The Secret Side of a Critic

If you get a bad review, could you say that the critic’s opinion is unfair or that he just didn’t get what you are trying to do? Can you say he’s mistaken? Can a critic be wrong?

You’ve worked a lot, rehearsed, given your heart and soul and on the following morning after the premiere, the critic defines your work in ways that never crossed your mind. You thought your work was good and you found out in the paper that it’s not. You try to argue, to fight this definition of you, but all you get is a condescending look like you just didn’t get it.

You might think, “Who needs a critic anyway? They’re actors that tried and failed and now make a living giving opinions about other people’s work.” They will reply that it’s not an “opinion” but an objective analysis and the critic’s job is to separate the good from the bad and report their findings to the audience.

But the fact is that each year movie critics are getting fired from their newspapers and theater critics are pratically nonexistent in many places because of the internet. People tend to prefer the opinions of their peers instead of a snob writing things trying to outsmart you.

This is the critic’s excuse. That he’s technical. That his opinion is pratically science in the making. It’s like they had some kind of mental list with items that they check before writing a review. If your play has this and it was done properly you get an A+, and if not, you get a very impolite F. Or perhaps it’s just personal and he/she doesn’t like you.

Well, as a critic myself, let me share a few secrets with you. Everything a critic says about your performance has to be founded. If we say something is good or bad we have to show the arguments to back up our claim. If we don’t, it’s just an opinion. This is why the internet won’t ever replace a good critic, because it’s full of opinions not substantiated by anything except love and hate.

Let me ask you a question, do you know why you feel the way you feel when you watch a play, a movie or listen to a song? Most people think that the reactions are caused by a good script or an excellent performance, but it’s much more than that. In movies for instance, the music is capable of changing your mood completely without you realizing, then you go online and say that the movie is great. But the critic sees it differently. He asks himself, when the director chose this song, did he do it for the right reasons or was he being, lazy trying to change the audience’s mood without using other resources like good lighting? Was the choice justified or was he trying to take a shortcut?

So, is the way to get a good review to make a big budget production with the best score and lighting ever? “Let’s hire the best costume designer ever and fame is ours!” This is a huge misconception. We don’t care if your production is poor, if you have no money for costumes or if your set is just a chair with a single light above the stage. If you do a good job with what you have, you’ll get a good review. It’s not about the money, it’s about doing it properly. I was gonna say “it’s about doing it right” but there’s not a single right way to perform. It’s not a science. It’s subjective, like writing.

The good critic doesn’t see things in isolation, but in a context. You can do something that’s considered wrong in isolation but in a different context might become an innovation. Does it fit the context? Good.

But what happens when you get a bad review? You’ve given everything you’ve got and this guy thinks you are not good enough. Why is he so angry? I can’t say that every critic thinks the way I do, but in my case, the worse the review, more unused potential I think you have. If you use a score to set the mood of your audience instead of using any other visual resource you have at your disposal and I call you lazy, what I mean is that I know you are capable of much more. It’s a comparison between the talented individual I know you are and what you are actually presenting on stage. You should trust yourself more. If you are not talented, why would I waste my time pointing out everthing I thought it was bad? I want you to improve, not because I’m a nice guy, but because I’m addicted to quality and I want to see good things.

So, the next bad review you read about yourself, forget about what’s written and focus between the lines. By the way, before I forget, a critic can be wrong. Like a human being like yourself, sometimes we just don’t get it. It’s not common, but it’s possible. Our opinions may be objective but like everything else they are surrounded by subjectivity. Don’t believe it if any critic says otherwise. Only trust critics that can do a self-criticism.

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