Unpopular Opinion: It’s Okay to Have an Unpopular Opinion

Hello, readers! So if you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that I love to tackle tips for writers – from how to write a stellar song cycle to the need to secure rights to your source material. But this week, I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind a lot recently.

The musical theater community is one of the most supportive I know. I feel like the vast majority of us have nothing but love to share for the work we see. Just look at Facebook. So much love for every new piece of musical theater. Every performer. Every writer. I hear the same thing when I go to a party with musical theater fans and professionals:

“Did you see that show?”
“Loved it!”
“I know! Me too!”
“And what about that lead actress?”
“So good, right?”
“Are you guys talking about that show?”
“Yeah, did you love it?”
“Oh yeah. So good!”
“Go new musicals!”

I’m exaggerating. But only slightly. Because there’s so much love! It really is a wonderful thing. But I think unfortunately, this unabashed support comes with an inability to be critical. For many of us, there’s an unwillingness to speak our minds about the new work that we see – at least outside of hushed tones to our most trusted friends. I know I’m definitely guilty of this. There have been plenty of times that I’ll join in a conversation at a party saying that I loved a particular new show, knowing fully that I just told my wife or my closest friends that I thought it needed a lot more work. And I know I’m not alone…

"Yeah, I *loved* Spider-Man!"

“Yeah, I *loved* Spider-Man!”

Maybe we don’t want to be seen as unsupportive. Maybe we’re afraid that if we say that we didn’t like something, certain people won’t want to work with us. Or maybe we’re afraid that the only way to advance the impact of our beloved genre is to be as positive as humanly possible.

But I disagree. By not being critical – by not speaking our minds when asked – we’re denying the genre of musical theater the opportunity to grow, change, and be affected by what we (the people who fuel it) think. And we’re denying writers the chance to hear the thoughts of the people who want them to succeed (that’s us!) and allow those thoughts to inform their work – both now and in the future.

Now I’m not saying that you should go out and bash a show or a song you don’t love. And I’m definitely not advocating that everyone run to their Facebook or Twitter pages and start proclaiming that they hate everything. That’s the opposite of helpful. Like I said, what I love about working in musical theater is that I feel like most people in our industry genuinely want others to succeed. And in that is a mutual respect for each other and the work we create. We don’t want to lose that.

But next time somebody asks you, “Did you like that show?” – and you didn’t – don’t dodge the question or simply smile and offer praise. Speak your mind. Don’t bash, but be honest. And know why you’re not the biggest fan of whatever show or writer you’re being questioned about. Perhaps you feel a lyricist sacrifices content to accomplish a particular rhyme scheme. Perhaps you feel a musical’s book hasn’t developed its characters quite enough. Or maybe a show or song is well done, but it’s simply not to your taste. Whatever the reason, share it if asked. You’ll actually be offering food for thought to whoever is asking your opinion. It’s that kind of constructive criticism – the kind that’s rooted in mutual admiration and respect – that’s good for our industry.

And I’ll take it one step further: Know the reasons why you like the shows you love, and share them! Don’t simply say, “It was wonderful!” Say, “I loved that the lyrics managed to be witty and earnest at the same time,” or “The way the orchestrator used strings just took the score to a new level.” You might even convince someone who doesn’t like a particular show or writer to think about them in new light.

Now – you might be thinking, “So why don’t you practice what you preach, Nick?” Well, I will. Here goes:

I don’t really like Matilda.

You heard right. (Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

You heard right. (Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

There. I said it. For all the world to see. I respect the creators of the show so much. We all should be lucky enough to write a monster hit like that. And it’s a beautiful production that many people love. But other than “Naughty” and “When I Grow Up” – which I think are great songs – the score just doesn’t stick with me. And I didn’t think the addition of the storytelling in the library was necessary to the plot. In fact, for me, it detracted from my experience of the story, which I grew up reading and love to death.

So whether or not you agree with me about Matilda, I hope next time you find yourself questioning whether or not to be honest about your opinion when asked, I hope you’ll speak your mind. Have tact. Have respect. But don’t keep quiet. Because your opinion deserves to be shared.

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