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Monday, July 16, 2018

What Do I think About What You Think About Me. A fine line between Criticism And Opinion

I recently read a review of one of my plays - Murder Me Always and it reminded me of an annoying habit that some reviewers or critics have - and I know, I used to be one.

Many years ago, I wrote "music" reviews for a local St. Louis entertainment paper. Each week, we would receive a plethora of cassettes, CD's and albums from local and regional bands and I among a few others would take them home, listen to them and write a music review. Not a criticism.

There is a difference between a "reviewer" and a "critic". A reviewer simply does what the name implies, reviews the product. Tells you what you can expect, whether it be music, literature, a movie or play. For example, my job was to tell the reader about the band's release, what style of music it was, how many songs were on the recording and just basically summarize it without interjecting my opinion.

A "critic" on the other hand, fuses his or her opinion all over the place: e.g. "The third song is horrible. It sounds like hippos mating in a shower. It sounds like the melody was lifted straight out of Led Zepplin Two." A good critic will also attempt to back up any opinion expressed with evidence. (sometimes)

So basically a "reviewer" tells you what to expect. A "critic" gives you a personal opinion.

Now, there were times I was guilty of stepping over into the opinion realm as a reviewer and became a critic. But one thing I would never do is to coat a review with my own personal preferences or beliefs. This is the "annoying habit" I first spoke about above. I would never write a review of say -a country and western band and start it off by saying, "I hate country and western music." Or criticize a guitar solo by saying "A nice solo played on a Fender Stratocaster but I wish he would have used a Gibson Les Paul, it has better tone." This crosses the line of criticism and becomes a self-serving essay on personal tastes. A individual preference is not a universal fact.

Your own personal tastes have no place when reviewing a work that you did not create. All art is essentially the reflection of its creator. It's the artist's preferences, opinions, and values. A critic has no place holding up their own subjectivity as a basis for judgment.   It would be like me sitting across the dinner table from you and exclaiming, "Why are you eating turnips? I hate turnips! They taste like old socks washed in dirt!" - Seriously.  Who really cares that they taste like dirt to me and that I don't like them. If you like turnips, eat all you want. Please tell me to shut up.

From time to time I will read "reviews" of my plays and for the most part - they are reviews: The name of the play was this. It had these actors. This happened and that happened. etc..

As I was saying, this recent review I read could qualify as a criticism, (I have no problem with criticism) but it contained a few remarks that blurred into the world of the writers own personal preferences.
First let me clarify -the reviewer, in this case, was a college student - so it may be excusable for now.

The review stated that other dinner theatres she had attended, the actors actually served the food and "Murder Me Always" was lacking in this. Really? That was a lack you sorely missed? 

OK. Fine. Personally, I have never ever been to a dinner theatre where the actors were also the waiters. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, it's not something I write into my scripts -  that the actors should serve food. Actors in plays have other things to do than to bring out your meals. (I know there is a joke here about actors being waiters in real life but I'm trying to ignore it.)

She also stated that the "dinner" was actually "a self-serve buffet" (which may explain why the actors didn't bring the plates to the table -maybe? going out on a limb ) and this fact "took away a little bit from the dinner theatre experience."  Really? That took away a bit? You had to fetch your own food? Gee!

OK. Should the group have advertised the event as a "Self Serve Buffet Theatre?". Interesting note here is that the first 3 "dinner theatre" plays I was involved in as an actor were in fact, self-serve buffets. So to me, in my personal world, this was normal. (See how that works?)  No one ever complained that this "took away" from the experience.

What does this mean? Simply, as I may have pointed out,  that everyone's experience and/or preferences are not the same. Therefore, it can get a bit sketchy when I  attempt to state that what I am accustomed to - is the way of all things and how all this should be.  And if it's not something that lies in my personal preference or is in my wheelhouse, then it must be a flaw. It must be wrong therefore unacceptable.

No. I think many critics are doing it wrong by dipping into subjectivity.  It should have no bearing on the experience or really any place in a review of a play.

Yes, I know. That's just my opinion, not yours.


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