To Read or Not To Read
The Gamble of Being Reviewed
Do you read reviews?
Sure you read the one that everyone posts on your Facebook wall with "congratulations!" next to it. And you know you're not supposed to read any reviews because "if you believe the good ones you have to believe the bad ones." (Polly Carl says to never read reviews ever because who cares what they think. And we try to follow every bit of advice she offers).
But would you ever go out of your way to read one that wasn't so kind in order to "learn something" or "make yourself a better writer" or "give yourself a reason to drink heavily?" No. Again, Polly says "Negative reviews will never be constructive because they are just too damn personal." We agree.
Negative reviews will never be constructive because they are just too damn personal.
All this begs the question of whether reviews should ever include dramaturgical thoughts like: "the second act needed to be shortened" or "the subplot with the incest didn't work." Is this a specific request to the writer or director? Is this so that the audience will go into the show preparing to dread the second act? We know that a review is not studied dramaturgy but rather personal opinion. (If it was dramaturgy the note-giver would see the show more than once, read the script, ask the writer why the second act was written that way before proclaiming a solution to something the writer/director does not think is a problem).
We think this practice, when it happens, is weird.
Which gets us to the strange and harrowing experience of getting reviewed. Being reviewed feels more and more like actual gambling, doesn't it? You know the game well (the game is your craft), you show up prepared (prepared means you've put on the best show you've got), but you cannot control the cards you're dealt (the day the reviewers come, the mood they are in, the plays they just saw, what they had for lunch). Unlike poker, you get one chance to win. You don't get another deal (unless you're Spiderman).
We think the poker metaphor remains apt because of the amount of money and cred you can lose with a bad review. The company loses money and the writer loses chances for further productions. The only thing that comes in droves is either pity or schadenfreude.
Then there's the happy amount of tweets, Facebook posts, and pull-quotes you gain with a good review.
We know there's no immediate solution to this nail-biting gamble you go through with every production you do. And we know amazing shows have gotten slashed in the press while other plays get glows. It's all taste. Some people's taste just goes on the front page of the arts section.
We'll stick with Polly's advice. Don't read them.
Scratch that. Just read the ones on NYTCriticWatch.com and participate in a short survey to help us understand what reviews are made of and how they affect American theatre.