Last week the reviews came out for our most recent opening night, and man, were they bad! One, in fact, was so bad that I think it may even work as conceptual performance art — to have someone recite the review to an audience while we, I don’t know, do interpretive dances or smear each other with blood! It might actually be cool to do that… I wonder if we’d have to get permission from the “author”.
Anyway, although I came out of the whole thing okay (I enjoyed a “semi-victory”, according to one reviewer, who also included me in the list of “dazzling singer-performers” who were “wasted on the production” — what do you call the opposite of a left-handed compliment?) it was still a little bit of a shock to see an actual tirade against all we tried to do that night. We couldn’t really believe that it was bad — and indeed, the second performance audience was much warmer and kinder to us, and confirmed our hunches about what was working in the show. Premiere audiences do tend to be, um, often less interested in the show and more interested in being seen at the premiere. That’s not always the case, but one does feel the vibe (or lack of it) onstage when it is. And there’s nothing you can do except keep the energy up, even as it’s being sucked into the vacuum that starts at the second row.
So how do you deal with scathing reviews? Well, you don’t. Many singers won’t read them at all. One singer I know refuses to hear a word about her shows in the press — even if it’s praise — until the entire run is over, fearing it will make her performance self-conscious. Me? Well, if I get mentioned at all, I’m happy.
Years and years ago I was in a college production which was reviewed by the local paper’s arts reviewer — a man feared by many for being extremely hard to please. He wrote something negative about me and I stashed the clipping away and suppressed the memory of it — until I happened to find it last year, buried under old school programs. Actually, he hadn’t trashed me at all, just said that my type of voice wasn’t quite right for the part (I was too young for it, we all knew that, but what are you going to do with a college production?) I find it interesting that my older self can take it in stride now, and see the comment for exactly what it was, and at the same time remember how my younger self took it as a badge of shame. It’s just a review!