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 (I know, I used to be a reviewer) and that's putting myself or my preferences into my review.

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.

Note: there is a difference between a "reviewer" and a "critic". A reviewer as the name implies reviews the product.  A reviewer will basically tell you what you can expect, (how, what, where when, why) whether it be music, literature, a movie or play. For example, my job as a music reviewer was to tell the reader about a particular band's release:  what style of music it was, how many songs were on the recording and just basically summarize it without interjecting too much of my opinion.

A "critic" on the other hand, squirts his or her opinion all over the place: e.g. "The third song is horrible. It sounds like 2 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)

Nutshell:  A "reviewer" tells you what to expect. A "critic" gives you a personal opinion. (expects you to feel the same way)

Now, there were times I was guilty of letting my opinion slip out as a reviewer and at that point, I 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 - opinions are fine, but personal preferences have no place in criticism.  
For Example -  I would never write a review of  a Country and Western Band's album by starting it off  saying, "I hate country and western music." (OK should I be surprised you hate this album?)

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." In both cases,  the line of criticism has crossed over into a new country and becomes a self-serving essay on personal tastes. An interesting preference is not a universal fact. 

Your own personal tastes (how you would have done it) has no place in reviewing a work that you did not create. All art is essentially the reflection of its creator.  A work is the sum of the artist's preferences, opinions, and values, therefore, 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! Stop the turnip madness!" - Seriously?   Who really cares that they taste like dirt to me and that I don't like them. If you like turnips, eat all the turnips 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 heavy on the personal preference. Note I have no problem with criticism, but it contained a few remarks that blurred into the world of the "This is what I like and if they don't do (or have) what I like then.... nanny nanny boo boo on everyone!"
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? Did that detract from the plot? 

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, but it's not something I write into my scripts -  that the actors should serve food.  It's been my experience (as an actor) that actors have other things to do, bring out your meals is not high on the list.  (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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