He sits in the beer tent, alone at a table, making notes on a show that he just saw, trying to decide how many stars to give it. Around him, people sneer, point, and mutter “There’s that critic that reviewed my show and said I should go back to flipping burgers. I need that job to get through school!”.
A veteran performer reads the review of his show that got two stars and laments that he will have to pass out a lot of handbills to drum up business now. At a different table, a young girl bursts into tears over her one star review, wondering in her grief “Why didn’t he like it? He says it was bad, but he doesn’t say why.”
It must be awful being a theatre critic. Spending the festival looking for the faults in others, deciding how much box office a performer should receive, and crushing the dreams of young thespians. It must be hard to be hated so much, to be reviled by the artists, merely acknowledged by the public, and respected by none. To not be included in conversations or activities with the performers, but kept at arms length, looking in at the inner sanctum of creativity, and not invited to participate. “You called me a poopy head Billy! You can’t play with us.” So Billy just sits on the periphery forming more insults to describe the neighbourhood kids that look like they’re having so much fun. “Not only are you a poopy head, but a monkey butt too!”
No wonder they are mean.
But I think that the blame for the rift between the press and the Fringe community doesn’t lie solely with the reviewer. Western society as a whole is at fault by insisting that we put a value on everything. That we must rate all of the things from the grades we get in Kindergarten for keeping inside the lines in our colouring books, to the eulogy that is given by your brother at your funeral. “Billy might have been a poopy head, but he was our poopy head. 3 stars”.
When you were young, and you and your siblings or friends finished watching an episode of the Brady Bunch, you would reenact it in the living room. “Marsha Marsha Marsha!”. Then you would perform it in front of your parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents to cheers and adulation. It didn’t matter what the content was, or that little Sally wasn’t believable in the part of Alice, what mattered was that the kids were being creative and interacting with each other… and it was funny as all hell.
If Uncle Bob pointed to one of the children and said “You’re just rehashing something that I saw on television yesterday, I can’t hear you in the back, and your costume design is deplorable”, he would be shunned from the living room and grandma would say “Don’t listen to him, you were great, in fact here is some candy for your efforts”.
Why can’t we apply this to our festival? Instead of sending out an army of critics that point out all that is wrong, send out a group of nurturers that write positive reinforcement and suggestions on how to make it even better. Encourage our performers, professional and amateur alike, especially our young artists that are just starting out. Don’t point out that they are not as good as a different, more seasoned performer, but applaud them, just for the act of taking the stage. Put the power in the hands of the young actor instead of judging them for where they are in their artistic journey. Take away the negativity of the critique and replace it with supportive education, nourishment to the creativity within.
If there were an army of Free Press nurturers writing encouraging articles about performances, I would subscribe to their paper and we would all benefit, and we could include them in our neighbourhood games and plays. Billy could join us in the backyard instead of throwing insults, looking down from the treehouse.
I think I’m going to go give that lonely critic a hug… but that might not be to his liking and he may give me two stars.