At some point in your life you stop caring what other people think. Or so I’ve been told. I actually think that’s one of those urban myth aphorisms that people say to other people to make them feel better. What I really think is that if you are a creative being (and I think all humans are) then you always care how your creativity is received. Maybe you care less about how some folk respond and more about others. There are definitely folk whose opinions I value more than others but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care at all.
Which brings me to the subject of this post… coping with reviews. I say coping because that’s really what you have to do. Whether they’re raves or rants they need to be coped with.
You’d think that raves would be easy to cope with but they’re not. They can even be damaging, unless you classify them the same way that you classify the rants: as one person’s opinion. A nice, supportive, affirming opinion but an opinion all the same. I’m always grateful for positive reviews but have learnt that it’s my own instincts that I have to trust. I know when I’ve done good work. But I won’t deny that it’s great to have it recognized by someone else.
Why then can good reviews be damaging? Well sometimes they can lead to a sense of invincibility or complacency. Sometimes they highlight behaviors that are best left unstressed. Sometimes they’re also just wrong. And of course vice versa for the bad reviews. Sometimes they’re right.
What is hard to reconcile for me though is when reviews, of the same show, from the same night, are at opposite ends of the spectrum. I mean really opposite ends: love it and hate it. That’s when I have to remind myself that a review is just an opinion from an individual. And everything that makes up that individual is brought to bear when they write their review: life experience, gender, politics, age, self-awareness, aesthetic, sexuality, nationality, sense of humor, pretensions, education and on and on.
So reminding myself (and the cast and crew) that a review is just one person’s opinion helps me cope with the good, and the less than good. Which then only leaves the relative influence of the reviews to address: even in this social media, online, interwebby world the hard copy review wins the influence battle. Maybe that’s because it has the imprimatur of being in ink on dead tree. Maybe it’s because theatre goers skew older that hard copy still has influence.
Whatever the reason, the less than good hard copy review can completely outweigh any number of stellar on line reviews. But it is still just an opinion. And that’s how I cope with them. One opinion to be weighed against all the others: especially to be weighed against the opinions of the audience and, for me, those are the opinions that really count. A sold out show, folk who go out of their way to thank you, raves or pans on Facebook, these are the reviews that I don’t ‘cope’ with. These are the ones I learn from and value.
For the audience is the final link in the chain, the final piece of the puzzle, the reason we do any of this. So if anyone’s opinion should be valued, it’s the audience’s and as members of an audience we should always have our own opinion, and we should share it, as far and as wide as we can. Especially if it runs counter to the louder voices of the professional reviewers – there is truth in the balance of opinions and wisdom in the crowd.