Welp folks, opening night has come and gone, and from my perspective Fraggled Productions‘ newly minted run of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (exclusively at The Cupcake Theatre) is pretty great. Full disclosure: that perspective is set firmly onstage looking out into the audience, so I may not be the most impartial judge. Luckily a couple of less partial individuals found the time to come to our first show and jot down their impressions. And that’s just what I want to talk about.
Most everyone gets reviews. Even those who aren’t working (or volunteering really, am I right!!?!?) in the arts have to receive evaluations and the like. In my last employee review at my day job I received perfect marks. If this sounds like a personal horn-tooting, well- I guess it is. I learned that from the best. Chances are no one is going to toot your horn for you. (On a related note: why haven’t we been using “horn-tooting” as a euphemism this whole time? Let’s correct that tout de suite). Everyone knows that feeling – a mixture of dread and anticipation as you await the feedback your boss has threatened you with for months.
Now that I have established a personal connection for you, I should address the elephant in the room. I write (entirely superfluous) reviews on a daily basis. So now I’m double-biased: not only am I in the show, I have my own ideas of how such reviews ought to go down. And I’m not completely oblivious; I know our show isn’t perfect. There are flaws – I’m not one of them, but come on.
I would like to address these reviews as directly as possible, but I’m no fool. I have no intention of pissing off the thriving liberal Los Angeles indie theater critic community by calling any of its members out specifically. I have a career to maintain! Instead I will refer to the pieces as Review 1 (written by a male I will not identify) and Review 2 (similarly written, but this time by a female).
Both reviews are rather complimentary, describing the show as composed of “a uniformly talented ensemble of fresh faces” (Review 1) and “respectable” (Review 2). Raves all around, I would say. Overall the reviewers are very kind to the show and those of us who did whatever we did to make it happen (I’ll be honest, I slept through most of the pre-production process). Reviewer 1’s main concerns fall into the category of spatial limitations, about which not much can be done, especially at this juncture. Reviewer 2 has fewer problems with the stage, though she has more than one issue with “pitch problem”-beset solo songs (I- uh- choose to believe she is not talking about my soon-to-be chart-topping number, “I Sing Six Octaves”).
Reading your own reviews is a dangerous move. I have heard. Artists (and everyone really, I’m not so elitist) tend to be their own worst critic, so the few complaints are going to ring a lot louder and truer than the many good points that might offset those negatives. I – of course – do not run into that problem, having total faith in every acting choice I have ever made (perhaps Reviewer 2’s comment about my character’s “highly inflated sense of self-importance” is more attributable to the actor than the script).
No, my problem with both of these reviews is how lazy they are. As someone who has forced himself to write a review every day, I know that it can be tough. Sometimes you just have to say “screw it” and write some bullcrap (see: this very post). I would say about once a month I write something I actually like (and even those are good only by my personal, amateurish standards), so I understand that the writing fairy doesn’t always gift one’s pen with the most interesting turn of phrase. But seriously, both of these reviews (particularly Review 2) are half straight-up description of the play itself. You gotta contain your summary to one paragraph, or if you must go longer, at least put some pertinent comments in among the names of the cast members. Online reviews in 2014 tend to be more about page views than content, and I have no doubt both of these writers are capable, but no one who is legitimately doing this for an audience should be struggling to hit a vague word count as hard as I do. I’m pretty sure Review 2 doesn’t even end with a judgment of Fraggled’s production as much as it does the original script for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Nobody’s perfect, and all that. Perhaps if our show had been just a little bit better it would have inspired more verbose compositions from Reviewers 1 and 2. Or maybe they were having an off night. There is one thing that we can say for certain, though: neither review mentions me nearly enough. One mention in each?!?! Why am I even doing this?