Thursday, May 27, 2010

Crumbs Of Praise

As a single slab of rock won't budge in the wind, so the wise are not moved by praise, by blame.

People in the arts, especially the performing arts, have their work judged by critics in the media. Strange, since no one writes critiques of congressional speeches, class lectures or sermons. Perhaps they should.

Early in my career I determined that most critics are just people, usually without much knowledge of what they are seeing, expressing an opinion. So I paid no attention to what they wrote until after the show closed when the producers would pass out a folder containing pictures, a contact sheet and copies of the reviews. Then I would look at them. If I got a good review I would extract from the review what was said about me and attached it to my resume. If I got a bad review I would crumple it up and throw it away. In neither case did I pay much attention to what was written.

The shameful fact is that some critics, particularly New York critics and especially the New York Times critics, can close an excellent production and keep a mediocre one running just by expressing their opinions.

I knew actors who would rush right out and buy the papers after opening hoping to find some tid bit, some crumb of praise about themselves. I felt certain enough about my work not to need those crumbs.

I knew a Japanese man, a director/choreographer, who came to New York with a theatre piece he had developed and toured in Japan to great acclaim from the Japanese critics. It opened at an Off Broadway theatre in the city. I went to the opening. I found it confusing, difficult to understand, not because of the language, there was no spoken language, it was all mime, dance and music.

After the performance he and I and a few other people went out to a restaurant for dinner. A friend brought the reviews from the early editions of the papers. Across the board they were bad reviews. No critic had anything good to say about his production.

He read them all and became enraged. "Who are these people? What do they think they know? Why did they say these things?" I tried to assuage him by explaining something about New York critics and why he should pay no attention to them. His show was going to run through it's contract anyway. It didn't matter. But he was deeply hurt, shocked and angry.

I have a big box in my apartment and in it is a large envelope containing reviews I've received for my work over the years. They all have nice things to say about me. I don't remember the nasty things because I threw them out.

Moral: If you believe in yourself and what you do it doesn't matter what anyone says about you. Or as Nehru put it "What we really are matters more than what others think of us."

DB - The Vagabond

(This is not a contest.)

In your opinion what is the most amazing thing that could happen during this decade? Make it as outrageous as you want but keep it within the realm of what you consider a possibility.

13 responses so far.

Answers will be published the first day of Summer.

Thank you.

DB - The Vagabond


Big Mark 243 said...

I used to feel the same about fighters who couldn't fight, but kept on winning. They were too busy in doing something to notice what they couldn't do. When you know that you are going to put your best into something, you don't need the approval or good will of others, you simply get 'er done!!

Valerie said...

Great message, DB. I needed to hear it. Thank you. xox

Liz said...

It seems to me that the rock you stood upon when you crumpled all bad reviews could crack with such a freezing temperature.

It seems to me that the rock you stood upon when you attached every good review to your resume could be eroded by the tears that had been shed.

Emotion is the most powerful force of the mind.
Anyone who can harness that power in any field of human endeavour controls the beast that ploughs the way.

Nance said...

Too much self-examination is self-annihilating for me. I can't write for effect and I wouldn't be able to act for critics.

The most amazing thing that could happen in this decade would be a global nuclear arms treaty in which all nations agree to destroy nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons capabilities. And nations without weapons would agree to develop nuclear capability only for peaceful purposes. All nations would agree to engage their best physicists in a global panel of watchdogs, each nation providing the same number of participants regardless of their degree of nuclear capability.

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

Wise move to save the good reviews. Is that no how we remember things as well?