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Many theatrical productions, professional or local, often offer free tickets to local newspaper staffs, hoping to generate some positive word-of-mouth advertising or promotion. Some newspapers have reporters and editors specifically assigned to write reviews, but more often than not the tickets are given away to whoever agrees to write a review of the production. If you enjoy theater and would be willing to write your thoughts for the newspaper, then you might contact the editor in charge of the 'soft' news department and requesting that your name be considered for the next available set of complimentary tickets.

Once you've succeeded in getting a pair of tickets, however, you are honor-bound to deliver on your promise of a review. Taking advantage of a newspaper's goodwill is a sure way of insuring that you are never blessed with tickets again. So now you've seen the show, and you're ready to write your review. Here's what you'll want to consider covering, from the point of view of the director, the newspaper editor and the potential audience.

From the director's point of view, he'll want to see some technical remarks. Did the set look convincing, or did you notice the cardboard and chicken wire holding up the walls? Could you hear the actors clearly? If the audio was too loud or too soft, you'll want to note that in a review. There may be a correctable problem that will improve the show's quality later. Did any particular actor or actress stand out in your mind as extraordinarily talented or excrutiating to watch? Most acting at a local level is variable at best, so be constructive in your criticism at all times. If a particular performer showed a tendency to scream their lines, you might suggest that 'performer X' work on modulation and interpretation, not get out of show business forever. If some element struck you as exceptionally good, include it in your review. Good reviews try to balance the good and the bad, so avoid going completely negative or positive.

2. The editor wants to see clean, readable copy at a decent length. Most reviews are not long, unless they are used as a feature story in the entertainment section. Those stories are usually assigned to staffers, so your review should read more like a shorter book report. Ask the editor ahead of time about the length requirements, so there will be fewer misunderstandings when you turn in your final copy. You can be fairly informal in tone, using an first person point of view or the informal "you" voice. These are YOUR impressions of the production, so you can be a little less objective than a standard news story. Give your impressions in the first person. 'When I saw John Malkovich first slink onto the stage, I knew right then I was in for a real treat.' 'I usually don't like musicals, but this one made my toes tap.' Stay focused on the performances you saw that night, not the movie version of the play or the time you saw Dustin Hoffman play that same part last year.

3. From the audience's point of view, tell them what they want to hear. Short and simple. Did you like what you saw? Would you recommend this show to your friends? Is the language really as bad as they've heard it is? Is it worth the money? You have the advantage of having seen the production for free and at the request of the local media. These potential audience members are going to have to pay real money and make real arrangements to see the play themselves. Give them the benefit of your knowledge. If you were glad you had the chance to see this play, say so in the last part of your review. If you felt that the acting was a bit uneven or the plot was not quite interesting enough for your tastes, say that as well. If you can see where others may enjoy the play more than you did, leave some room for differences of opinion. You are only suggesting whether or not the production is worthwhile, not deciding its fate.

A good review is honest, but not intentionally hurtful. End your review with a sentence or two that implies a check and balance. 'Although I found this play to be too long and dramatic for my own tastes, those who enjoy a good murder mystery should enjoy Mousetrap.' Play by the newspaper's rules, and you may find yourself with another pair of tickets to yet another theatrical production.