Because theatre happens at one specific place at one specific time, it can be hard to discuss with another person. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a performance’s flaws are caused by the script or by an actor having an off night. Throw into the mix the fact that you don’t have to see a show to have an opinion on it, and it becomes increasingly hard to determine how to talk about theatre. When you find yourself in the situation of taking a stance on a show you haven’t seen, there’s a few things you need to keep in mind.
Know What You’re Talking About
Don’t talk about a show you only know the name of. It’s not fair to the artists who created the show to form an opinion without being educated on the subject matter, especially given how easy it is to learn about shows now. Look up clips from performances on youtube, listen to the OBC on spotify, obtain a copy of the script, read the wikipedia article about the show—whatever you do, just make sure you’re familiar with the show, and aren’t forming your opinion based on preconceived notions about the artists or the subject matter.
If you get into an arguments about the merits of a show you haven’t seen, make sure your adversary knows you haven’t seen it live. This will prevent them from immediately invalidating your opinion if the fact comes up later in the conversation. Let them know you know what you’re talking about, but make sure they know the knowledge didn’t come from attending a performance.
Don’t Talk About Participation Aspects
I like to think about there being two different categories aspects of a show can fall into—paper aspects and participating aspects. Paper aspects are things you can learn from a piece of paper—plot, composer, lyrics, etc. They’re things that can be conveyed by being written down. Participation aspects are things you can only learn from being in the audience, such as the power of a closing number or how enjoyable a scene plays. You shouldn't talk about participation aspects of shows you haven’t seen. If you’re discussing a show with another person who has seen the show, you can talk about why a song’s lyrics aren’t good but you can’t tell someone they’re wrong for thinking it’s powerful. Not only does this invalidate their experience, it isn’t fair to the artists who created the show.
Be Open to Change
The beliefs formed about a show without attending a performance are often the hardest to change. This shouldn’t stop you from taking a stance on shows you haven’t seen. The unfortunate truth is that not all shows will play in a theatre near you, so preventing yourself from forming opinions on shows you haven’t seen can limit your musical education. Allow yourself impressions of a show, as long as you’re open minded to changing them. Maybe a show is more powerful in person then you thought it was. Maybe an actor made you hate a particular characters. Maybe a friend who’s seen the show was finally able to explain the plot to you in a way you could understand. The important thing is to remain open minded and to give every show the respect it deserves.