DON’T BE AFRAID OF REVIEWS
‘The worst review you can get: it was fantastic!’
Interview with Andrew Loretto
By Michiel Bulthuis
Theater producers and art critics are often each other’s opposites. Andrew Loretto is a bit of both. He explains the general use of art criticism, and more specifically how it concerns the producer of theater.
Loretto is the artistic director at the Irish Chol Theatre. He writes theater pieces and is involved in organizing several theater festivals, including the National Student Drama Festival in Scarborough.
In this context, he often writes reviews for personal use: as a reminder, to order his thoughts, or to simply express his views. For a year, he practiced the job as reviewer by writing at the English-version of the free tabloid Metro.
It often concerns him that art criticism is allotted almost no space in big papers. Online magazines are often lacking. Experienced critics have a reliable voice that is often absent in reviews on the Internet. ‘Everyone can be a critic these days, but the reviews online are often hurtful,’ he argues with concern.
Next to that, reviews are more than just an opinion, Loretto thinks. A critic must explain his piece, pay attention to the way the piece was realized and how the piece fits within the cultural context in which it was produced.
About the significance of reviews, he is not doubtful. ‘A review really records the live experience. A digital recording never captures the essence and I think a written piece can.’ Because of that, a review is also able to represent an image of time, the way of thinking, the important themes, and the way these themes are dealt with.
Reviewers are not useful merely for future generations. Theater producers can use reviews to improve their pieces. ‘Festivals like this can be very scary for young theatre makers. It’s maybe the first time they are critiqued by people that aren’t friends or family. The nice thing is that not everything has to be perfect.’
He encourages young producers to be hungry for critique and use it to improve the work. ‘The other day I read an old review of one of my first shows. I didn’t really agree with it at the time, but I do now.’ He collects as many opinions as possible: from reviews, but also from the audience and relatives. ‘The worst review you can get: it was fantastic! I’ll respond with: okay, thank you. So, what didn’t you like?’
His most important message to young producers: don’t be afraid of reviews. ‘So what if you get a bad review? Don’t worry: the work’s still there. Nobody died. Let it rest for a while and use the critique to improve your work later.’
Loretto compiled two lists of tips. One is for theatre makers: how to deal with reviews? The other one is for critics: how should they approach a review?
Tips for theatre makers
1. Be aware that you always remember the negative reviews. It’s human nature. Use a positive review to give you a pat on the back every once in a while.
2. Don’t feel the need to respond. Listen, and let it digest.
3. Whatever you do, don’t write an angry letter. That’s always silly.
4. If you don’t understand something that someone wrote, try to find out more. For instance, by writing a letter. It’ll depend on the critic if he’ll write back, but you can always try.
5. Always remember: a review is one person’s point of view.
6. Criticism of your work is not about you. Don’t take it personal.
7. Remember that the critic is doing his job. And his job is to have an opinion.
Tips for critics
1. Be passionate about what you’re seeing. Good critics want to see good work. They want to see art progress.
2. See as much work as you can. Try to be aware of trends so you can place things into context.
3. Challenge yourself. Don’t stick to one genre.
4. Research how (theatre)work is made.
5. Know your audience. Be aware of what they know and what they expect from you.
6. Be passionate in your writing. Have an opinion. No one is interested in the middle line.
7. Be fair – no one sets out to make a bad piece. But: being fair is different to being kind. Artists need to know what is working.
8. Be true to yourself. Your readers will know if you are not.