Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Hangnail By Any Other Name...

Please allow me to post my first retraction.

The Chicago Reader did not... I repeat... did NOT compare a production I directed to picking a hangnail. In fact, the Reader made no mention of anything having to do with bad manicure maintenance in regard to any show I've ever directed.

Let me explain. You may remember this post in which I pontificated about how to deal with reviews- and I offered the example of my own bad Chicago Reader review. You might want to revisit it and see the kindhearted comment later posted by Michael Miner, an accomplished and excellent (and, turns out, nice!) writer from... you guessed it... the Chicago Reader. (Check out his smart and always accurate blog.) He, it seems, stumbled over this blog, read the post, and set about trying to find the review I'd mentioned. Unable to find it, he contacted me and we traded emails. After some research on his part, he informed me that I had been mistaken (Gasp! I know- your concept of the universe has been irreversibly damaged) as to the source of the hangnail comment. In fact, the Reader merely deemed my staging to be "rote." Not exactly a glowing review- but certainly not as vitriolic as the hangnail comment.

As I explained to Mr. Miner, I must have caused myself brain damage when I repeatedly bashed my head into the wall after having read the mysterious hangnail review. I apologize to the Reader for the error. I stand by my assertion, though, that my production indeed suffered the comparison to poor cuticle upkeep. I could not have imagined such an awesome phrase. Could I have been so slandered by the Chicago Sun Times? The Chicago Tribune? Ah... no matter.

This brings me to the results of my most recent poll. Every single one of you believes that reviews matter. One of you believes that all reviews- good, bad, and ugly- matter. One dark reader suspects that people only read the bad reviews. Conversely, two of you believe only the good reviews matter. The majority of you (a healthy 66%) assert that only well-written reviews matter.

So, what qualifies as a well-written review? What do you look for in your reviews? By "well-written"- do you just look for fancy turns of phrase? Or do you expect more from your reviewers? Your answer has made me examine why I liked Siskel more than Ebert (did you hear that the thumbs have been tucked away?), why I admire Chris Jones, and why I find most reviews useless.

I've gathered my thoughts and want to share my two cents. To me, a good reviewer:
  • Does the homework. (Um... like making sure it really was the Chicago Reader you write "Chicago Reader.") Make sure you spell names correctly. (OK- this is FACT. The Windy City Times misspelled my name as they tore the hangnail production to shreds. At least spell my name correctly if you're going to lay me to whale s---!) Make sure you know something about the playwright/screenwriter, production history, actors.
  • Goes to new works. (Thanks, Chris Jones!)
  • Differentiates between critiquing the script and critiquing the production. Fine- you hate the script, the subject, the author. But what about the set, the acting, the direction, the lighting, the sound design, the costumes?
  • Critiques within the world of the play (or movie). OK- so you hate one person shows, or you dislike multimedia, or Shakespeare (you're an idiot, by the way)-- Please, please get over it. Mention it if you want. But critique the production-- try not to be blinded by your own tastes. You have an obligation to try to figure out why this company chose this piece and what the director tried to do with it. How effective were the choices?
  • Avoids a book report. Don't tell me the plot. Please.
What do you Dear Readers think? Would you add anything? Change it?


Mel said...

When I write a review, I try to find something positive to say even if what I'm reviewing is really bad. I guess it's the teacher in me who tries to find something positive no matter what. But I think it's really important to do your homework and know what you're talking about. (Goes back to the review of Steel Magnolias I mentioned before).

Jen said...

I agree--the fancy turns of phrase may make a review fun to read (particularly, I will admit, the bad ones, because of course you can write lots of funny things when you don't have anything nice to say) but only a well-informed review is truly useful. I do believe that it helps when a reviewer is candid about their own biases and still makes an effort to review a work on its own terms, because that allows potential audience members to decide if the factors that may be a turn-off for the reviewer matter as much to them.

Danielle Mari said...

Mel- I'm amazed at your ability to do so. Even with Mama Mia!

Jen- Oh- and I KNOW how much fun you have with creative negativity!

Good points, ladies! I give you BOTH the thumbs up.