Read this article on HowlRound.
To Whom It May Concern:
Hello! As an avid theatregoer and professional, I am familiar with your work and greatly admire your dedication to the community at large. I would love to invite you to my play, The Most Fantastic Show Ever.
“This is the most amazing show I’ve seen in my entire life!”—Theatre Extravaganza (from our reading last year at Hole-in-the-Wall Pub)
Sex! Drugs! Pizza! You’ve never seen a dinner party like this. Get ready laugh your you-know-what off at our sexy cast!
To reserve your ticket, email our awesome company manager [name] at [email]. We’ll even let you bring a guest!
For more information on The Most Fantastic Show Ever, see the attached Microsoft Word doc of our press release.
Live long and prosper, Jim Bob
If the way you talk about your show is as exciting and as polished as the show itself, we all win.
Congratulations! Your play is getting produced. Your budget is tight, so you can’t afford a publicist, but you know getting reviews are crucial if you ever want to produce this show again. You decide to reach out to critics yourself.
I am your typical small-time indie theatre reviewer. I mostly work with press agents, but occasionally, and especially during festivals, I hear from the artists themselves.
Each year, I receive dozens of unprofessional, inappropriate press invites. In the deluge of emails we theatre critics receive, I understand wanting to stand out. But I see amazing shows all the time selling themselves short by making simple mistakes.
I want to help you do better!
A caveat: I’m no theatrical public relations professional, though my day job is in marketing. But I am the sort of small-time blogger you’re probably looking for to write about your show, so my opinion may count for something here.
The Kraine Theater, an off-off-Broadway theater venue that often presents low-budget, self-produced shows. Photo by KL Thomas.
The above (fake) email is my attempt to combine the most common mistakes I see in press invites. Let’s break down the problems, shall we?
Impersonal greeting. As anyone who has ever written a cover letter knows, there’s often no good way to start a letter to someone you don’t know. But don’t make it more awkward than it is. My preference is just to keep it simple: “Dear [First name]” if you’re personalizing the emails, or something generic like “Dear Theatre Professional” if you aren’t.
Acting like you know me. If there’s a legitimate reason you’re reaching out to me specifically—most likely, I’ve reviewed another one of your shows before—go ahead and mention it. But otherwise, trying to make a personal connection just comes off as weird and unprofessional. This email isn’t about me. I want you to convince me to see this show because it sounds like it will be great, not because you paid me a compliment.
The press quotes. This isn’t always a bad thing. But given the theatre industry’s tendency to only be interested in world premieres (which we’ve heard plenty about on HowlRound before now), the quotes may be doing more harm than good. Especially if you’ve only had a workshop or a staged reading, or if your only quotes are from smaller blogs, go ahead and skip them.
“Sex! Robots!” Look, we can talk all day about how to best market indie theatre to a general audience, but you’re writing this email to someone who likes niche theatre already. You don’t need to sell me with sex or clichés. I would much rather you just tell me what your show is actually about—this brief description certainly didn’t.
Not telling me when to come. If you have preferred press dates, tell me. Otherwise, give me the dates of the full run and let me know I can come to any of them. I shouldn’t have to Google your show to even figure out if I’m available.
Having to email a different email address than this one to reserve tickets. In a similar vein, you’re adding more work for me, when it really wouldn’t take any more effort on your part to go the simpler route and let me just respond to the sender’s email address to reserve tickets.
Acting like a plus-one is a special bonus. I think there’s actually a ton to be said about why it isn’t socially acceptable in our society to go to the theatre alone, but that’s neither here nor now. Providing a plus-one to critics is an industry standard.
Attaching your press release. If I can convince you of only one thing in this article, it’s this: Put your press release in the body of the email. I don’t want to deal with opening your attachments on my phone, and it’s one more step I have to take before I get to why your show is actually good. One-page PDFs aren’t terrible because they may display in an email automatically, but Microsoft Word documents are a killer.
“Live long and prosper.” If your show isn’t about Star Trek, you don’t need a Star Trek reference in your email. “Thanks” or “Best” will do just fine.
It’s tempting to think of theatre critics as a vast, unknowable force, with the power to elevate your play to stardom or destroy it at their leisure. But here’s the thing: we don’t do this for the money. We do it because we like theatre, and we want to share the great plays we see with the world. We’re your cheerleaders, not your enemy. If the way you talk about your show is as exciting and as polished as the show itself, we all win.