Why the heck do the reviewers always talk about other audience members?!?!

We got an anonymous comment on the Balls post from someone who we obviously touched a nerve with. 

They brought up something that has kind of come up before, so I feel like maybe I should use a full post to address it, not just a reply in the comments.

What sparked this particular post was the anonymous commenter’s statement:

I really only feel the need to hear the WRITER’s opinion, and not those of the people sitting around them during the performance.

I say, if you’re not part of the theatre industry, you can still give valuable reviews on theatrical pieces. But please, keep it honest, relevant, and your own, otherwise these reviews are biased and useless for potential audiences.

This is a reaction to that specific statement, and as such I’m going to try and address it in a global way, not in a way that comments specifically on the Balls post, since I’ve already done that in the comment.

So, first, before anything else, let me get this out of the way:  There is NO such thing as an unbiased review.  No matter how much theatre training someone may have, no matter how schooled and skilled they may be in theatre theory, no matter how hard they try, they are still human, as such we always carry their biases with them.  All reviews are biased.

The best we can do is acknowledge our biases and try to work around them.  If that’s what we want to do.  But we all write from our own experiences.  Every person is shaped by their experiences.  If they didn’t then every review/critique would be exactly the same, and good god, that’d be pretty boring.

At Mooney on Theatre there is no pretence to an unbiased review.  None at all.  Also, this isn’t a site that is intended to deliver critiques. I know it may sound like semantics, but we review shows and happen to include our opinions, rather than provide a critique of a show. 

The idea behind Mooney on Theatre is to give people a flavour of the production, to let them know whether or not it’s something they may like, regardless of whether or not the reviewer liked it.  That doesn’t mean the reviewer has to pretend not to have an opinion, just as long as they give a reasonably specific flavour of the show along with their opinion.  Whether or not we succeed is a completely different story, but that’s the intention.

My theory is, the more people’s opinions the better.  It’s easier to get a more complete idea of what something is like if you get pictures of it from several different angles.  In this case, more people equal more angles.  To that end, I ask all my writers to attend the shows with a guest, and to ask the guest three standard questions at the end of the performance.  They are then asked to incorporate the answers of their ‘show-partner’ how they see fit.

Speaking from personal experience, this post-show conversation can be very enlightening and can help me pick out things I hadn’t originally noticed, or see things from angles I hadn’t originally thought of.  I am fascinated by how often my opinions mesh with those of my show-partner, but honestly, the ones that are the most fun are when I’ve enjoyed it and they haven’t, or vice versa.

Folks may not agree with this process.  They may not want to hear what Kathy said, or don’t understand what the heck someone is doing telling you what their ‘date’ said, but rest assured, it’s an editorial decision, not a fluke.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if my writers would prefer not to do it, but I want that perspective on the site, so they do.  In fact, in my dream world I’d get them to poll the entire audience, but even I’m not willing to ask them to go that far.