SO how many times have you been to the theater this year? What is that this?
You better go if you want to catch David Bell, who has seen 21 shows so far (arguably more at the time of this publication), or Aaron Riccio, who has totaled 24, or Patrick Lee, 25. They’re all getting closer to Christopher, a young man from the East Village who had racked up 39 until a poorly planned overseas vacation derailed his progress. (He asked that his last name not be released to prevent his employer from learning about his extracurricular activities.)
Yet this race is a marathon, not a sprint. The four men, all theater junkies, battle it out over who can watch and blog on the most shows in 2007. They track their progress at showshowdown.blogspot.com, which includes links to their individual blogs.
Mr. Bell, a 32-year-old playwright, has been blogging about his theatrical activities since 2005. Last year, he and Mr. Lee, 41, began a friendly rivalry, which grew into a short but thoughtful collection of ‘online exchanges.
Mr. Bell’s blog “started out as a small electronic Playbill collection,” he explained, adding that he had to put away books to make room for his real-world collection.
Then his opponent raised the bar. “Patrick was delivering these wonderfully succinct critiques,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let him start showing me.”
This year, Mr. Riccio, 23, and Christopher joined us and the Show Showdown site was born. There are only three general rules, as Mr. Bell pointed out:
Shows must be blogged to be counted.
No concerts, despite the theatricality inherent in Barbra Streisand.
Repeated views do not count.
The short entrees range from campy, insider banter to cutting-edge cultural observations. And their targets extend far beyond Broadway, including everything from Off Broadway to opera and storybook ballets. “Broadway shows are no worse or better than the rest,” Mr. Riccio said, “but they get the most coverage because they have the most money, are backed by critics who feel forced to cover the show and have publicists This can be a dangerous thing.
Christopher did not call their posts critical, but added in an email message that he viewed bloggers as the public editors of New York theater. While the Show Showdowners vary in their opinions on reviews, all dispute the extreme influence that critics have. “I think everyone who goes to the theater should blog about this, so that there is a wide range of opinions,” Mr. Lee said. “Either way, it’s about promoting the theater.
This supporting tenor, frequently heard among the growing number of theater bloggers, is surely music to the ears of the industry. Publicists and producers of small shows have started to take notice, occasionally issuing invitations to bloggers (who otherwise buy tickets like the rest of us). Bigger theaters, especially on Broadway, aren’t that easy. Still.
“I don’t think bloggers have had the impact they have in other industries yet,” said one publicist who works with clients on and off Broadway. But he insisted on anonymity, saying: “They will finally start to have influence. I don’t want to offend any of them now.
Andy Horwitz, producer at Performance Space 122 and creator of the alternative performance blog culturebot.org, said that while the theater blogging network remained “very insider”, someone would end up perfecting “that irreverent insider tone that always appeals to the General Audience. “
“When that person hits him, that will be the one to appear,” he added.
Who knows? Maybe he’ll be one of the Show Showdown runners. Mr Bell said he was upset recently when a teller recognized his name. “At intermission, the director came and introduced himself, and he was a little nervous,” Mr. Bell said with a laugh. “I was like, I’m just a bartender.”