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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Are Bad Reviews Useful?

I was going through my archives, when I found this article that I wrote for the Green Room Blog in 2011. As I read through it, I realized that this top will forever be… well, topical, and certainly worth discussing again. I’ve also recommitted recently to opening up more about myself on this blog - what makes me tick, how my work as an actor makes an impact on my coaching, etc. So, check out this article on how to deal with bad reviews - and why should anyone care?


May 6, 2011 - Ok, so I have a confession to make. I’ve been away for a really long time. Like, more than a month. But I have a really good reason -- I was in a play. Correction: I was in a play by Shakespeare! After a long rehearsal process where we spent much of the time improv-ing the scenarios of the play to develop a rich sense of purpose and history for the characters, we opened “TWELFTH NIGHT” at the end of March for a three week run into mid April.

For the most part, it was a successful run. We sold tickets. We had names added to our mailing list. We consistently had donations dropped into the bucket as patrons left the theater each night. Audiences remarked on how accessible we had made the Shakespearean language, and how much they appreciated the subtlety with which we told the story. We had patrons come back to see the show again and again, which is no small feat given that it is a three hour show (we made no cuts to the script.)

Which is why it was all the more puzzling that nearly every reviewer had this to say about what we were doing:
“We really love The Seeing Place Theater and their realistic, ensemble driven approach, but we think it’s a mistake to do ’subtlety’ with Shakespeare.”
Give or take a few words.

And those were just the critics who agreed to post their reviews. Some reviewers loved our theater company so much that they neglected to review it at all, stating that they’d rather remain mute than hurt our reputation with a terrible review. (That was nice of them. I think.) There were also some audience members who had a hard time with the fact that Shakespeare was being played as though each characters had a life offstage and an arc. Some were self-proclaimed Shakespeare scholars -- but most were people who had simply seen the play before and had a certain expectation going in. Given how untraditional our rehearsal process was, I was certainly prepared for some response of the kind.

As an actor I try to pretend that reviews don’t matter. In the grand scheme of things, they don’t -- I’ll still give the performance that my director, ensemble and I have built together over hard-won and long-thought-out rehearsals. But day to day as an actor, reviews provide many highs and lows. You get to a point that you no longer read the good reviews because you are trying to avoid the bad ones. On the other hand, I always tell my students that getting a bad review means that you’ve made it to the next level - you’re now someone that the audience has to contend with. :) I still laugh about the time I was called the “nadir” of a production. (I had to look that word up. I was shocked.) I thought, “My goodness- I must have been doing some risky things with a big role to be hated that much!” It’s those thoughts that make being reviewed a slightly saner process.

All reviews, good or bad, are valid when they’re well written and thought out -- we may not agree but that’s the joy of living in a free society. But this last production got me thinking about the nature of reviews and their value:. I pose these question to you, faith readers of Bite-Size Business for Actors:

Who are the real critics in the theater? The reviewers? Or the audiences?

Who would you rather listen to when choosing to see a show?

Many sites, like TheaterMania, allow patrons to log on and leave reviews of what they’ve seen. Would you be more apt to judge a show based on a cross section of the audience, or would you still hold the reviewers opinions as top dog?

If you have thoughts about reviews, or want to share a story about how you determine which shows to see, I’d love to know about it. Leave a comment so we can all learn from you!

PS: If you like the play, “TWELFTH NIGHT” you might be interested to know that, during one show, I live-tweeted as the character, Maria! I posted a transcript, adorned with production photos, on my acting blog. Enjoy!

PPS: In researching for this article, I found a neat article on the value of bad reviews, written about the book industry. Click here to enjoy!

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out


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