Frequently asked questions

Since all websites seem to have a FAQ page, here’s one for this site. Hope this is of some use, but please excuse the flippancy.

Most of the items are answers to questions I’ve actually been asked (unlike most FAQ pages which seem to be an abbreviation for “Questions you’ve never asked me but I want to answer anyway”). If there’s anything you want to know that’s not on the list, let me know and I might add it.

About me and my blog

Who are you?

Chris Neville-Smith.

And what do you do?

By day, I’m a software tester. In my spare time, I do some writing, some directing and this independent theatre blog.

Ah yes, I was going to ask you about your writing and directing …

Hold on, wrong web page. If you want to see what I’m doing with you writing and directing, you’ll need to come over to chrisnevillesmith.info.

Hey, weren’t you once on-

Yes. Next question.

What made you do a blog?

Just a whim. I’d gone to a few festival fringes and spoken to randoms about what I thought of various plays, and I was sometimes asked if I was a reviewer. So I eventually decided if people keep thinking I’m a reviewer, I may as well do some reviews.

I chose to do an independent blog because I thought this was the easiest way to juggle my own stage ambitions with my opinions of other people’s ambitions. Being a sometime performer myself, I wasn’t comfortable with the possibility of writing negative reviews, hence my principle that my blog is for reviewing stuff that’s good. I know other people in similar situation adopt different solutions, such as reviewing anonymously, reviewing for FringeReview (where only good reviews are published) or just doing it anyway, but this is how I chose to do things.

Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is missing a few factors. Would you like buy a piece of software from us that sorts it all out for you?

No.

Do you get a lot of people looking at your site?

Quite honestly, I don’t know. Most people don’t realise how inexact web stats are, and this is largely down to the difficulty of distinguishing between real pageviews and downloads from bots. Even comparing figures between blogs hosted on different platforms is unreliable.

But I can safely say that my audience is steadily growing, with the traffic for my fourth year way more than the first. If you really want to know more about my practical experiences of theatre blogging you can read this page.

Reviews

Why don’t you use star ratings?

I’ve nothing ideological against star ratings as such. Indeed, if I was in charge of any of the review publications, I would probably opt to stick with star ratings. There are a number of weaknesses with star ratings, but a good case in favour of using them is made by FringeGuru. In other cases where publications don’t use star ratings (most notably Buxton Fringe’s internal reviews), I usually agree that’s the right decision for them.

So far, I’ve avoided using star ratings. The main reasons I have for this are:

  • It doesn’t completely make sense to do this in a blog that (usually) doesn’t publish negative reviews.
  • I don’t yet trust myself to be consistent with my ratings.
  • It’s difficult when I know a lot of the performers personally.
  • I have just as much interest in potential for future work as actual quality of current work, and I’m not sure how to factor that in.

Do you write reviews for other publications under a pseudonym?

Er, no. I’ve no idea where this rumour emerged that I write under the pseudonym of “Alice de Cent”, but no, that isn’t me. She’s the manager of C Venues. I’ve no idea how this rumour started, but if I was writing under another name (I’m not), I’d at least pick a name that isn’t already taken.

Okay, so you don’t usually write about the bad shows, but will you tell me which ones they were? Go on, go on, go on.

Maybe. You can only ask and see. Depends on how bad it was, how many hours of my life I’ve wasted, how pissed off I am over my time being wasted, how big the offending artist is (I expect big companies to take criticism more than small ones), how much I trust you not to blab it to everyone, how nicely you asked, and how drunk I am at the time you ask me.

Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is missing a few factors. Would you-

The answer’s still no.

Will you come and see my show at the Edinburgh fringe?

Probably yes. Send me a press release and I’ll consider it. If I think your sort of show might not not be the thing for me, I’ll warn you in advance, but so far I’ve left it up to the group to decide whether or not they still want to invite me. So far, I’ve never declined to see an Edinburgh Fringe show as a reviewer. I may decide to be more selective in the future, but so far, if you invite me, I’ll come, only condition being that I get a press ticket.

Note, however, that the same rules apply for shows I have press tickets for. If I don’t think it’s good or original enough to get a review, it won’t, whether or not I paid for a ticket. You also won’t get any more favourable treatment for inviting me. The one and only advantage of inviting me to review a play is that you’ll get a chance to show me what you can do.

I’ll probably apply the same rules to the Brighton Fringe if anyone invites me to that, although this is of course highly dependent on whether I’ll be around when your show’s on – that is largely down to luck. I’d be less keen about doing Buxton, which is a small festival where everyone knows everyone else, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. The can find a more detailed account of the rules here and here.

Will you come and see my show in London?

Highly unlikely. I live in Durham. I review the occasional London Fringe show, but that’s only on the odd occasion when I’m passing though London anyway. The only reason I know a bit about the London scene is that I used to spend a lot of time in London on business, but I don’t do that any more.

I don’t know why people keep asking me to review their London plays, but they do. You’re welcome to ask on the off-chance I’ll be around anyway, but that’s a long shot.

Do you get press tickets for all the shows you review?

Sadly no. For most of the shows, I am a paying customer. I’d like to be in a position where I could only review shows on press tickets, but I don’t get enough press tickets to be able to do that.

Also, I want to concentrate my blog on things I want to see anyway. At present, and for the foreseeable future, I don’t get enough choice amongst press tickets to do this.

Note that if you are a show that I’m planning to see and review anyway, there’s still advantages to inviting me to review a show. I make more of an effort to publish press ticket reviews promptly, and I try to come as early as possible in the run so that a good review has the maximum possible benefit. I sometimes even go to exotic locations to see touring productions early in their run if I’m invited.

Will you write a review of a play you helped me out with?

No. I only write reviews where I can be independent and impartial, and I cannot possibly do that if I acted in your play, provided technical support or pretty much any other kind of support. That would undermine the credibility of all my reviews, including yours.

Please don’t ask, because that would be embarrassing, and it will make it harder for me to work with you in the future.

Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is missing a few-

You again? No, I’m not buying your stuff, because you’re talking shite anyway.

Thanks for seeing my show just now. Are you going to write a good review?

I know it’s tempting to ask me this, but please try to refrain from doing this. It often takes me a day or two to decide what I thought of a play. If I feel I’m being pressured to make a decision on the spot, I’m more likely to come up with the verdict you didn’t want.

You didn’t seem to like my play that much. Is it okay if I ask you to expand on what you didn’t like?

An unequivocal yes. It takes far more work to put on a play than it is to write a review of it. If I didn’t like it, the least I can do is help you put things right if you want my help. (Similarly, you’re welcome to contact me if I have any criticisms in an otherwise positive review, and if you know I saw your play and I didn’t review it, you’re welcome to ask why.)

Please be aware, however, that I cannot single-handedly fix your play for you. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because it’s not possible. I am only one person with one person’s opinion, and the best I can do is suggest what I would like – but I have no way of knowing if what pleases me would please other reviewers too. More importantly, whatever you decide to do must be a solution you are happy with – it would be foolish for me to micromanage you into doing something you don’t think works.

In summary, I’m happy to give my advice, but, as with all reviewers, it is your call to decide whether to listen to me or ignore me. And I won’t be offended if you do the second – I do that all the time.

Will you write a review for my publication?

So far, I haven’t done this. As I said, writing a review to someone else’s editorial standards creates complications with my own rules. But ask me anyway – I might be able to make an exception under certain circumstances.

Previews and recommendations

How do you decide what goes into your “what’s worth watching” lists?

For my thrice-yearly north-east recommendations, I tend to scan through the listings of most north-east theatres (usually Newcastle Theatre Royal, Live Theatre, Northern Stage, Alphabetti Theatre, People’s Theatre, Royalty Theatre, Gala Theatre, Darlington Civic Theatre, Arc Stockton, Middlesbrough Theatre, York Theatre Royal, and the Stephen Joseph Theatre). For Festival Fringes, I scan though the programmes. From that, I primarily look for productions or companies I recognise, and make a decision based on past successes and how much I like the look of this one.

Please note, however, that I have a lot of listings to look through and I miss things all the time. If I’ve previously written a favourable review of you, feel free to send me press releases of your latest show if you want to be on the safe side.

Hi. We’d like to introduce you to this new high-budget high-profile play, and we’re hoping you’ll write about it on your blog.

No, why should I? I’m not free PR for group I’ve never heard of, and I don’t see why a large company that can afford its own PR team should expect me to be that.

Whenever anyone does this, I tell them the same as everyone else: I’ll come if you give me a press ticket, and if it’s good, I’ll write nice things then. But so far, that offer’s never been taken up.

Okay, what about if we send you exactly the same press release that doesn’t take a blind bit of notice of your reply to the first e-mail? Will you write about us now?

What do you think?

(And yes, that does actually happen. I reserve the right to expose persistent offenders if this carries on.)

Hi. We’re a small theatre company with little funding and we need all the publicity we can get. Will you write about us?

Unfortunately, I probably can’t help you. I do write recommendations, but they are for the benefit of punters deciding what plays to see, and not for the performers. I cannot afford to compromise my reputation by recommending things I’ve never heard of in order to help you out. However, if you contact me and ask me nicely enough, you never know. Maybe I can find another way to help you. You can always try.

If you’re a north-east company starting from the bottom, North East Theatre Guide is a good place to start. As far as I can tell, they run previews on everyone who sends them a press release, and they tweet out reminders for your show as it comes. There’s no guarantee it will get you an audience, but lots of professionals take notice of this blog and you’ll at least have them seeing your name there.

We’re trying to crowdfund a project. Will you publicise this for us?

If I’ve seen something you’ve done before and liked it: yes, quite possibly. Tell me about it and I’ll consider giving it a mention.

If I haven’t seen something you’ve done before, I’m afraid it’s a no. The reality is that all theatre crowdfunding is competing for a finite source of money. Publicising one group I know nothing about wouldn’t be fair on other groups also seeking crowdfunding.

The projects I am most likely to promote, however, are ones that benefit lots of artists and not just yourselves (such as Alphabetti Theatre). Tell me about those and you’ll have a supportive ear.

Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is is missing a few-

Jesus Christ, you guys are persistent.

News and comment

What I’m telling you is off the record. Would you mind holding off reporting this until this is announced officially?

Yes, probably. I generally respect embargoes and if I’m not sure whether you’re ready for something to be announced in public, I will ask before I publish it. However, if you want to make sure I don’t write something you told me informally, let me know and I won’t embarrass you by announcing it prematurely.

Note, however, this is a courtesy, not a right. If you tell me something absolutely scandalous and expect me to keep schtum, public interest might override my principle to respect embargoes. This has never happened and I hope it never will have to happen, but it might. And any correspondence that is rude, threatening or abusive is treated as on the record whether want it to be or not. If you don’t want rude, threatening or abusive comments to be made public, don’t make them in the first place.

I loved that article where you laid into [insert name of public figure I was critical of]. Why don’t you write more articles about politics?

Some actors and theatre companies have blogs where they bang on about every issue under the sun. I don’t want to go down that route. I frequently speak out on issues of freedom of speech, because I believe that censorship is the biggest threat to theatre today (ahead of funding cuts), but that’s as far as it goes. I appreciate those of you who support what I say, but this is a theatre blog and I don’t want it buried with posts unrelated to theatre. Same applies to my twitter account.

I may one day set up a separate blog covering wider issues. But much as I enjoy arguing with idiots, it’s takes a lot of time and energy to engage with all levels of idiocy on every issue under the sun. Bottom line is that I don’t want to be a one-man crusade to change the world, however much I care about things.

How dare you write about something that you know nothing about. I know all about this issue and I’m right and you’re wrong.

When I write about something contentious, I will do my best to go fact-checking online to find out what I can about the issue. If I’m not sure (and often controversial issue come down to one person’s unverified word against another’s), I will state what we do and don’t know. Nevertheless, if I have to make by best guess from the available evidence, I will.

If I’ve got it wrong and you know something I don’t, you are welcome to enlighten me with your evidence or sources. I will take this into account, and if it’s persuasive enough, I’ll change my mind. If, however, you refuse to back up your version of events, your choice, but that makes it hearsay. And hearsay is next to worthless.

Sadly, I normally get the second outcome. There’s usually some sort of excuse as to why they won’t share their evidence with me, but there again, there were also excuses to not show the “secret documents” in Animal Farm. Yes, I am that cynical.

Comments and right of reply

If your blog is for plays that are good, can I disagree and say I didn’t like the play?

Yes, provided it is constructive. As a rule of the thumb, the smaller-scale an artist is involved, the stricter I am with moderation. I expect large-scale productions to put up with a kicking on the internet – but trolling smaller-scale artists isn’t welcome here.

Can I comment anonymously?

Yes, but I don’t encourage it. I prefer everyone to be open and honest about who they are. I recognise that there are times when it’s necessary for people to be anonymous, so if you must withhold your identity, I will generally respect it.

However, if your comment is borderline in violation of the rules, I am less likely to give the benefit of the doubt to anonymous posters, especially anons who’ve never posted before. And if I find out you are posting anonymously in bad faith – such as impersonating another person, bigging up your own show or attacking a rival’s show – I will expose you. So don’t do it.

I disagree with a verdict in one of your reviews. I’d like to say what I think.

Go ahead. Whilst I generally only write reviews of plays I liked, or showed promise, that rule does not extend to comments. Negative comments of plays are allowed provided they are constructive. The only thing that is outright disallowed is personal attacks – everything else is considered on a case-by-case basis.

I have a comments policy for anyone who wants to read that, but so far the only comments I have refused to allow are the odd spam comment that slipped through the filter. Please help me keep it that way by being polite, everyone.

I want to comment on a post, but comments are closed. Why?

I occasionally close comments on very old posts because I prefer discussions to be on the newer articles. But I’m not trying to censor what you have to say. If you really want to comment on an old post, drop me a line and I might re-open it for you.

You wrote something critical of what I’m doing. May I respond?

Absolutely yes. No matter how strongly I disagree with what you’re up to, I firmly agree with the right of reply. In general, I will allow your post to appear in full and unedited. I will even protect you from anyone who launches personal attacks against you for replying.

You are also allowed to be critical of what I’m doing in your comment if you wish. However, the less time you spend defend yourself and the more time you spend attacking me, the less likely it is I will be able to let your comment go unchallenged. The right to have the last word is only a courtesy. I’m not obliged to offer this if you abuse it.

There’s something about me in you blog that’s incorrect or misleading. Can you change it?

Yes, of course. Tell me what’s wrong or misleading and I’ll correct or clarify it as necessary. That doesn’t mean I’ll retract entire articles, but I will deal with the issue to the extent of the inaccuracy.

Please be aware, however, that the best way of doing this is with a polite e-mail. The worst way to do it is with veiled legal threats. (You know who you are.) I will still correct or clarify the post as necessary, but I reserve the right to quote the words you used that sound like a legal threat. Also be aware that I have people who read this blog who notice when someone is trying to shut me up this way and end up drawing more attention to the article than it had before. If you haven’t read about the Streisand effect, you might want to do so now.

Miscellaneous

I contacted you, are you going to reply?

I aim to reply to everything that isn’t spam. If I have not contacted you, there are four possible reasons:

  1. I’m busy and I haven’t got round to it. Contact me again and I’ll try to get round to it.
  2. It’s been eaten by an unreliable spam filter. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to crack that problem. Keep trying to contact me by other means and you should be in luck eventually.
  3. You sent me a Tweet. I do not guarantee that I will read tweets or respond to them. Do a proper e-mail if you want to be sure I’ve seen it.
  4. Just occasionally, I don’t bother to reply to e-mails that looks like spam or indiscriminate circulars. Write something that proves you’re not a spambot (even “I’m not a spambot, honest” should do the trick), and I’ll get back to you.

I found some spelling/punctuation/grammar mistakes in your posts.

Smartarse.

But seriously, if you do find any, feel free let me know and I will correct it. I am only one person and I have to proof-read my own work, so mistakes are inevitably going to find their way in. Unless someone wants to donate their time as a proof-reader (which is about as likely as Elvis playing Lord Lucan in the Wimbledon final), there’s not much you can do about that.

You’re using an image copyrighted to me. Can you take it down?

I haven’t actually ever been asked this question, but I’m putting this in the list just in case there’s any arguments.

Short answer: if you don’t want me using your image, I won’t. Ask and I’ll take it down, no quibbles.

Long answer: wherever possible, I use free images under Creative Commons license or something similar. Obviously this doesn’t apply to most production photos, so I usually have to fall back on publicity images in other papers. As a rule of the thumb, if those photos appear to have been taken for the purposes of publicising your play, I’ll assume you’re happy with me using it to give you some, er, publicity. (And theatres frequently link to my reviews with images I didn’t expressly ask permission for, so no-one’s had a problem with it so far.) Just occasionally, when I write about something in the news, I may use an image that’s already been widely circulated in other news outlets.

Under no circumstances will I use an image if I have the slightest reason to believe it could harm the commercial income of the copyright holder. Likewise if there’s any indications on a web page that the owner doesn’t want the images reproduced.

I’ll review this if there’s too many arguments, but honestly, the web traffic to this blog is pretty minor to be worth fretting over too much.

Would you like to write something for us? We’ll pay you full professional rates.

Ooh, yes, I’d love to. Let me know what you- … Hang on a second, just want to check something. [Pinches myself, wakes up.] Oh, it was only a dream.

Would you like to write something for us? We can’t pay you but you’ll get exposure.

Hmm. I’m not terribly enthusiastic about this any more, especially when it’s corporate stuff. I’ve done it before, and I’ve generally found the support from from their end has been lousy and the traffic generated has been disappointing.

You can try. Tell me who you are, how much you want, and what’s in it for me. Favourable hearings offered to good causes and low-budget arts publications. And ask nicely.

What are adverts doing on your site?

Okay, no-one’s actually asked me this, but here’s the answer just in case. There are sometimes adverts on my site because I’m on a free WordPress package and that’s part of the deal. One of these days I might move to a self-hosted WordPress package, but that plan is a long way off. If anyone is so pissed off by the adverts they fancy donating me a few quid for the no ads upgrade, I’ll gratefully receive it. If you’re using Adblock or something similar, I have no objections.

I don’t get to see these ads whilst I’m logged in to my own site, so I don’t know what ads are shown, nor do I have any control over it. If you find an ad that you think is inappropriate please inform me immediately, and I will decide what to do that. Until then, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to put up this this new trick that life insurance companies hate.

Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your-

Oh piss off.

Last updated 5th May 2016

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