Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ridiculous Rancor 8/05/09

Do whatever you feel in your heart to be right - you'll be criticized anyway.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Come join me.
One evening in New York I had a late dinner with a Japanese gentleman who came there to produce, direct and perform a very contemporary theatre piece of his own. While we were dining a friend arrived with the early editions of the papers. The Japanese fellow read the reviews of his work and was outraged. "They missed the whole point" he said. "Most likely" I replied. I tried to get him to relax and pay no attention to what the reviews said, to believe in the work he had done and to keep on performing as if it was a success. I think he did.

It is always a shock to people who aren't from New York to read what sort of blasphemy critics will write for the sake of selling newspapers. I knew a woman who directed a piece Off-Broadway and got a terrible review from a New York paper. She went back into rehearsal and when she was ready invited the critic to return whereupon she got an even worse review. I think, I hope, she learned her lesson.

In the world of the performing arts the court of opinion is most often incorrectly and ineptly presided over by critics. Why that should be so is due in part to the expense and hence the urgency of providing a production that is both an artistic and financial success. With the exception of films, which will pay for themselves if they are good and popular, the performing arts are not financially supported by the box office unless they run for a long time. So the future of a theatre piece is generally in the hands of the critics and not the performers or producers.

Critics have too much power. The critics in New York will close a very good show and keep a mediocre one running. It has happened many times. Why? Because criticism is a very subjective thing and because most of the critics are very good writers. People will read them for their clever and sometimes vicious comments and accept their judgements. I have often said that if a critic is a good writer he should stick to literary criticism and keep his nose out of show business.

Not all critics are bad apples, some are excellent. The bad ones are bad because they don't know what they are seeing. They will praise a mediocre play because it was acted so well it's flaws were covered up. They will deride the actors not knowing they were directed poorly. They will blame the director or the ploy for some bad acting.

So what is the lesson? It is the same in any area of life. If you believe in what you are doing and you can honestly put your heart into it, it doesn't matter what someone's opinion is. You are not anyone's opinion of you and neither is your work. I find joy in that. I like my stories and my paintings, I enjoy reading and looking at them and it doesn't matter to me what anyone else thinks of them. If I get a good review, great. If I get a bad review, well, Wednesday night is trash night.

May the midsummer pixies tickle your nose.
Scrape up can, priest. (8)


Bonnie Bonsai said...

I have been away for two days, that is in general term, and when I come back, there is something waiting for me that I find interesting.

I have no respect for good writers who write bad critics. I regard them as Ignorant. Why are they sent there in the first place?

If payola is applicable in that kind of production, do you think it will work to smoothen their inverted intestines?

Most imported productions like that here Down Under are given fair credit, fair critic and fair publication. Of course there is always someone out there who will whinge and find fault with, but only those who really do not understand the Trade. Mostly the public won't take notice to garbage anyway.

I'm gnashing my teeth. When politics is being injected in the Performing Arts ...the Performing Arts will also play politics. Should be Fair and Square.

I agree with Eleanor Roosevelt. Her words are mostly down to earth.

Good on you DB. I like reading the last part.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

We all face critics of some sort or other. At least in show business it is out in the open. It is the hidden critics that cause even more damage since they use invisible passages.

Lisa said...

Here is my review of critics...

I find them to be egotistical windbags and never listen to their opinion. After all that is what it is...their opinion.

Judith Ellis said...

DB - This post reminds me of my first operatic role in college. I was getting rave reviews. But the local paper which had such power spoke well of my performance but essentially said that I stood out from the cast. I was crushed. This had always seemed to be the problem whether in lectures or on the stage. But there was no way to diminish my voice or presence on stage. Perhaps it was the others whose presence was too small on stage? At the time I did not so reason such, but simply sucked it up. I felt great about my performance and decided not to let the review bother me too much.

Beth said...

I pay very little attention to critics of any variety. I like what I like, and don't need anyone to tell me what I SHOULD like! Hugs, Beth

Dave Wheeler said...


In the theater or the workplace...those who can perform or produce do. Those who can't critique!

It has taken decades but I have come to learn the only one in a position to define me or what I do is me. The ER quote is a great one!