Who Should Read Reviews and Why
- OnStage North Carolina Columnist
I have never felt it useful for actors to read their own reviews. I did it as a young actor, as most do. I was looking for affirmation but when I didn’t receive it, it was foolishly heartbreaking. Of course any review is only one person’s opinion. Whether that opinion should carry more weight than that of your director or producer or writer or mother is questionable. But the bottom line is that actors don’t have the power to change anything.
As, variously, a writer, director and producer, I always read the reviews of my productions because I might learn something useful. When a reviewer mentions a plot point that isn’t clear, or a gag or musical number that doesn’t land, or a performance that isn’t hitting the mark, I can take those comments into consideration and exert some control over them should I choose. Actors do not have that luxury. They are paid (or not) to play the role as written and directed. If a critic should opine that the moment when the actor throws the plate across the room doesn’t work, the actor does not have the power to re-stage the scene, but the director does. If a critic trashes a costume, the actor still has to wear it the next night although the director, producer and costume designer may reconsider that costume if they feel the point is well taken.
Conversely, it works in the other direction as well. When an actor gets a notice saying, “She collapsed to her knees in grief and it proved to be the highlight of the play.” that moment may never be the same again because now the actor may be self-conscious when she arrives at that point in the play. When a critic opines, “The greatest performance I’ve seen in a decade!” how do you go on the following night, expectations being what they will be? In fact, it may be better to get the “He sucked.” review because you now have the opportunity to surprise the audience with your terrific performance. But such information is not useful rolling around in an actor’s head during the run of the show.
Many (if not most) actors I know do not read their reviews (or claim not to) but often can’t escape them. If they and/or the show receives raves, quotes will be posted outside the theater and in print ads for the production. If the reviews are bad, friends will text you saying, “F#*@ Ben Brantley!” in well intentioned hopes of making you feel better.
Actors are, by nature, both extremely sturdy and vulnerably fragile. I admire them a great deal and they are my favorite part of the collaborative process. I work overtime to protect them. After all, they are the ones who will be telling the story that everyone else has constructed when the curtain goes up. The audience will pretty much blame the actors if they don’t like the play or the direction, as if they’re making it up as they go along. Accordingly, I treat them with tremendous care. When an actor gets a bad review for a production that I’ve directed, or written or produced, it breaks my heart. I take full ownership of that criticism because the actors have only done what they were directed to do. But I do pray that they don’t read the review.