“The good reviews are never good enough, and the bad ones are devastating.” David Mamet
Our full time acting students are one week away from the Technical Rehearsal for their Edinburgh Fringe performances. We’ve got two shows this year: a moving political plea for people to build bridges in Walls and Bridges; and a rolicking comedy with music about a murder in a small town with a nod to Spielberg’s classic Jaws called Edgartown.
All the students are working their tails off these days. Building, creating, devising, recording, dancing, singing, composing and putting their heart and soul into it.
At some point, a reviewer is going to attend the theatre where they are performing. At some point, someone will write about their heart’s work. It may be good, it may be bad, it may be worst than bad. It takes a particular kind of person to give no shits about someone publicly disemboweling their work. It takes a particular kind of person to avoid letting success go to their heads.
“Hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?” Ronald Harwood - The Dresser
For 20 performances across 3.2 weeks at the biggest theatre festival in the world, our companies will learn their craft in front of a real and paying audience. Students on our full time acting course are not hidden away from the world until they are ‘ready’. They perform their own pieces seven months into their one year course. They get up in front of the world and they say “This. Is. My. Work.”
And then other people get to speak about it publicly.
I don’t decry the role of critic. But for the sake of actors, I don’t think they should ever read the reviews. I’ve had 1-5 star reviews for my work. And I prefer Rudyard Kipling’s advice to:
“Meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”
Your work may be good, and it may be bad. But you can’t work for the good opinion of strangers. You can’t do it for the critics. You can’t even do it for the audience. You have to do it for yourself. Share what you’ve made, and be proud of it. You cannot and should not care about what the reviewers say. It is not their blood, sweat and tears in the show.
These days anyone can write about your work. They can post about it on blogs, twitter, facebook and through podcasts. Theatre critics are being laid off left, right and centre. But are they useful? Not to actors. Not unless their roles become merged with the European role of Dramaturg. Then their experience is to make barbs at a distance, but to augment the art they criticise.
“The role of the critic, I repeat, is to mediate intelligently and stylishly between a work and its audience; to educate and edify in an engaging and preferably entertaining way.” Daniel Mendelsohn
Should you read your reviews? I can’t. I am too skinless. And it doesn’t matter if they say ‘toughen up little soldier’ that’s the industry. It hurts to hear someone tear into something I made. Ask a parent what it feels like to have some stranger comment on their child.
I don’t begrudge the critic their job. But I don’t have to read them. I can make that choice. You should make that choice. Too many times I’ve seen bad reviews crush the confidence of good actors. Too many times I’ve seen ego inflate and burst over a 5 star review.
Read them, don’t read them - but if it affects one minute of your show - then you were wrong to read them.
To You, The Best
Mark Westbrook is Course Leader of the One Year Intensive Diploma in Stage and Screen Acting at Acting Coach Scotland. He is directing Edgartown at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.