WHERE TO FIND COVERAGE
OF BUFFALO THEATER
BY DONNA HOKE
In choosing what coverage to trust,
it’s advisable to see where your
tastes and opinions align with the
reviewers’. So often, we hear people
say, “They gave it two stars,” without
acknowledgment that “they” is
one person with whom you might
not agree. It’s best to read the
words, which often belie the stars.
Once upon a time, the Buffalo
News and the Courier Express both
ran reviews, which sometimes
contradicted each other. Online
theater criticism outlets offer a
similar choice: you once again
have access to one more than one
opinion, so if you’re interested in a
show, don’t read one and be done!
Theater Talk: Airing in WBFO
( wbfo.org) Friday mornings at 6: 45
and 8: 45, Theater Talk co-hosts
Anthony Chase and Peter Hall give
you five minutes of theater news,
critique, insight, and history.
Buffalo News ( buffalonews.com):
With the elimination of a staff critic,
a team of stringers review here,
so get to know each voice as they
are vastly different in taste and
depth of criticism. One’s two-star
review is another’s three-point-five,
which means looking at stars alone
provides no sense of consistency or
reasoning for deduction (e.g., an
actor not having lines down cold
on opening night could result in
a half-star loss that has nothing
to do with overall quality).
Buffalo Vibe (buffalovibe.
com): Reviews by self-described
“theater lover” Ann Marie Cusella
cover all aspects of production
and include strong opinions.
Buffalo Rising (buffalorising.
com): With reviews most often by
Theater Talk’s Peter Hall, Buffalo
Rising reviews are the no-holds
barred “everyman’s” take. A
plus is the five-buffalo system,
which is clearly defined, and
consideration of who might enjoy a
show—even if the reviewer didn’t.
Buffalo Theatre Guide
Generally positive, mostly
synopsis-style reviews by a team
of reviewers. You’ll get more story
here than in other coverage.
announced the elimination of reviews and features related to film, theater, and visual art from their
Since the 1990s, we’ve also seen the erosion of drama criticism as a specialty. Newspapers
increasingly assigned a single writer to all the arts. In recent years, for example, the Chicago Sun-Times obliged veteran drama critic Hedy Weiss to cover the arts beyond her actual area of expertise,
while limiting her to a single page a week. Finally, after thirty-three years, she was laid off and not
replaced. Her final piece for the Sun-Times was not about theater at all; it was a review of the Chicago
This year, Buffalo’s remaining daily newspaper, the Buffalo News, eliminated the position of full-time
arts critic. The nation’s only association of professional drama critics, The American Theatre Critics
Association (ATCA), of which I am a member, has felt an urgent need to address this situation.
At my first ATCA conference, I watched as the membership split along generational lines: younger
members objecting to the burden of paper handouts; older members protesting that they did not know
how to “download” files. Veteran members protested that “bloggers” could not be true “journalists.”
In a few short years, all of this changed.
At a recent meeting of the membership, topics ranged from the ATCA logo (which features a drama
critic depicted as an elderly white male) to a proposal to use the American spelling of “theater” in the
name of the organization. The most pressing priority, however, was to refresh and diversify ATCA’s aging
membership, and to move the organization into the digital age.
Western New York has not been left untouched by the digital revolution. In an age when absolutely
anyone can publish online, there has been a rapid upswing in the number of online theater “reviewers”
in WNY. Their reviews have quickly and indiscriminately been snapped up by local theaters looking to
promote their shows. We now see the inevitable pull-quotes from these sources, written in the kind of
spritely journalistic prose that brims with the hyperbolic praise and clever barbs that are the mainstay of
every amateur’s Addison De Witt/Dorothy Parker fantasy.
Is this a degradation of drama criticism? I suppose so. On the other hand, it’s always been a pretty
tawdry profession. I’d say, in fact, that after you wade through the hacks, the explosion of Internet
reviews might actually hold the possibility of something better than before. With bloggers, the public
gets a heavy dose of passion for the theater; they get multiple opinions; and there is even a chance that
some of those bloggers out there might actually have the expertise to do the job well!
Yes, readers must learn to discriminate between reputable and unqualified sources, but that was
always true of print, too. Anybody can voice an opinion on a play. In fact, everybody usually does,
starting at intermission. But from a bona fide critic, readers have a right to expect a certain level of
expertise and insight.
Does the review provide
any useful information
and analysis, or is it
merely a thumbs-up/
couched in clever prose?
Is the review just a
rehash of the plot?
Is the review more than
a roster of cast members
with their character
names and a few vivid
Does the writer have
any knowledge of the
theater deeper than what
you might get from a
quick Google search?
Does the review consider the
For example, does the
review get lost in the
lavishness or minimalism
of the scenery, without
considering its effectiveness
Does the reviewer consider
that a new play presents
different challenges from
an established classic?
Is the writer able to see
past personal taste and
life experience to assess
what the artists have
Does the review, good
or bad, deepen your
understanding of the play,
or is it written to be a stand-
alone reading experience,
intended to amuse readers
with its scathing wit, or to
provide public relations
fodder to a theater that
provided free tickets?
HERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN ASSESSING A THEATER REVIEW: