actual market for theater criticism and more opportunities for coverage. So I guess it’s working in that respect. Kudos to Marino for being creative. Makes me want to see his show.

U 50926 t 8092296

For this to work as a “pay for praise" scheme, the artists presumably must expect a rave, and that this will hugely boost ticket sales, which will reward them for their investment. They must expect this to happen consistently in order to bother, and they must not be discouraged by the fact that the posted reviews so far have been mixed. So to me the most interesting thing here is not the clear assumption that the critics are venal toadies, but the implication that the artists are just as venal, and also quite stupid.

If only there was a plausible reason why someone would participate. It is impossible that artists working in a rather competitive creative field could be genuinely interested in getting honest feedback from someone who, just hypothetically, they believe to be an educated critic operating in good faith. It is equally ridiculous to suppose that an artist might believe any publicity is good publicity, and that $75 or $150 is not too much to gamble on something that might help a good production, and probably can’t further damage a bad one.

I’ve just realized – the participating artists probably provide tickets, too! Those normally cost money! No, you folks are right, now I see how this defiles the very concept of criticism. Why, imagine if critics who worked for Real Journalistic Outlets received free tickets to the shows they reviewed. You couldn’t possibly trust their ability to judge what someone who paid full price might think of the show.

For that matter, why do tickets cost money? How do actors and writers have the nerve to charge people just to see their art? If they have expenses, why don’t they try product placement, or put a few commercials between scenes? Oh sure, they’re very “open” about how the process works, but that kind of direct exchange must inevitably degrade the purity of the work. Whatever their original intent, they’ll feel some desire to satisfy those who pay them. Of course, they may fail. And the audience in turn provides that money because they expect to be pleased — but they might be wrong, too. How decadent and selfish of everyone. Yes, you all have convinced me; the entire system is hopelessly corrupt. We live in a fallen world.

U 46928 t 1865969

I’m with Susan. Fuck all of us. Just fuck us for trying.

And hey, Colin: think about how seriously you can take someone who reads a sales pitch and calls it a manifesto.

U 48170 t 5294524

Actually, Susan, your comments about “free tickets” are closer than you think. I work in real life for an FFRDC (Federally Funded R&D Center). We help the government make decisions on contractors and their work. Our ethics rules, which I believe in, prohibit us from taking anything more than a nominal value from a contractor — a donut, a promotional pen — that’s about it. Anything else we pay for — and that includes when they bring in lunch for a meeting.

As a hobby, I do writeups on my blog about theater. Every week. Colin is gracious enough to treat them as reviews; I take that as a compliment that my writing has improved. I do get offered tickets from press agents to review a show. First, I only review a show if I want to see it. Second, I never take comp tickets; I will pay at least what the discounted rate would be on Goldstar (which is where I would have bought the ticket). This brings the theatre income, frees up a goldstar ticket for a new patron, and keeps with the ethics rules.

Another reviewer who has a blog said on a forum that he would never review a show if he didn’t get free tickets and free parking. He feels that’s payment for his time. That’s his right; the statement bothered me and isn’t my philosophy.

I write up shows first and foremost because I love going to the theatre; it’s different every time you see a show (unlike a movie). I write up shows to share that love with my friends, and let them know what I liked and didn’t. I also write to practice writing and improve my style — something important for an engineer )

So, to come back to the front: I strongly believe that theatre critics should not take free tickets; they should at least pay the discounted price. They should also show up unannounced. This is what restaurant critics do to preserve their independence. Why should those that write up theatre be any different.

Just my 2c.

U 46928 t 1865969

Just what it’s always worth.

U 50926 t 8092296

In general, restaurants serve individual portions that are prepared to order. A food critic who either announces her presence or is recognized might receive better-than-usual service, might taste dishes that don’t resemble the typical fare. The possibility of having the check waived is not what imperils her ability to judge the experience — especially since, if the outlet pays for the meal, the critic still dines for free. So I’m not sure this is the best parallel to use for a critic of the performing arts.

U 48043 t 5611662

Hey, Colin. Glad you’re liking Lance’s Better Lemons. Having only done it for two days, I have a deeper appreciation for what goes into making anything like what you are doing happen. Been enjoying the BL reviews and even booked tickets to see a show because of one of BL’s reviews. See ya around Fringe. Wait. Do I owe you a comp?

U 35088 t 4659361

Probably. Most people in this town do.


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