We all know what to do with a fantastic, 5-star, out-of- this-world review. But what about the middle ground? Or even the dark pits of someone who really, really didn’t agree with what you were doing?
Notice the word ‘agree’ in that last sentence? Any review, whether good, bad or indifferent, is someone’s opinion. That opinion is influenced by what you did on the night, but it is also influenced by what the reviewer saw yesterday, last week and last year; how they felt on the day; if the venue was uncomfortable; and so on. Humans have cognitive biases and art is subjective. Nobody’s opinion, whether they think you are a rising star or a plummeting comet, is the final word on what you do. (Just in case you are wondering, you are the final word on what you do.)
So let’s never read reviews again, right?
Well, not necessarily. The thing is that while a review is an opinion, it can also be immensely valuable for you. At school and University you have the opinions of your teachers to help guide your development. Development doesn’t stop once you leave Uni (at least you hope it doesn’t). Just as with teachers and mentors, an informed reviewer can be a great resource for you. Imagine how many shows and performers they have seen over their career – far more than you will ever have time to see as you are busy practising and performing. Therefore, you have an opportunity to use their opinion to help you grow.
As with any feedback, when you are considering a review as potential advice, take into account the background and interests of the reviewer. Reviewers often have a genre they are accustomed to discussing and may not know how to talk about your work if it falls outside of their regular programming! Also consider the aims of your work. And if you take a good long look at the review, then a good long look at your work, and decide that you completely disagree with the reviewer’s opinion, that is ok. But it is also entirely ok to take on board fair criticism as you continue to grow and develop both your work and yourself.
(And this may seem obvious but I’ll say it anyways: if you are working with kids, read the review in full yourself before you let them read it. Also consider banning the reading of reviews until the run of the show is completed – for any age!)
Traditionally, reviews communicate what your show is about to people who might consider seeing it. Indeed, some people won’t see a show they haven’t read about, so eschewing all review platforms comes with some potential for financial peril, especially for self-produced artists. But this role of the reviewer also gives them a much greater understanding than you can ever have of the audience experience of your show. This can help you to improve the experience of your audience, as well as to identify and market to potential new audiences.
So in my opinion, when you get your next review, you should think about how you can make use of this potential advice from a critical friend. Or don’t. It’s entirely up to you.