My doctor likes to point out that 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class. I mention that because in any competition or comparison (unless those where partial orderings are involved), something is always going to be ranked at the bottom. Even with partial orderings, there is some value that is the lowest value (unless everything is incomparable). That is certainly true for a Fringe Festival: some shows work, some don’t. Some audiences love some shows, some don’t. Even the best show will have audience members for whom it lands with a thud, despite your best efforts. If you care about their opinion at all, you learn what you can from it and improve your show.
I bring this up because of an incident that happened yesterday, in the 45 minute interval between our two shows at The Complex. The performer and author of the second show we had seen the previous Sunday (here’s the link; you figure it out) recognized me and came up to me. A typical New Yorker, she positioned herself about 10 inches from my face and proceeded to lay into me on how my writeup hurt her and her director. She said she almost thought about quitting, she said the contemplated suicide, she said it left her in tears. But, she said, she got over it because she’s got a sold out show at a future Fringe (or Off-Broadway; I can’t recall) in New York and she would work to improve. She said I should think about the hurt I cause when I write something up, and how I go on and on and on with the details. I seem to recall she also said she was having a bad day that day, and why didn’t I get the good message from her show. I just said I was sorry if impacted her so, and eventually she walked away.
Talking with the staff at the Complex Box Office who watched this, they seemed to note she was a bit crazy.
This is the first time I’ve ever had that happen from a writeup. I’ve had folks email back with corrections, and I’ll often edit the review to note those corrections, or note that they indicated they were having difficulties that day, and that my experience might have been atypical. Be polite with me, and I’ll be polite back. But this?
When I wrote up the review, I noted that there were a few comments that expressed a similar view to mine: that this performer was not prepared and rambled through the show. There were a number of positive reviews, but those seemed to be more from friends and cohorts. Additionally, while in line for our first show on Sunday (writeup tonight), I happened to be standing next to an audience member who was at the same show last Saturday with us. Talking with her (and this was before this incident), she expressed the same opinion. This performer was not prepared, and the performance was painful and didn’t impart the message she wanted to impart.
In real life, I’m in the technical world*. I regularly have to teach courses in my area of expertise. I know my material well; I dry run (rehearse) as necessary. I make sure my material clearly imparts the point I want it to make. The reason I didn’t comment on the point she was trying to make was that she didn’t design her show to clearly and succinctly make clear what she was trying to say.
At every Fringe festival, there will be shows at the bottom and shows at the top; shows that need a lot of work and shows that don’t. I think that performers expect that, and use reviews and writeups to learn where they can improve. It is just like getting back comments on conference technical submission: the reviewers aren’t doing this to be personal, they are making comments so that you can be better in the next iteration.
So, Ms. Wow, if you are going to be getting up on a stage — be it the theatre stage, the teaching stage, or submitting technical material to conferences — you need to be prepared to have your work rejected and to get (hopefully) constructive criticism. Do with that criticism what you may, but remember that your reviewers aren’t giving it to you to be hurtful or spiteful, but to help you improve for your next time.
P.S.: * If you didn’t see it earlier in the week, I’m thinking about putting myself out the for criticism: in other words, I’m thinking about a Fringe show. I’d need a writer, so if you’re interested, look here.
P.P.S.: With respect to technical papers, here’s a good article on how to constructively review a research paper. Similar to that, I think there are different aspects to consider when reviewing a show: there’s the writing of the show: how well it establishes its message and conveys that to the audience. There’s the performance: how well does the performer do, independent of whether the story is good or bad. Lastly, there’s the technical aspect of execution: did the lighting, sound, scenery, and costumes contribute to or distract from the performance and message.