Open Letter to Reviewers and Critics

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Open Letter to Reviewers and Critics

After watching, attending and participating in the world of the performing arts, I have personally discovered that it is a very delicate operation. Profit margins are slim to none, people who participate to entertain us spend their entire lifetimes trying to perfect the art. There is an internal drama to make this happen with massive choreography behind the scenes, with the personalities and the ever presence issue of needing money to make things happen.

In the modest appraisal, it isn’t unusual for hundreds of hours of planning with the expense of thousands of dollars to make a 2 hour show to run a few times. The practice, rehearsals are extreme to have a finished product so we, the patrons can enjoy.

The arts exists for our enjoyment and to provide us an escape from reality temporarily. It is also to honor the art form and those people who dedicate their entire existence to it.

You, the reviewer and critic can help or hinder this. It is wonderful you can provide an interpretation of what is happening. But you know what? You are just one person and this is your interpretation of what is happening. There are countless others with a much different opinion of yours, and almost all of them want to attend the show and be entertained. People vote by spending money, time and effort to attend a show. Whereas, you the reviewer, are forced to attend because your job requires you to do so. Their mindset is entirely different than yours, so they are coming at it from a different angle.

The only difference between you and the arts patron is that you have a medium in print to tell others; an arts patron only have their friends and network.

I have seen shows close way before their time, the general public never had the opportunity to see it because a critic gave it a bad review. Have you ever thought there might be other people who would want to see it so they can make their own decision? I have also seen scathing remarks from critics who attended the same shows I have and what they wrote, I thought perhaps they may have seen the dress rehearsal and reviewed that.

Performers depend on the revenue generated so they can survive; this is their profession. When a negative review is written, you are basically denying them the opportunity to make a living. It is socially irresponsible to write something that will hurt someone.

If you really want to help the show improve, send your comments directly to the artistic director instead of publishing your review without their comments. Give them the review first, and see their reaction and insight. Your world view will expand exponentially because now you dealing with the person who is making this show happen. It can be a very enlightening experience for you.

If you want to help the arts, let the free market decide. Provide your review by telling what you saw, and then have a section for your own interpretation. Temper your words carefully, because these are real people trying their heart out and doing their best to entertain. I can assure you, those that are on stage do not take the opportunity lightly and will do their very best physically and mentally at that time. They also have been properly vetted for their appropriate role too by professionals who do this day in, day out. They may have an off-day, but in the scheme of things, us performing arts patrons see right pass it and still enjoy it.

Your writings get read by others who might not have seen it, but depending how you wrote it, now they have a 100% chance of not going. A lack of ticket sales is what kills the arts. Believe me, the patrons are the first to let the management know when a performer isn’t up to snuff or anything else. If you ever have been in the lobby talking to patrons, they are the harshest critics, but yet extremely helpful because they want what they want.

Don’t take away the privilege of someone discovering something on their own by telling them how to think. Please keep your ego out it. If you believe you can do better, by all means run the organization or be on the board. You can see first hand how things are done.

And please do us a favor, open up your comments on your web page and newspaper. If you can’t stand criticism from others, perhaps you should find another profession.

Seriously, that embarrassingly low stipend you accept for writing a 200 plus word review is disproportionate to the damage you can do to ticket sales and reputation to a brick and mortar organization that wants to entertain and educate.


Have you been disenfranchised in your say on what you thought of their review by your letters, emails, and phone calls being ignored? Well, there is way to get your opinion heard.

How to Approach a Critic or Reviewer

They can usually be found on opening nights or during the 2nd night of the run of the show. They usually show up about 15 minutes before the the performance, and don’t usually socialize before taking their seat. They almost always have the same seats or there is a press area where a row is set so everyone from the media can be seated. Critics usually look like their pictures, and use their real names. If unsure where to find them before a show, ask the ushers, or management if a certain critic is attending or if they have seen them. They will usually point them out in the group.

This is the time to approach them. Call them out by their name, they will always turn around. You only have less than 1 minute to make your point because critics cannot defend their position in public and also they have to appear professional. You don’t have to worry about being remembered for your actions, because regular patrons seated around the critic will tell others how the esteemed reviewer was spoken to.

Critics usually never socialize during intermission and are seated during that time. This is another opportunity to sit next to them and try to have a civil conversation.

It is unlikely you can catch them after a performance, because they are usually the first to leave when applause occurs.

Unfortunately, newspapers and other chronicles usually prevent different opinions from being posted contrary to their learned reviewer. However, the good news is that you can take to the other sources of blogs and write what you think and link back to their article. The internet is the great equalizer.

Start a group to discuss the reviews and write a letter directly to the editor.

There is a higher probability for a letter to be published if sent to the editor because the reviewer won’t present it for publication for their own self-preservation.

In addition, you might want to do research on their qualifications. Most reviewers lack the practical experience or have a really thin resume in the field in which they expertly comment about. The only thing that keeps their column going is the ability to write coherent and hit deadlines. Most are self appointed experts by virtue of having seat time watching shows.

If you still cannot get the satisfaction, begin to talk to the advertisers of the newspapers during normal course of business to tell them what you think of a certain reviewer. Businesses only advertise to bring attention of their product to the consumer, they are usually not reading the content. However, they do have a sympathetic ear if the newspaper is damaging a non-profit with their editorials.

 – Don

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