Reviews. They can be great for marketing. They can also sting. Are they a public service for potential audience members? Do they make the work better? I hope it’s the latter as much as the former. I hope that artists who choose to read their reviews take them for what they are worth. And they are worth a lot. They can tell you where you missed your mark. They can tell you how to do it better in the future. At the same time, if you read them while in the midst of performance, they can shatter your confidence and make you question your intentions, which can be dangerous.
And what do you do when the reviews are polarized? You’re getting good reviews from non-mainstream sources, but the mainstream media is writing reviews that make it seem like your show isn’t the best option for that first date or that elusive Friday night where you can have a nice evening with your partner or your friends. You worry that your general audience is reading mainstream media and making choices based on those reviews. You worry that maybe they won’t see the other reviews in nontraditional places. You post the good stuff on your Facebook page and try to downplay the rest.
I would offer that bloggers and other nontraditional review streams have the luxury of working without a deadline. They can think about what they have seen, process it over a few days, and come to a different end. Those who are writing for the mainstream media are equally important, but they are working on deadlines. They don’t necessarily have the option of waiting for a complex, complicated show to work on their psyche for a few days before responding. But as artists, we need to realize that first impressions are as interesting as the impressions that come over time. Both are how an audience responds to your work. There will always be people who embrace their first impression and never think about it again. And there will always be people who like to mull a play over in their minds before rendering an opinion of your work. You get to decide to whom you want to play.
I would also argue that you should embrace all of the reviews. If you are doing a show that polarizes your audience, you are doing something interesting. I think you can get potential audience members energized by sharing the good and the bad and asking them to decide for themselves. I think that there will always be audience members who follow one reviewer or another, but a bulk of them will be intrigued by a polarization of reviews. It could be the best marketing ever! Come, see, and decide.
Girl Friday Productions has a show up right now (Camino Real) that is a complex, complicated play. The company knew this going in – Girl Friday is nothing if not thorough in its research of what has come before. In the original Broadway run, the critics hated it. Although it has had several regional productions in recent years, it remains a play that isn’t done very often. It’s a hard play to do. And this run is no different. While the company is getting a lot of good reviews, they have also received some not-so-great reviews. The critics who have suggested that this isn’t a great production are certainly entitled to their point of view, but do their opinions affect your choice of whether or not to see the show? Should they? I’m curious. Where is the critique of a show helpful for you as an audience member? Where is it helpful as an artist?