On Criticism

Tonight, I had my first push back as a critic. After walking out of the Fringe production of Creatures of the Night, I tweeted:

Creatures of the Night was fine. That’s the only word I’ve got. Fine. No real reaction. Audience seemed to like it. #Fringe12

Allison Carter (@AllisonLCarter) August 23, 2012

A quick tweet after a long day. Perhaps not as nuanced as I should have been; I tried to temper my own ambivalence toward the show by adding that bit about how the audience enjoyed the show, which was true. I shoved my phone in my purse, aborted plans to see a third show, thinking perhaps I was just tired and cranky, and dragged myself home.

A few minutes later, Greenwell responded with a tweet of his own:

Awesome. I’m so proud. “@allisonlcarter: Creatures of the Night was fine. That’s the only word I’ve got. Fine. No real reaction…#Fringe12

Scot Greenwell (@indyscooter) August 23, 2012

I tweeted back and told him that I appreciated the work he’d done but the show wasn’t for me. But I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss how I approach criticism.

Heh. That makes it sound grander than it is, doesn’t it? My approach to criticism. While this blog is new, I’ve done criticism for about a year on various blogs in town. But let’s be crystal clear about this: I have no formal training in theater, the arts or criticism. Zilch. I have never taken a theater class. Never written a play. My first and last brush with the stage was my stint as a stage hand with Zionsville Community High School’s production of Bye Bye Birdie when I was a freshman and my thoroughly mediocre career in show choir.

In short, I am unqualified in any way to critique theater.

Except.

I love it. Every time the lights dim and the curtains rise, excitement races through my veins. In that single moment, the world is full of possibilities. Something marvelous is about to happen. And I love talking about what I’ve seen in person, on Twitter, on blogs here and elsewhere across the Internet. 

So what you get from me is a layman’s opinion. I won’t apologize for that.

At the same time, I understand theater is hard stuff and have the utmost respect for people who go up there and expose themselves for God and everyone night after night. I know that those people are leaving their guts on stage for love.

Believe me when I say I despise having to write anything less than a glowing review. I wish every aspect of every show I saw was sterling and stellar and that I could recommend each and every one without reservations. Sometimes when I know I have to tell the truth about how I felt about a production, I feel sick. I know someone poured everything they had into a show, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t enough. 

When I sit down to write a review (or a tweet, which have far larger audiences than any blog I write), I always keep in mind there are people behind the works I’ve seen. I will never try to be hurtful. I will always look for positives in any work I see and understand I might not be the audience for a work, but someone else is. I will never bash a show or pan it without reason or with an intent to be cruel.

What I will do is give you my honest opinion of the show’s strengths and weaknesses. While much of my theater going is through media passes, my ultimate measure of a show’s success is fairly simple: if I had paid for this ticket with my heard-earned money, would I be happy with what I paid? Would I tell a friend to go see this show?

There is no way I will like every show I see. But if I can give you a clear view of what it’s like to go to that show and if it’s a production you should see, or to engage you and make you consider what you’ve seen after the fact in a different light, then I’ve done my job. That’s it. That’s all I’m trying to do here. 

Sorry for the rant; I appreciate Greenwell’s comments and genuinely wish him and the rest of the Creatures of the Night crew the very best of luck with the rest of their run. I wish the same for every actor, playwright and stagehand out there. 

About allisonlcarter

I’m a 20-something native Hoosier living and working in the Circle City. I have a wonderful job in marketing and spend my free time consuming stories–theater, TV, movies, books, you name it. This blog will focus on pop culture of all kinds, with a special emphasis on news, analysis and reviews of things happening right here in Indy. Follow me on Twitter @AllisonLCarter
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2 Responses to On Criticism

  1. Clay Mabbitt says:

    Allison, you might be interested in this thread over at Indiana Auditions (if you haven’t already seen it). Both reviewers and artists weigh in on negative reviews: http://www.indianaauditions.com/forum/showthread.php?16614-If-you-can-t-say-anything-nice

    • allisonlcarter says:

      Clay, thanks for the link. Very interesting reading. I think we do everyone a disservice when we play the “everyone’s wonderful!” game, which we all know is not true, but I also think we can offer dissent and criticism in a way which still respects the individuals who worked so hard to bring it to life. Thanks for sharing!

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