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. 

0 thoughts on “Why the heck do the reviewers always talk about other audience members?!?!”

  1. I think that using a Writer Plus One technique is quite helpful (and unique) in hopefully balancing out any bias that one writer may have.
    I also wonder whether Anon, commenting in Balls, might have misperceived Kathy’s opinion as something Henry overheard (and therefore misunderstood) another patron saying?

  2. Given that I’m a pretty last minute person and that my friends are all very organized and have their time booked far in advance I often go to shows on my own. I like hearing what the people around me are saying and it’s a lot easier to ‘listen in’ if you aren’t with anyone.

    The reviewer and guest format is great. And I have no problem with a comment about bad hair, or bad posture, or bad whatever. It tells me that the person wasn’t enthralled by the play. I like reviews that have something personal about them, something that gives me a sense of the writer. It makes it easier to decide whether to see something or not.

    Big shows will always have an audience. It’s the smaller not so mainstream theatre that can be intimidating so it’s great to read what non-theatre people think, even if they aren’t the main reviewer.

  3. Either an argument is well thought out and presented or it isn’t. Trying to establish rules about whose opinion should or shouldn’t be included in a theatre review seems insane. How long is a piece of string? Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s the right size.

    The film industry often schedules critics’ screenings of kids’ movies at the same time as its preview screenings for the kids. The idea is that critics get a chance to see how the film’s target audience reacts to the piece. And it’s common for pro critics to remark on their reactions to the film. “Judging by the restlessness of the kids around me, they found it boring too.” Or whatever. Fair game.

    Still, good writing is good writing. Bad writing is bad writing.

    All that said, I find myself wondering why Kathy didn’t just write her own review. And I find myself wondering how invested Henry Smith is in making sure he gets a fair and accurate assessment of her opinion.

  4. I thoroughly enjoy hearing the comments of a guest. I think it’s especially interesting to hear from a seasoned theater-goer AND a relative newbie. I never assume I’m going to agree completely with one person’s point of view, so to hear a little about where points of contention may be is instructive.

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