On Sunday afternoon, I went to the opening night -- opening matinee, really -- for Studio 180's production of Stuff Happens, which Mirvish Productions are currently remounting at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre. The show packed a punch the first time around, and I was pleased to find out it still does.
I'm always happiest delivering good news, but the odd thing is Mirvish Productions didn't seem to want me to deliver it.
Here's what's been going on behind the scenes the past couple of weeks: Two Fridays ago, all the critics in Toronto got an e-mail from a Mirvish publicist uninviting them to the opening nights for My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding (MMLJWW from here on in), Stuff Happens and Fiddler on the Roof. "New dates are TBA," we were told.
It's not that unusual for an opening night to be delayed by a day or two due to the illness of a cast member or some other unforeseen circumstance. Longer delays can take place too when something bigger goes awry. Newspapers will almost always wait to review (and report on the delays, of course).
What was unusual -- unprecedented, maybe -- about the current situation is that Mirvish did not postpone the official openings of these shows, just the "media night". And the "media night" wasn't pushed back just a few days, but weeks or a month. The shows in question would no longer be in previews, tickets would be sold as regular tickets and everyone going to see the shows would assume they were up and running -- but the professional critics weren't being invited to weigh in on them.
After a flurry of queries, Mirvish then sent out "re-invitations" asking critics to review Stuff Happens on Dec. 5, halfway through its limited run, and, even more bizarrely, to review MMLJWW on Dec. 10, two weeks after it was originally scheduled to close. (It's now been extended to January 3.)
After pondering the situation -- and not being offered any clear rationale for these delays -- I consulted with my editors and we decided to buy tickets to review Stuff Happens and MMLJWW. At a time when bloggers and Twitterers now regularly write about shows whenever they see them, even while they're still in previews, it made no sense to us to wait weeks after "opening night" had come and gone to inform The Globe's readers about the quality of these two hotly anticipated homegrown shows. I had already heard from a few readers wondering how MMLJWW was and why a review wasn't up.
The Toronto Star, I'm glad to see, is on the same page -- they ran a full review of MMLJWW last Friday.
The question everyone has been asking, though, is: What on earth is going on at Mirvish HQ? Last week, Martin Knelman noted that Mirvish's publicists were sending out press releases about MMLJWW that quoted ordinary ticket buyers, leading to a rumour that they are taking a tip from movie studios that now release certain populist movies (like G.I. Joe) without sneak peeks for critics.
As I was writing this blog post, however, I got the following email from David Mirvish (click through to see). Looks like they're not writing off critics. Still not sure what's been going on, but I'm glad to see they want to avoid this type of confusion again in the future.
November 23, 2009
Dear Friends in the Media,
Mirvish Productions has recently, inadvertently, created a great deal of confusion by delaying or changing media nights for the shows My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding and Stuff Happens.
I'd like to apologize for that. I don't think we fully appreciated the difficulties we might be causing the media in our efforts to resolve internal scheduling problems.
We'll be trying our best to make sure that this sort of confusion never arises again and, as part of that effort, I'd like to set out, in writing, the policies I'm asking my staff to follow with regard to setting media nights for our shows.
1) In the case of touring productions that have already played other venues, media nights are to be on the second or third evenings of local performances.
2) In the case of touring productions breaking in new cast in one of our theatres - and in our theatre for five or more weeks (as is the case with the upcoming Fiddler on the Roof) - we will hold media nights during the second week of performances, and under no circumstances later than the third week.
3) In the case of productions transferring from another theatre to one of ours, but not touring (as was the case with the recent The Boys in the Photograph), media night will be set within the second week of Toronto performances.
4) In the case of wholly new productions, originating in one of our theatres, we will hold media nights within the fourth week of performances, but no later than the fifth week.
I hope this will clear up any confusion. If there is ever any reason why we are forced to vary from this policy, rest assured that we will endeavour to give you plenty of advance notice.
Very truly yours,