Performance Reviews

Grade Breakdown

15% of the Total Grade

Assignment overview

This term, we'll be viewing live plays and filmed plays (or film versions of plays—different things!) relevant to the texts we're reading, and each student will be contributing two reviews, due on the class period after you see the play with the group. One of these reviews must be of a live performance.

What is a theater review?

A theater review of a live play falls into a particular genre, as do reviews of film versions of plays. A theater review is a reappraisal or a critical evaluation of a performance, rather than a summary or a research/analysis essay; it should address the features of the performance that make it unique, and it should present your informed, considered opinion of them. Ultimately, the goal of a theater review is to give your reader a sense of what the show does with the material of the play, how it goes about it, and what you thought of it. Good theater reviews do not always praise a show - neither are they always negative. Instead, a good theater review gives an accurate, interesting, engaged picture in words of the various parts of a show. Sometimes theater reviews can go further and suggest a significance to particular performance choices, but they do not have to.

What do I expect?

Here are some guidelines for the reviews you'll be doing in this class:

  • Unless the play is unknown to most theater-goers, do not summarize the plot. Any review for a play we've read as a class should not include summary.
  • Somewhere in the review, where appropriate and interesting, indicate the venue (where the performance took place), the title, the author, the director, the date of performance. This important information situates your review as relevant to a particular performance.
  • Describe how the actors act. This differs from describing the characters in the play - what you're interested in is how the actors perform their roles. Don't forget to include what you think of their acting! If it's good, why? If you didn't like it, why? And of course, if you discuss the actors, you'll have to identify them by name.
  • Describe the production itself, especially the costumes, the set design, lighting features, and so on. What does the production look like, feel like? You might include overall impressions as well as particular observations. As above, don't forget to include your appraisal or evaluation of the production itself, supported with reasons! When describing the production, remember that it was created by people with names!
  • Was it worth it? You'll be getting subsidized tickets, but often a play can cost over $50, depending on where you sit. Where did you sit? Could you see? What other information might be relevant for a reader who's considering laying down some cash for this performance?
  • Be honest, and be creative! Use your voice, not someone else's.
  • Not everything is equally important in your review - you should have a point of view about the play, and that should come through in your decisions about what to comment on and how you comment on it.
  • Each review should be 2-3 pages in length, double-spaced, and MLA formatted throughout.

Preliminary assignments

Visit the NY Times online collection of theater reviews, find a review you think is well done or interesting - a review of a play we're reading sometime this term - and analyze its content and form. What makes it interesting and useful as a review? Post your analysis of the review to our Blackboard discussion forum - be sure to include a link to your review! You can do this by copy-and-pasting the URL.

Note about the NY Times online reviews

To access these reviews, you may have to create a free account with the New York Times online. I encourage you to use your MU login information, as it simplifies everything!

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