In a landscape that sometimes seems crowded with theater sites (if anyone knows what www.hotbroadway.com is, please share in the comments field), we're about to welcome another. BroadwayAudience.com is launching today with the promise of offering, as the release says, "peer-to-peer theatre reviews online." What does this mean? Well, as creator Ken Mahoney told me, his site will be somewhere where married suburban housewives with two children can go to find out what shows other married suburban housewives with two children have enjoyed.
"There seems to be an overall disconnect with the critics and the fans" Mahoney, who is also a Broadway producer (credits include Pippin, Macbeth, Gore Vidal's The Best Man), said. "There seems to be a space between the two. I was frustrated when I loved something, but the critics hated it. I want to have Broadway audiences have more influence going forward."
One may say that the message boards (including ones found on BroadwayWorld and TalkinBroadway) and also comment fields associated with critics' reviews give fans a place to be heard. Mahoney agrees that those are great resources, but he felt there was nothing out there that was "quantifiable." The idea here is simple -- you sign up with your age, town, number of children, etc., rank a show (Broadway or off-Broadway) and also write a short review. You rank shows from 1-6 stars in these categories: "choreography," "music," "set/design," "performers," and the cumulative "overall." Once the review database grows, a proprietary algorithm will match demographic data to help narrow searches for shows that visitors might want to see. Mahoney hopes that BroadwayAudience.com will also release a cumulative summary review on every opening night. So, come August 15, there will be a New York Times review of Soul Doctor and also a review that is from BroadwayAudience.com and gives a summary breakdown of their rankings with possibly some other relevant data (example: "Men are ranking it five stars overall, but women are ranking it two stars overall").
I raised to Mahoney the possibility that other producers will be none too happy with people coming to early performances and "reviewing" their productions. (We did not get into my well-documented thoughts about delaying professional critics but charging full price, as that was not relevant, as even his own shows do that.) He said they were considering what window they would include when they calculate their official published review, but people could, as of now, go on and "review" previewing shows. This is consistent with the message boards and many comment fields associated with show listings on other sites.
The site will also feature an old school live chat module (uncommon if not unheard of for theater sites), news and photos, but Mahoney believes he knows its place. "We're not trying to jump in a sandbox where we don't belong," he stated. "There are people doing news already, people doing message boards; we believe we have our space." With that in mind, I wish them the best of luck. The theater community is often marked by competition -- there are many shows and sites competing for a limited audience. However it can't hurt for there to be one more player. Throughout my career, I've heard rumors of TheaterMania's impending demise, and I've always been happy it keeps updating. I remember a decade ago when BroadwayWorld was launched (happy anniversary) and I thought no one would ever go there other than 100 super fans and, now, Robert Diamond is quoted in papers and the site is referenced in television shows. So, let us give a big welcome to the latest player. Hey, I'll even welcome HotBroadway, although the graphics scare me.
BroadwayAudience.com -- also supported by Mahoney's Pippin co-producers Michael Alden and Dale Badway -- right now has no revenue stream. It's more of a passion project. One day the creators might sell advertisements or maybe tickets, but for now, it's there because Mahoney believed it should be. Perhaps he agreed with Alec Baldwin and actually thought Orphans was a great show.
While I have been known to go to a message board or two and get general buzz, I'm not personally one who uses quantitative fan reviews in any industry other than the dining delivery one. I have been to CinemaScore once in my life. I like reading critics I have read for years; I know who I generally agree with and who I don't. Some I read just because I like their writing. I'm a huge fan of critical discourse and less a fan of stars and soundbites (though I do enjoy going to RottenTomatoes and StageGrade). It greatly saddens my that the AP will no longer be doing off-Broadway reviews or that Michael Feingold will not be printed in the Village Voice -- I hope I am not somehow contributing to at least the former by publicizing a site like this. But I know some people crave knowing what "people like me" think about a given show. BroadwayAudience.com just might be the site for them.