Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Delicate Balance of Dealing With Reviews

I have a very schizophrenic relationship with reviews.

I don't really hang much on them, and, as I've said, I am much more interested in the opinions of general audience members than anything else. I do believe there is often a disconnect between many critical responses, and the layman's. Not always, to be sure, but I do think that if people are flocking to see a show (or a movie, or read a book, or whatever) that is widely panned, the problem isn't necessarily the public's taste, or lack thereof.

But I do read reviews. I puzzle over them, consider any arguments I feel are valid, and dismiss any I find to be unfair or just obtuse. Sometimes, I am hurt by them, sometimes emboldened, and sometimes just downright confused. You can't change your choices because some critic for "poptheatreblog.com" thinks you yell too much, but you can consider choices you might make in the future.

I find that I learn things, even from the most negative reviews, if they come from a place of thoughtfulness. If the critic approaches the work with an openness. They may lose it completely as the show progresses, that is one-hundred percent fair, but you can always tell when that happens. There's a clarity in how they will describe where you lost them that you can learn much from.

You can also never forget that there are critics, and whole publications, who have determined, before they ever enter the theatre, if the show will be "good" or not. Is it the latest show from the current "hot" director? Is it a company who traditionally caters to an "older" audience? Is it a Neil Simon play? Or perhaps the latest "hot" playwright? You'll spot these right away. They're either gushing, embarrassingly gushing, or nitpicky about things that are, in the overall scheme, unimportant, or the best that can be accomplished on that production level, but easy to point out and mock.

That said...I absolutely reject the idea, that I have heard in many a dressing room, that critics are, essentially, a de facto arm of the theatre's promotional department. They do not owe you a good review "to encourage people to go to the theatre." They owe the public an honest, and, I believe, thoughtful, reaction to they show they saw, period.

Also, NEVER forget that it's just some person's opinion.

As you may have guessed, I am taking a walk back through reviews of Frankenstein, and my performance in it. I make no bones about the fact that I put a lot of myself into the show, and some people just did not "get" it. I tried to give everything I had, every show, and I paid the price, physically especially. So, I will admit, the first few reviews out of the gate were fairly critical, and they shook me.

At the end of the day, I think it was good. I needed to break myself out of cocoon of self-indulgence I feel like I'd started to build around myself and my performance. I was twisting myself in knots, because I wanted to be "good." I wanted to be impressive.

What this taught me is to relish when the critical reaction to my work is all over the map. When some critics dismiss your work, while others embrace it eloquently. It's a visceral reminder that not everything is for everyone, and that trying to be that is a recipe for luke-warm water.

Ultimately, the reviews were all over the map. I was honestly amused by the sheer variety of reactions. Some people wanted more rage (as if The Creature is some sort of 19th century version of The Hulk), while others seemed to feel I was just wandering around bellowing the whole time. Who knows? Perhaps my performance varied that much from night to night. Perhaps that's the curse of playing such an iconic role, everyone had their own creature in their mind before I ever rose from the slab.

It doesn't matter. It. Does. Not. Matter.

The simple fact is, the lions share of my notices were positive, if not outright glowing. I have nothing to complain about in the grand scheme. I certainly did not have to deal with some of the out-of-line comments that were directed at other members of our cast. Honest criticism is fair, comparing an actor to a Muppet is just being a dick for the sake of it.

All I know is this; I loved doing this show. I loved playing this role. I loved this cast and this script. I feel strong and justified in the choices I made and the performance I gave. Was this a perfect production? Probably not, because that simply does not exist. I wanted as many people to see it as possible, and I am honored by every person that did.

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