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Submission Preparation Checklist

As part of the submission process, authors are required to check off their submission's compliance with all of the following items, and submissions may be returned to authors that do not adhere to these guidelines.
  • You have specified in your review the date you viewed the performance, your seat number, and any alterations to the cast on the day you viewed the performance.
  • You have included a list at the end  of the article listing all the actors and the creative team as they are credited in the printed program. Please upload a scan of the program so that we may verify this information.
  • You have provided a caption for each image, identifying the actors by their names as they appear in the program.
  • You have obtained permission from the theatre company to use any images in this article.
  • The text adheres to the stylistic and bibliographic requirements outlined in the Author Guidelines.
  • If submitting to a peer-reviewed section of the journal, the instructions in Ensuring a Blind Review have been followed.
  • Where available, URLs and/or DOIs for the references have been provided.
  • The submission file is in OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Microsoft Word, or RTF.
  • The submission has not been previously published, nor is it before another journal for consideration (or an explanation has been provided in Comments to the Editor).

Author Guidelines

Reviewer Guidelines

By Kevin Quarmby, Editor, Scene

Reviewing can be a daunting prospect, especially for those new to the discipline. As Editor of Scene, I am pleased to share a document written with undergraduate/graduate students in mind. Much of its content will be second nature to new or established Shakespeare reviewers, but there might be practical advice that helps those less sure of how best to approach reviewing a production. This "survival guide" offers some general advice and structure for those seeking a focus for their first review and will also answer some basic questions about the review process and pre-performance preparation.

Reviewing Skills

Theater Reviewing is a useful and transferable skill.  Whether you have experience of the theater, or movie or TV watching, the skills you develop when reviewing a play can be transferred to other parts of your daily or academic life. Concentration, Observation, Appreciation, Memory, Description, Interpretation, Expressiveness, all form part of a good review and all can be developed to improve your writing and communication skills.

Reviewing Technique: A Rough Guide

What is needed to write a good theater review?  Looking at the list of skills that can be developed, let us consider how these can be applied in a theater environment.

1) Observation is the most important skill. It is no good going to a play and expecting the production to ‘entertain’ you — to wash over you like a wave of artistic endeavor — and for you to do nothing in return. No, to review a play you need to engage with that play. The best way is through observation. When you arrive in the theater think about what you are about to see. If the stage is visible, consider what the setting is telling you. If it is invisible, observe the reaction on you and your fellow audience members when the scene is first revealed. Is it exciting? Is it shocking? When the play is in performance, observation is still key. Only through observation can you really engage with the play. Good observation requires another ‘-ation’ word: concentration. Only by engaging with the play — by concentrating on what it is trying to say or do — can you comment on what you have seen with intelligence and insight. Note-taking will be an important part of this process. Some of you might be blessed with a photographic memory, but most of us will need to write down reminders of what has interested or excited or intrigued us. Take notes — during the play, in the interval, or after — and be aware that these should not be essays. It might be very dark in a theater. Therefore, write key words or phrases — snippets of dialogue — impressions — indeed, anything that will trigger a thought or a memory about which you can later comment.

2) Homework, Playtexts — Do some homework before you see a play. There is nothing better for improving your powers of observation than to have an understanding, no matter how basic, of the play you are about to see. It might be the first time you, or anybody else, has seen it, but there is plenty to know about the writer or the style or the background or the history, all of which impact on the way you will view it. For a sure-fire route to all the necessary information, try the theater websites. All companies promote their plays and will tell you something of their history or narrative. Also, look at the playtexts themselves. Most often, plays can be found on the Internet. You might not have time to read the whole thing, but see how the writer describes the opening scene and characters — look at the structure of the play — look at the way the actors’ parts appear. Is the dialogue fast and furious or are there long set-pieces? You will then have an idea of the writer’s original intention and how much this production adheres to or differs from it.

3) Know Your Facts — When you describe a performance, make sure your description is factual. If an actor is playing a certain role, be sure of the character’s name and of the actor playing that character. Avoid vague generalizations. Directors and designers and actors and writers make specific choices when constructing and presenting a play. When you write about these practitioners and creatives, make sure that names and information are spelled correctly.

4) Program Notes — It is amazing how useful the program notes can be when writing a review. Not for copying out whole chunks of information, but for putting the production you are seeing in a wider context. The program will often contain short articles by academics or theater practitioners, all eager to give their take on the play. These essays can open alternative avenues for discussion within the review. Also, the program notes are the best place to look so that you know your facts. When, after the play, you look at your notes and they mention a moment when this actor said this, or that actor moved like that, the program will be the first place to go to confirm the character’s name and the actor who took on that role. Many reviewers write their notes on their programs. Short words or sentences scribbled in margins or over pictures can provide a permanent record of past plays that you have seen. No notes to lose and all the information at your fingertips!

5) Constructive Criticism — What is meant by this? Well, the most important thing is to differentiate — to make clear the difference between — what you consider a fault that can be attributed to an actor and what is an overall fault of a production. Be aware that when reviewing a play you are not out to criticize in order to make yourself feel or appear more intelligent, or to entertain others with the sharpness of your tongue. Criticism is a good thing but it has to be constructive criticism for it really to work. Constructive criticism needs you to know your facts and to have done your homework. Then you will have earned the right to comment on a performance. If you are new to the theater, then differentiate between what you felt was successful for you. What spoke to you, what was communicated to you? Did you feel there was honesty in this portrayal? Did the characters address issues that you could relate to, even if they might have been speaking in an old-fashioned way and in old-fashioned costumes? Constructive criticism allows you to differentiate between what you consider to be good and what others might recognize as good.

6) Subjective versus Objective — Remember also to differentiate between your subjective and objective reactions to a play. Subjective reactions might involve you commenting on the personal or political implications of what you see. You might find the attitudes of some of the characters offensive. Or you might see the director as offering a biased point of view. You might feel that the leading actor reminds you of a particularly hated member of your family or of an ex teacher or partner. Your reactions to the play and the way you express them will, understandably, tend to be subjective. If, on the other hand, you think to yourselves, “How might I react if these things happened to me?,” or, “What if I had been brought up to expect this or that from society or from my family, might I react in a similar way?,” your review will be more objective. Also, remember to consider not only how the play affects you but also how it might affect other members of the audience. You can be objective when saying that an older generation might find this acceptable but that younger members of the audience would not; or that men in the audience might not find this as offensive as women; or that those from one cultural background could empathize with a character far more easily than those from another cultural or ethnic background. All these approaches to reviewing the play will assist in making your intelligently subjective review as objective as possible. 

7) Honesty and Toleration — with objective observation will come honesty and toleration. It is very important that your responses to a play are honest. Honesty not only means honesty towards the performers and the production, but also honesty to yourself. You have the right — indeed, you have the responsibility — to express how a production affected you. What aspects touched you spiritually and emotionally? Such subjective responses offer your reader a wealth of information, both now and in the future. Ensure, though, that there is toleration in the description. It is no good deciding that the whole thing is garbage and then trashing all that are in it. Even the most obscure play is written with the intention of saying something. If you don’t understand — if the message is just too obscure for you — then admit it. There is nothing wrong with being honest and saying that you did not understand, or that you could not agree. As long as you are tolerant, your review will be an honest reflection of the performance.

8) Expression and Personal Style — How you eventually express yourself when writing a review is the most important part of the process. It is your expressiveness that will paint a picture of what you have seen. It is your voice that will allow us to consider the ‘message’ of the play and how well it has been communicated. It is your voice that will tell us what affect the play had on you. Don’t get hung up on being too flowery in your language or desperately searching for obscure, intellectual-sounding words. Be simple in your writing and your mode of expression. Think what to say and then say what you think. It is your opinion we are seeking. It is your reaction to the play that is of interest.

Theater Reviewing should be about capturing the essence of a moment and expressing intelligently and honestly how that experience has affected you — affected you on a personal level. You can comment on how you think it might have been done better. You can compliment those you thought did it really well. If you are really brave, you can express dismay if you felt something was done really badly, but make sure you get your facts right and that your comments are as objective as possible. Most importantly, enjoy the process of going to the theater with a purpose. You are not there just to experience a play, but to be a participant in its message. You will write about that play, and what you write — the memories and feelings that you share with others — will become a permanent record of this one person’s reaction to a theatrical event that can never, ever be reproduced. That’s a great responsibility. 

  • Observation
  • Homework, Playtexts
  • Know Your Facts
  • Program Notes
  • Constructive Criticism
  • Subjective and Objective
  • Honesty and Toleration
  • Expression and Personal Style

Useful Websites — Peter Kirwan's The Bardathon Blog: excellent examples of immediate, scholarly theater reviews — (The  Cambridge University students’ guide to theater reviewing, intended to act as  benchmark for their college magazines) — (‘Things  you’ll need’ guide which stresses the importance of a good memory, note-taking abilities, and a passion for theater)

Reviewing Websites — The Guardian Theater page — New York TimeOut Theater Guide — New York Times Theater Reviews

Production Notices

Accepts short summaries of productions. Such summaries do not have to offer a critical perspective on the production, but should note key casting decisions, setting, and significant cuts/rearrangements. Production notices feature at least one photograph. They do include a full list of cast and creatives.

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