Reacting to Reviews

ReactingToReviews-lrThe Good, the Bad, and the Mean


As artists we put weeks, months and sometimes years into a project and present it to an audience.  A reviewer sees it once and, depending on their skill and time pressures, writes something in a fraction of a fraction of the time we’ve spent on it.  Sometimes they like it and sometimes they don’t.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.  And a reviewer reacts to a theatrical piece from their subjective perspective.  A reviewer is only one person and one opinion, but they do have more people “listening” to them than your average audience member.

There are three types of reviewers:  The Good, The Bad, and The Mean.

The Good reviewers are people that have experience reviewing theatre and have some kind of theatrical background.  They can sometimes give harsh criticism, but there is at least a wealth of theatrical knowledge for them to draw on.  Accolades from this group are well earned and should be savoured.

The Bad reviewers are people with little to no experience in theatre. They usually have little to no experience writing.  In fact, often the Bad reviewers have no business writing grocery lists, let alone writing theatre reviews.  Reviews from them hold little weight, but it’s nice to get a positive review, right?

The Mean reviewers are often a subset of the Bad reviewers.  If they don’t like a show, they find something mean-spirited to say.  I suppose they think they’re being clever when in fact they are being nasty.  These are the people that make negative comments about a performer’s looks, weight, sexual orientation, etc.  Reviews from the Mean can stick with you because they are hateful and hurtful.  They are attacks disguised as “criticism.”

Sometimes it is important to call out these Mean reviewers for what they have written.  Darren Stewart-Jones recently sent an open letter to The View regarding the homophobic comments made by the reviewer who went to his play.  Apparently The View will print an apology.  Writing a review for a periodical isn’t the same as making snide comments on the side to your friends. Appropriate judgment and respect should be used when writing a review; but rarely is by the Mean reviewer.

Getting a good review is easy to react to.  It uplifts you and reinforces your efforts.

It hurts to get a negative review.  The words sting and it feels unfair that one person’s view gets broadcast further than all the people that appreciate your show.  We all have our fans!

One solution is to not read reviews.  And some people I know claim to live by this.

I read reviews.  I can’t help it.  As an artist, we need to try new things to grow.  I know not all those things will be “successful” or appreciated, but I read reviews to gauge how effective my piece has been.  I do keep in mind the three types of reviewers to keep things in perspective.

Sometimes there’s a germ of useable feedback in a negative review. It’s important to try to find the core idea trying to be expressed.  When you figure out the core idea (sometimes the Bad reviewers hit on something), you have to ask yourself do you agree with it or not?

If you don’t agree with it, ignore it.  Water off a duck’s back, baby!

If you agree with the core concern, then note it.  Even if you don’t agree with how the concern was “expressed”.  You can use that information when you develop the piece further.

Ultimately, we aren’t going to please everyone, nor should we try.  At the end of the day, I write for my audience, not the critics.  We can’t control what others say about our shows.  But we can control how we react to that criticism.

6 thoughts on “Reacting to Reviews

  1. I’ve been on both sides, beneath, and on top of all this Peter and understand perfectly what you’re saying. Giancarlo Menotti famously observed that a review “may spoil your breakfast, but it should never spoil your lunch”, and I think of this most often when faced the reviewers you describe as bad or mean. Works. Most of all I never communicate with a reviewer regardless of the designation. One should never let on that one has read the review.

    • Great quote, Tom. Another thing is one shouldn’t ask a reviewer “what they thought” just after seeing a piece. Most people need time to formulate their ideas. Although, I’m not sure I agree with never communicating with reviewer — unless you mean to debate a review, in which case I agree. Many reviewers are wonderful people and a pleasure to talk to outside of the reviewing process. And the good ones, even when giving a negative review, want you to develop and improve as an artist.

  2. It is hard not to read theatre reviews, because they do impact audience — especially really glowing ones with words like “BRILLIANT” in the headline, accompanied by a large picture. But reviewers (including self- annointed ones on-line) are a pretty mixed bag and I can count on my right hand the ones that taught me something useful and still have fingers left over. It is human nature to curse the nay-sayers and reprint the gushers on facebook, but the truth is, if we are not going to believe the bad ones, because they are written by mean-spirited hacks, then we can’t believe the good ones either. My advice is to get critiques from people you respect (a mentor, fellow artist, heck even your next door neighbour) — but as for reviews, have someone you trust check the papers to tell you whether there is a picture and the type-size of the headline… and then flip to the sudoku.

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